Big John and Little Joe

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

One thing that we will definitely do next year is eliminate from contention all musicians who are not listed in the Texas Music Office's annual Texas Talent Register as living in the greater Houston area -- or those who cannot be reached routinely at a phone number with a 713, 281, 832 or 409 area code. The upshot of this edict is that musicians who once lived here but have moved to Austin or anywhere else will be barred from the ballot, except under special circumstances, such as Rodney Crowell releasing his Bayou City concept album The Houston Kid last year. (Under this decree, winners Shake Russell and Carolyn Wonderland likely would have been eliminated from contention this year. By virtue of his Houston label and management, Jesse Dayton would not.)

It's counterproductive for Houstonians to continue honoring people who have left us behind for what they consider to be the brighter lights and more bustling scene of Austin. Let's give the new crop of local musicians a reason to stick around. -- John Nova Lomax

Bob Ruggiero, Roger Wood and Craig D. Lindsey also contributed to this feature.

Blue October
Jeff Fitlow
Blue October
The El Orbits
Jeff Fitlow
The El Orbits

Songwriter of the Year, Best Male Vocalist, Local Musician of the Year
John Evans
"I don't believe it! I'm just an ol' country singer!" said a visibly shocked John Evans off-mike as he climbed the stairs to claim Local Musician of the Year honors and his third plaque of the night. The next day, he was still, as he put it, flabbergasted.

"This is just nuts," the deep-voiced singer said. "What a great deal. Just getting nominated four times tripped me out, but to win three…It's been nuts."

In a previous life, Evans was the greatest quarterback in Lamar University history and later a pro for the now-defunct New York/New Jersey Knights. If there's one thing quarterbacks learn, it's modesty -- otherwise the offensive linemen would allow that swell-headed punk who gets all the girls to be killed once in a while.

Evans has clearly carried that life lesson from the gridiron to the honky-tonk. "The main thing is I want to say thanks to my band," he says. "They turned everything around for me."

He's just getting started lauding his backers when there's a commotion in the background. "Hold on a second, someone's knockin' on my door," Evans tells the interviewer. "Oh, there you are," he says to whoever has arrived. "It's my band," he says, turning back to his acceptance speech. "They heard me talking about 'em and came on in."

Drummer Sean Raiford, lead guitarist Billy Beason and upright bassist Brad Jones are the grunts that Evans credits with leading him on his three touchdown drives this year. "They were young and inexperienced, but I could tell they were all real talented, and they've really done a great job of getting the stuff I was doing rockin'," Evans says of his band's evolution, noting that his previous band with "good buddy" Jack Saunders had sounded "too perfect and too clean."

"The band needed a nasty element to it, and that's what these guys brought to the table," Evans says, sounding very much like John Madden talking about the Washington Redskins' famed Hawgs of the late 1980s.

On the eve of the release of his long-awaited sophomore disc, Out of Control, the John Evans juggernaut will be exporting its Texas heat to cooler climes. The band has gigs set up in Nashville, Chicago, Milwaukee and New York. "But we didn't get to go to Virginia this time," Evans notes sadly. Virginia? Why sweat not going there? "A DJ up there flipped for us, and his station was playing our old record 90 times a week. We're huge in Farmville," Evans laughs. -- J.N.L.

Critic's picks:
Songwriter of the Year - Arthur Yoria
Best Male Vocalist - Greg Wood
Local Musician of the Year - John Evans

Best C&W Venue
Blanco's Bar & Grill
This charmingly low-key honky-tonk plays host to some shit-kickin', beer-drinkin' and little-filly-twirlin' good times. It's a gathering place for cowboys of all faiths -- Urban, Cosmic, Stiff Stetson and No Depression -- where grizzled retirees plop down next to frat rats. "I always try to support both new bands and the favorites. And it's important to have original country music," said manager Karin Barnes at the awards ceremony. "We've tried to do that for 15 years, ever since I've been there. And it's been really rewarding." Many of Blanco's regular performers (Roger Creager, Cory Morrow) have gone on to wider fame, while up-and-comers like John Evans also find a little piece of stage to call their own. -- B.R.

Critic's pick: Blanco's Bar & Grill

Best Latin
Norma Zenteno

Some things never change: The Astros' failure to win the pennant. The boom/bust cycle of the Houston economy. The recipe for the cheese enchiladas at Felix's. Norma Zenteno's success in the Houston Press Music Awards. She walked off with the Best Latin trophy yet again this year, despite the fact that we wrongly lumped her in the Tejano category as well. "I'm gonna kill somebody," she is said to have said about that. Meanwhile, the perennial winner is still gigging (catch her Friday, August 2, with Celia Cruz and Arturo Sandoval at the Houston International Jazz Festival), and she has replaced a certain musical ex-Astro as Casa Olé's spokeswoman. It's always Zenteno Time around here, so don't worry, Norma -- we won't trade you to Detroit for a salsera to be named later. -- J.N.L.

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