Big John and Little Joe

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

Critic's pick: Los Skarnales

Best Celtic
Flying Fish Sailors
First-time winners FFS were more than happy to hook this prize, even though Celtic music is only a part of the band's repertoire. The Sailors also play old English ballads, folk and hilarious "novelty" numbers that still pass musical muster. "We're thrilled and honored after all these years; it gives us a good feeling," vocalist/whistles/clarinet player Joseph Linbeck said at the awards ceremony. "We've had some great songwriting and a great fan base, plus support from clubs and KPFT this year, and that meant a lot to us." More frequent gigging has also helped. Linbeck said that the group plans to stay busy during the fall festival season with gigs at Garden in the Heights and the Texas Renaissance Festival. FFS is also rereleasing its self-titled debut record from 1989. -- B.R.

Critic's pick: Flying Fish Sailors

Best Folk Venue
McGonigel's Mucky Duck
This frequent category winner has one of the most loyal (and cyber-savvy) customer bases in town. "It's gratifying to know that the audience appreciates the club and the music," said co-manager Rusty Andrews. "I think it has to do with the consistency of the artists who have graced our stage year after year." Indeed, in addition to regularly scheduled open mikes and Irish sessions, performers of regional and national fame (Kelly Willis, Derailers, Rory Block, Robbie Fulks, Junior Brown) frequently play here. And the club is as open to country, blues and other ethnic musics as it is to folk. If you need further prodding, the kitchen serves shepherd's pie and the bar draws Guinness. -- B.R.

Critic's pick: McGonigel's Mucky Duck

Best Traditional Blues, Best Guitarist
Little Joe Washington
Over the past few years this eccentric, incorrigibly scruffy 63-year-old bluesman has ascended to folk-hero status on the local scene. He's done so mainly by connecting with new fans beyond his native Third Ward turf, a phenomenon facilitated by his upstairs residency and weekly gig at the Continental Club, where he's considered a genial mascot of sorts. Though he began his career on drums, and dabbles with any musical instrument he can grab, Washington is generally acknowledged as the most uninhibited, risk-taking and spontaneously inventive guitarist in town. Many of his admirers point to his wailing, weathered voice (and his often improvised lyrical tirades) as much as his nimble fretwork on gut-bucket electric guitar as the basis for his bizarre genius. Meanwhile, his detractors -- some of his more professionally polished peers -- mutter about his ragged persona, occasionally brazen panhandling and disconcerting tendency to shift gears abruptly, mid-song, whenever a new idea strikes his strange fancy. But everyone concurs that this wiry, dreadlocked character is absolutely unique. Whether he's bumming money, pedaling his patched-together 20-inch bicycle across town, impishly flirting with women or stunning another audience with his raw musicianship and onstage antics, there's nobody else like Little Joe. -- R.W.

Critic's picks:
Best Traditional Blues - Texas Johnny Brown
Best Guitarist - I.J. Gosey

Best Folk
Shake Russell
So visible -- thanks to frequent gigs at the Old Quarter, the Mucky Duck and Anderson Fair -- is this elder statesman of the Texas folk scene here in his onetime hometown that many people don't realize he's been based in Austin since 1999. It's also easy to forget that his long ago and present duet partner, Dana Cooper, has been living in Nashville since the first Bush administration. Russell, who won his initial Press award back in 1993, says he is surprised by the nomination, and even more so by his runaway victory. "It's great to be able to win this with so many young people coming up," he says. "It's nice to know that so many people still enjoy what I do, and they like my new music." He's also pleased that his appeal has been able to make a generational leap. "It's funny, lately I've been getting a lot of people in their twenties and thirties telling me that their parents played my music, and now they enjoy it, too. It's really nice." One thing that puzzles him, though, is another recent phenomenon: all you Houstonians who claim to have gone to high school with him. You didn't, unless you went to high school in Blue Springs, Missouri. -- J.N.L.

Critic's pick: Hayes Carll

Best Bassist
Rozz Zamorano
The short man with the tall, thumping sound regularly beats the hell out of his bass strings for longtime local favorites the Fondue Monks and in his nascent solo career. A frequent nominee, and critic's pick in this category last year, the Zam Man takes home the popular vote for the first time. "I don't know what made this year special; we just had a lot of good, high-profile gigs," he said at the awards ceremony. "But it definitely feels good. There's a lot of good [bassists] in Houston." The band's gigging this past year has spread far outside Houston as well, including several shows at the New Orleans House of Blues. And Zamorano added that the Monks are on "pins and needles" preparing for a mid-August showcase for longtime ZZ Top manager Bill Ham. The bassist's fine solo instrumental CD, Eudamonia, showcases the intense virtuosity he always brings to a live show. -- B.R.

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