Big John and Little Joe

Space City's tallest and shortest musicians rule the 2002 Houston Press Music Awards

Like the record-breaking Sunday-afternoon showcase, the Wednesday-night awards show was hot, hot, hot. While Garden in the Heights' air-conditioning system was operating at only 40 percent capacity, Houston's music community was firing on all cylinders. The turnout for the showcase was over 8,000 this year, an all-time high, and the awards dinner was similarly well attended. In the end, the night belonged to John Evans, one of the tallest musicians in town, and Little Joe Washington, who, as his name implies, is among the shortest.

If you're gonna have an awards ceremony, it helps when the winners don't already know that they've won. Last year they did, and the room lacked the tension that was there in spades this year. Off-the-cuff acceptance speeches seem more heartfelt than prepared remarks, and as usual, nobody was more spontaneous than gnomish bluesman Washington. Though he did have a few things to say after the first of his two victories, it was when he snatched up a stray guitar and plucked a few bars of "The Star-Spangled Banner" with his teeth that he spoke the most clearly and directly. Needless to say, the patriotic notes brought down the house, and Little Joe has never been one to prime the pump and not take a drink. In a flash he was off the stage and in the crowd, passing his battered hat around and soliciting donations to the ongoing hurricane that is his life.

Little Joe's wins were the capper on a great night for the Continental Club Cosa Nostra, as we've dubbed the Main Street Mafiosi who work, play and in some cases actually live in the Midtown roots-rock bar. No, the club itself didn't win any awards -- the very eclecticism that draws patrons back week after week works against it in that regard. But its denizens were another matter. Pete Gray, a manager/booking agent at the club, took home Best Keyboardist honors and garnered a Best Cover Band nod for his work in the El Orbits, a band that also includes fellow Continental manager David Beebe and David's brother Paul, who also performs with Drifter, this year's Best New Act. Another El Orbiteer, Jim Henkel, saw his other band Flying Fish Sailors win Best Celtic, and Continental regular Jesse Dayton was selected as the best C&W act while his Tall Texas Tales garnered the Beaumont-bred Dayton Album of the Year honors. Then there's Little Joe, who lives above the club and performs every Wednesday at happy hour and whenever scheduled performers allow him to "share" the stage.

But on this night, at least, Little Joe's performances were brief. They weren't the only examples of outrageous behavior, either. In this department, slip-hoppers I-45 and punky rappers Simpleton were just about his match. Tony Avitia, of Best Rap winner I-45, noted that he had just been served with divorce papers by his soon-to-be-ex wife and that so far it had been a boon to his music career. "There's nothing that creates better material than a temporary restraining order!" he noted, sounding in spirit much like a mid-1970s George Jones. Later, accepting the award for Best Funk/R&B, Simpleton's B.C. thanked the I-45 guys for a "dime bag of real good bud" that he had enjoyed earlier in the evening with a 12-pack of Busch tall boys.

And by the end of the night, everybody, whether as sober as Billy Graham or as messed up as Simpleton, felt content with the world, as if we had consumed something that should be illegal. The presenters one and all (well, maybe not all -- after all, this writer was one of them) did a fantastic job, even if one of our number pronounced "zydeco" just about every way but the right one. As Press contributor Bob Ruggiero noted, special props are due to Channel 39's staid-looking Alan Hemberger, first for showing up, second for admitting to owning three Fenders and third for being hip enough to know the correct pronunciation of Irie Time.

So once again, it's time to go into Juan Antonio Samaranch mode. These were the most successful Houston PressMusic Awards ever, and let's aim to be able to say the same thing when the dust settles this time next year. To that end, here's what we want for 2003: more. More categories, and thus more bands, and thus more people at the showcase and more venues participating. (The only thing we want less of is the jinx on Houston PressMusic Awards winners.)

Last year we set a preliminary goal of 10,000 attendees and 100 bands, and we made big strides toward both. Mariachi, rockabilly, garage, regional Mexican, and various African, Middle Eastern and South and East Asian music categories could be added for next year, as could awards honoring the city's best radio DJ, record producer, recording studio, and also the Scenester of the Year, the musician or fan who has done the most to help Houston's scene thrive. Again, if you have any suggestions that would help us construct the perfect ballot, or if you want to be on the nominating committee, let us know.

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