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Hothouse Flowers

Groceries spoil in the heat, while the rest of Houston's music community blossoms

This year was nothing short of a watershed for the Houston Press Music Awards. This time a year ago we wrote, "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."

We got all of that, and well, more. The showcase drew more than 9,000 people, making it the largest ever. The awards ceremony at The Engine Room was also huge -- people were being turned away at the door. (Sadly, even some late-arriving nominees --Texas Johnny Brown among them -- couldn't get in without having to explain that they were on the ballot and living legends.) Voting was way up and was often as close as could be -- several winners won by ten or 20 votes out of thousands cast.

There was also plenty of excitement on the stage at the ceremony. How weird was it to have a packed club and an electric atmosphere and look outside and see a line of people waiting to get in, all while the sun still blazed during the dog day afternoon. The Press's promotions director Monica Keels did a sterling job organizing the event, Pam Kelly MC'd the evening flawlessly, and Moses Guest, the John Evans Band, and Hayes Carll turned in good one-song performances. That goes double for Guy Schwartz and the New Jack Hippies featuring Gloria Edwards, whose Louisiana-fried version of Song of The Year nomination "The House is Burnin' Down" threatened to do just that, despite abysmal acoustics. (And it was hot enough in there at all times for the room to spontaneously combust, but enough bitching about the venue.)

John Evans Band
Jeff Fitlow
John Evans Band
Hayes Carll
Daniel Kramer
Hayes Carll
Clouseaux
Daniel Kramer
Clouseaux
Mike Snow
Daniel Kramer
Mike Snow
Caliente
Daniel Kramer
Caliente
Molly & the Ringwalds
Daniel Kramer
Molly & the Ringwalds

Once again proving that he might secretly be the coolest guy in town, Channel 39 anchorman Alan Hemberger, acting as a presenter for the second year in a row, gushed enthusiastically over the new Led Zeppelin DVD. "It's absolutely fabulous," he intoned, and we are inclined to agree.

Hayes Carll (Song of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, Best Folk), John Evans (Best C&W, Best Male Vocalist, Local Musician of the Year) and Blue October (Album of the Year, Best Rock/Pop) emerged as the big winners, with Zwee and Faceplant also taking multiple awards. The late Joe "Guitar" Hughes was touchingly memorialized by Dr. Roger Wood, who spoke about the great man we presented with a posthumous lifetime achievement award. (We didn't know that the London Times ran a lengthy obit with a picture of our fallen blues luminary.)

More than a dozen bands won their first awards, and for the first time in about ten years, neither Jesse Dayton nor Carolyn Wonderland scooped up any hardware. (Not that they aren't worthy -- it's just that they don't live here anymore.) In several categories, bands and venues that had seemingly won since the dawn of time fell to their rivals. The Zydeco Dots were upset by the Lady D and the Zydeco Tornadoes. The Mucky Duck was stunningly defeated by Anderson Fair as Best Folk Venue. Youngsters Caliente toppled long-reigning local salsa queen Norma Zenteno by a mere handful of votes. Molly and the Ringwalds edged out the El Orbits. "That's so symbolic of the creeping Republicanism that's sweeping the country, that an '80s Reagan-era cover band wins," El Orbits bassist Allen Hill jokingly groused. Opie Hendrix's defeat of John Evans in the Roots Rock/Rockabilly was another stunner.

In addition to this high drama, there was also some low comedy. As expected, the Groceries were less-than-impressed with what I wrote in last week's Racket about the band in general and their Harry Potter-look-alike singer Matt Brownlie. Brownlie's whiny acceptance speech reminded me of an old story about Texas politics. Back in the early days of his career, LBJ once told his aides to spread a rumor that his opponent enjoyed having relations with his domestic stock, more specifically, swine. His aides were shocked -- how could they tell the good people of Texas that so-and-so was a pigfucker? "Well, I know it ain't true," LBJ allowed. "I just want to make the sonofabitch deny it."

But when it comes to the Groceries, what I said was true. Matt Brownlie is a punk and a yapping Pekingese. And it sure was fun listening to him deny it.

But that's not what these awards are about. After the Groceries, the very next musician to the stage was the Lady D, who was so moved by her upset win that she broke down and cried. That's life. Some people water you with tears of gratitude. Other folks just piss on you. On to the winners... -- John Nova Lomax

Winner blurbs written by John Nova Lomax, Bob Ruggiero, Jeffrey Thames, Craig D. Lindsey, Matt Sonzala, Olivia Flores Alvarez and Greg Barr.

Best Male Vocalist, Best C&W, Local Musician of the Year
John Evans, John Evans Band

For the second year in a row, the tall rockin' honky-tonker scooped up an armload of awards, including the top honor as Local Musician of the Year, and his third straight win as Best Male Vocalist. Asked if he expected his wins, the former pro football player said "I don't even like to think about whether or not I win. I do, and I start to get competitive like I was with football, and I don't like music to be that way."

After a long stint in recording limbo, Evans is firing up the release schedule. Out of Controlhas been on the streets for a while now, while the follow-up I'm from the Beer Jointand an as-yet untitled foray into straight-up rock are due out soon. As the title implies, Beer Jointis going to be a straight-up honky-tonk record. "It's heavy-duty honky-tonk," he says. "We've already done the album, but we weren't happy with the sound so we're gonna re-record it here in town. It'll probably take about a week." Evans is also adding a piano, and hopes to persuade none other than Jerry Lee Lewis to join them on the record. "We've got a tune on there that is just him."

Meanwhile Evans is co-writing, and partying, with fellow multiple winner Hayes Carll. Carll is already performing "Sit in with the Band," their first co-write. "I got the idea to write that song from Adam Carroll," says Evans. "He told me one time that he sometimes got tired of playing alone, that sometimes he just wanted to sit in with the band. I told him he could sit in with me any time he wanted. But then I got to thinking about it, and I wanted to write that song for him, and I told Hayes about it and he completely understood. So we sat down and wrote this song."

Carll's quirky talent has totally won Evans over. "He is one of the most hilarious creative people I know," he says. "He slept on my floor last night. There's three of us who live in a little flat down by Minute Maid, and we have this one closet that's just crammed with junk. And I woke up this morning and I heard a rustling coming from in there, and there was Hayes. He had found a blanket and he had books and crap falling all over him."

Evans is also doing a lot of film work lately, not to mention dabbling in politics. Several of his songs are slated to appear in the upcoming independent horror movie Hallow's End, which Evans describes as "a funny freaking horror flick." Later, a song of Evans's will appear in a short by director Bill Sebastian, with two more Evans tunes slated to appear in that director's full-length film The Portal.As for his foray into democracy, Evans has composed the theme song for mayoral candidate Michael Berry.

In addition to his long-running Thursday night residency at St. Pete's Dancing Marlin, Evans's August gig schedule includes a regular Monday-night acoustic set at the Mucky Duck, which finds him accompanied only by his bassist Brad Jones. "We're calling those the "find-Brad-a-date" gigs. He's frustrated that he's in a band and can't find a girlfriend." -- J.N.L.

Critic's Pick: Best Male Vocalist -- Felipe Galvan (Los Skarnales); Best C&W -- John Evans Band; Local Musician of the Year -- Paul Wall and Chamillion

Best Folk, Songwriter of the Year, Song of the Year ("Highway 87")
Hayes Carll

In winning his first three awards, the lanky young tunesmith had a breakthrough year. As we predicted a couple of weeks ago, his drink and drug-laden "Highway 87" continued the trend of songs that deal with mind-altering substances taking top honors. And while Carll probably hadn't been drinking whiskey for six months straight as had the character in his song about fear and loathing on the Bolivar Peninsula, it was apparent that he had been doing so for at least that many hours. (At one point, Carll headed to the stage before he was announced as the winner. He heard his name among the nominees and headed for the stage and had to take a quick right turn when he realized his error.)

At the ceremony, Carll played a new song he co-wrote earlier this year with Guy Clark called "River Town." He's also been co-writing with Ray Wylie Hubbard, and the two just finished "The Chicken Song." "He's been playing it," says an audibly hungover Carll. "There's too many Wylie-isms in it for me to do it though. I'm just too white and suburban to pull it off." Carll has also been co-writing with fellow big winner John Evans, with whom he partied until dawn after the ceremony.

Carll is planning a Spring 2004 release for the follow-up to his debut Flowers and Liquor, but there has already been a new addition to his body of work. Last month, Carll and wife Jenna welcomed Elijah, an eight-pound, five-ounce baby boy to the world. -- J.N.L.


Critic's Pick: Best Folk (Hayes Carll), Songwriter of the Year Greg Wood, Song of the Year "Highway 87"

Best Jazz
Free Radicals featuring Harry Sheppard

As Harry Sheppard put it while accepting this award for the rest of the Radicals, who are in Brazil, it's about time. Houston isn't the greatest jazz town in the world, but the hidden talent here is top notch. These cats deserve some sort of recognition. Leading the funky, free, progressive wave is Nick Cooper and his Free Radicals. Ever evolving, always outspoken, and as genuinely radical as their name implies, this rotating group of musicians puts on some of the most interesting live sets in this city. Expect a wild mix of keys, horns, percussion, and vocals playing music from every continent. The Free Radicals seldom sound like the same band twice in a row. The relatively recent addition of turntablist Fast4ward only makes things crazier. -- M.S.

Critic's Pick: David Dove

Best Funk/R&B, Best Female Vocalist
Zwee, Jessica Zweback
This groove-based, traveling funk party is headed up by Frank Zweback, who was out of town for the ceremony. In his stead, the band was represented nicely by his sister Jessica, who not only got to accept the award for the band, but also got to soak in a little extra limelight when she was crowned Best Female Vocalist. A semi-recent transplant from Baltimore, Sister Zweback also tickles the ivories, sometimes fills in on percussion, and is now the band's full-time drummer. Seemingly floored by winning two awards that night, Jessica spoke emotionally after a huge hug session with fellow bandmates and supporters. "It's awesome, definitely unexpected," she said. "I was just thinking that gosh it's really nice that somebody outside of my group of friends has maybe heard me sing and thinks it's cool."-- M.S.


Critic's Pick: Female Vocalist: Cl'che, Funk/R&B/Soul: Zin

Best Local Label
Paid in Full Records

Headed up by The Box morning guy Madd Hatta, Paid In Full has become one of Houston's premier urban record labels in the past couple of years. The addition of local mix tape superstars Paul Wall and Chamillion to their roster certainly didn't hurt their rep -- in fact it took them to whole new levels, with major labels barking down their door almost weekly. (Yeah, we've all heard that one before, but in this case it's true.) Independence is important to everyone at Paid in Full; namely the aforementioned Paul Wall and Chamillion, O.G. Ron C of the Swishahouse, 50/50 Twin and Young Ro. The label has releases from all of its artists on deck for the last quarter of this year, and the solo debuts from Paul Wall and Chamillion should be two of the biggest selling independent records this year in the South. -- M.S.

Critic's Pick: Gameface

Best Rock/Pop, Album of the Year
(History for Sale)

Blue October
Maybe they didn't quite agree on everything when Justin Furstenfeld was a teenager, but his mom and dad -- Ro-Anne and Danny -- were proud parents indeed when they accepted both of Blue October's awards on behalf of the band. Ro-Anne thanked Blue October's fans, notably the ones who liked the band in its earliest inception when the band had to pay clubs in order to play. (The band was breaking in a new bassist and couldn't attend.)

Caught on the phone the day after the awards on a break from rehearsals in Dallas, Justin had this to say about the old days: "Yeah, it brings up memories....well, okay, some nice memories to think back to when you were really green," he said. As for how his parents handled his aspirations to be a rock star, Justin said "I really did what I felt I had to do, and then apologized later. But [my parents] have been supportive of my whole career so far, and we're best friends."

Now that the band's latest album, History For Sale -- specifically the single "Calling You" -- has been cracking radio markets around the country, and since the group has signed with Dave Matthews's booking agent, Justin and the band members are likely to shed their identity as a Houston group. Hell, they all but have done so already. Justin now lives in Dallas to be near the management team, and the other band members split time between San Marcos and the Metroplex.

Still, Justin says he's honored to win the awards from "his" city. "I respect all of the musicians there. I'm really glad Houston is getting its scene going. It may not be the biggest scene, but I think it's the most creative scene out there. There's a lot of good bands there now, and you can't go wrong with that." -- G.B.

Critic's Picks : Best Rock/Pop: Blue October; Album of the Year: Runaway Soul, Ruthie Foster.

Best CD/Record Store
Cactus Music and Video
For what seems like the 88th year in a row, Cactus Music & Video takes home the prize for Best Record Store. But what is it about this place that makes voters come back to it time and time again, instead of giving the oodles and oodles of record shops around here a chance? Is it the extra stuff they sell along with the music, like bowling-ball ties, Taxi lunch boxes and Gay Gum? Or is it the staff of diligent young men and women, ready to answer your inquiries and serve your every need? Or is it the live in-store performances they've had on many an occasion -- and the free beer they serve during those mini-concerts?

If you ask general manager Quinn Bishop, it's all about the store's love for the little guy -- in this case, the musician who's just starting out and needs someplace to hawk his or her product. "Now, we are the last store in town that still welcomes consignments of music from local artists," says Bishop. (Actually, there are other record stores in town that do that, but let's let the boy have his moment.) "You know, if you can bring your record into a record store, and then [we] welcome it with open arms and say, 'Hey, we're gonna try our best to sell it,' I think that makes an impression on people."

Of course, having pretty young thangs serve Saint Arnold during a Cory Morrow performance doesn't hurt either. -- C.D.L.

Critic's Pick: Cactus Music and Video

Best World Music
D.R.U.M.
D.R.U.M. lead man Alafia Gaidi had a bit of a case of nerves when he accepted the award for Best World Music this year. Oh sure, his group has won this damn thing a bunch of times before, but that was back in the days when we used to call the winners beforehand and tell them to show up at some Mexican restaurant on Richmond to pick up their award. This year, it was all pins-and-needles -- and he says it's the first time it has happened: "I think this is the first time in our 13 years of being together, and probably, in all the years that's we've been nominated -- that I actually had butterflies."

Wow, we did that? Damn, we must be getting more and more important every year!

But this is about D.R.U.M. and their latest win, which, according to Gaidi, couldn't have come at a better time. Gaidi confirms D.R.U.M. will finally release that long-awaited album they've been promising fans, as well as a live CD, in the coming months. They are also still breaking in their newest member, drummer and former band groupie Robert Smalls, who accepted the award along with Gaidi that night. "I used to pop up years ago," says Smalls. "But now, since it's official, it's enhanced what I do, and I love it." That's D.R.U.M. for ya, giving people unlimited amounts of creative strength since 1990. -- C.D.L.

Critic's Pick: Sound Patrol

Best Lounge DJ
DJ Sun

Remember when we said a couple of issues ago that DJ Sun should just pull a Cosby and not accept another HP Music Award, seeing as how he has received enough awards throughout the years to start up an awards ceremony of his own? Well, that didn't happen this year.

Sun graciously and unapologetically snapped up this nod for Best Lounge DJ. For Sun, more wins means more gigs and, to paraphrase a R. Kelly song, only the loot can make Sun happy right about now. "I just wanna say, to guys like yourself and other people who told me not to accept -- I need the money!" exclaims Sun. Most likely, he needs the money to get some studio time so he can compose new, original music for an album he wants to start working on. This could also mean the possibility of Sun moving to another category, like, let's say R&B or jazz, thereby giving the nominees in those slots a headache. But Sun wants everyone to know he's still a DJ, and it's a community he'll always be proud of. "In all seriousness," says Sun, "it's good to represent DJs. I'm all dedicated to it. I'm devoted to it. It's what I do with my life." By the way, you can still catch him on KPFT's Soular Grooves every Saturday night, which is now back in its original, three-hour form. -- C.D.L.

Critic's Pick: Lushus Brown

Best Rap/Hip-Hop
Studemont Project
Even though this group is still in its infant stages -- rapper Emcee Caption says the group has only really been around about a year -- they've taken the heart of this city by storm, promoting relentlessly and performing almost weekly throughout the Montrose and downtown. Edging out artists like Hawk and Paul Wall & Chamillion is no mean feat as both had huge local hits on both of our urban radio stations this past year. Studemont Project comes from the Heights, and delivers their beats and rhymes a little bit differently from what has come to be known as the Houston sound. Theirs is an edgy brew that eschews the laid back vibe of Texas in favor of a more progressive, rolling boom-bap, but they don't sound like they are riding the coattails of either coast. "Growing up, I always saw something special about the Studemont area of Houston," says Caption. "The people, the art, the atmosphere. I was exposed to so many different types of music at a young age, local and non-local, and that reflects in our sound."

"I think hip-hop in Houston is moving in a different direction, and people should take notice," adds rapper Article C. "It's an honor to be recognized by the Houston Pressand by our peers in the scene." -- M.S.

Critic's Pick: Paul Wall & Chamillionaire

Best New Act
Clouseaux

Seldom does our Best New Act live up to the name of its award so well. Clouseaux is not only a new act; it's also a new type of act. The amorphous, tiki lounge exotica funsters range in size from ten to 14 members and when they say the music they play is what Ward Cleaver would use to seduce June you believe them. For bassist/creative force Jay Brooks, winning was an honor. "It's fun to get nominated and even more fun to win," he says. "Houston doesn't have anything like the showcase and the awards where everybody comes together." And Houston doesn't have anything like Clouseaux either. Right now, the band has signed with Burbank, California label Dionysus Records, and in the next six months they hope to release their two EPs and a couple of new tunes as a debut full-length. Meanwhile the band will be hitting the road, with New Orleans and Atlanta, where they will play the Drive Invasion with Southern Culture on the Skids, the Woggles and the 45s. -- J.N.L.

Critic's Pick: Clouseaux

Best Metal/Industrial, Best Bassist
Faceplant, Marc Armaos
Faceplant guitarist Jason Self's initial reaction upon hearing the group being summoned to the stage was not exactly typical, though it was totally a rock and roll moment. "Man, I was just getting this girl's phone numbers. Why'd it have to be right then?," Self said, all smiles, in a huddle-style interview with four of the band's five members. Needless to say, Self's got it all -- the glory and a new entry in the little black book.

In his acceptance speech, Bryan Broussard -- the band's frenetic crowd-pleaser and sign flasher -- thanked the band's fans and its street team for its tireless efforts in papering H-town with fliers. Outside the club, he said the band has 16 new original songs written this summer for its next CD release, five of which have been added to the live show. All of the band members said they are anxious to take this next CD to a higher level of distribution. "Right now our distributors are Ford and Chevy," Broussard said in reference to selling product out of the band's vehicles. "Right now we create the demand at our shows on tour, on that one-on-one basis. We're ready for that bigger audience."

Marc Armaos says he was surprised to beat out "awesome" Nick Gaitan of Los Skarnales in the Best Bassist category. He said he developed his chops by writing original music right off the bat, instead of learning a pile of cover tunes. Then he paused momentarily to buy a copy of the new Clouseaux disc.

Most of all, Armaos is anxious to get the new CD out so that the work he has done to contribute to Faceplant's overall sound in the new original songs can be heard. "I came in from a different perspective (ex-Simpleton) and I convinced them to expand the sound so they're not marketing to one type of person."

Of course, as all Press winners are wont to do, the band debated their inclusion in the Metal category, a variation of which they have won two years in a row. "There's lots of bands out there heavier than us that what I would say is metal, but that's cool, we can hang with those guys." -- G.B.

Critic's Pick: Downfall 2012, Marc Armaos

Best Dance DJ
Mike Snow
Mike Snow was befuddled, amazed and even chagrined when they announced his name as winner of Best Dance DJ at this year's awards ceremony. He was just chilling in the back, with fellow nominees DJ Sun and Ethan Klein. Next thing he knew, he heard his name, and he immediately got one of those bitter beer faces. "I'm flabbergasted," he said right after the win, throwing in another word to describe his shock and awe. "We literally thought it was gonna be [Mister] Spacely or [Michael] DeGrace."

But why? What makes him think he is not as worthy to pick up an award as those dudes? He certainly has accumulated enough years on the scene to merit some status. And with his famed '80s night, "Pop Muzik," which moved from Spy to Lotus Lounge to Typhoon in the last year, folks are obviously aware of who he is and what he's capable of as a club spinner. "I never feel like I'm gonna win, you know," he says. "I just DJ -- you know I'm not about that."

The Randy Spears-looking disco duck hopes that local dance music will be seen as a genre just as credible and respected as the other musical genres represented at the shindig. "All of us dance-club DJs are praying and hoping that will someday happen," he says. "People will get into dance music like they are into hip-hop and live music and rock and country and everything else." -- C.D.L

Critic's Pick: Joe B.

Best Indie Rock
Groceries

The John Sparrow shoulda won. -- J.N.L.

Critic's Pick: The John Sparrow

Best Roots Rock/Rockabilly
Opie Hendrix and the Texas Tallboys

Ask him for his plans after his upset win over John Evans, and Opie Hendrix has a ready answer. "I'm movin' to Austin! So long, fuckers!" He's joking, of course, we think. Actually, Hendrix is, as the English say, gobsmacked. "It's outstanding," he says. "I've been out there a long time and never been invited to nothin'. This is my first rodeo, son."

Hendrix was zipping up at a urinal when he heard that he had won. "I may have gone up there with my pants unzipped. Some people try to act all cool or nonchalant when they win, but fuck, to me this is a big award. I used to feel like Prince in 'Purple Rain' -- remember when that fat dude told him 'Hey man, nobody likes your music but yourself'? Now, I feel like people do like what I'm doing, that I don't have to try to get in their heads and try to play them what I think they want to hear." -- J.N.L.

Critic's Pick: Greg Wood

Best Bluegrass
Lonestar Bluegrass Band
For the second year in a row, the LBB has taken the prize in this newly minted category. "I am pleased that bluegrass now has its own category," says Chris Hirsch, banjo player and sole original member left of the band which formed in 1982. "We were nominated for many years in categories where we did not belong. We lost to Clint Black, Shake Russell...I think we even lost to ZZ Top once!" Still, he's cognizant of the unity in the small, but dedicated Houston bluegrass community. "We were nominated with some very good bands, and it's nice to know we have so many good friends that believe in us," he adds.

The rest of the group, which includes James Hicks (bass), Don Hayes (guitar/harmonica), and Adam Cutts (fiddle), is also glad to receive some residual interest in the wake of the O Brother phenomena that has made bluegrass and roots music trendy. But they're not banking on it to last forever. "The craze brought people out to find the music, and for the most part, they will continue to come back," Hirsch says. "It's not a passing fad, it is a permanent addiction." -- B.R.

Critic's Pick: Lonestar Bluegrass Band

Best Blues Venue
Big Easy Social & Pleasure Club
The venerable, no-frills institution takes the award for the ninth year, a run that makes harmonica-blowing owner Tom McLendon happy. "I can't do what I do in any other city. We put the music before the money. That's why people vote for us. And I despise pretension." he says. "People call me all the time and ask what should they wear," McLendon laughs in his trademark sandpaper chuckle. "And I tell them, I don't give a damn what you wear. Just come and have a good time!" Since there is no cover most nights, McLendon strives to keep a balance between the "old, traditional" blues guys for diehards and the "rockin' blues" guys for the big-spending partyers. "I want to support them both, but it's hard on the business side. If it wasn't for the spiritual aspect of the music, I don't know what I'd do." McLendon says that he and the Houston blues community are also still smarting from the death of Joe "Guitar" Hughes, who frequently gigged there. Other regulars include The Mighty Orq, Rick Lee, the Tony Vega Band, and Texas Johnny Brown. -- B.R.

Critic's Pick: Big Easy Social & Pleasure Club

Best Keyboardist
Ian Varley
The ivory-tinkler for laid-back funk jazzsters Drop Trio is a bit shocked about his win, especially considering that his band is less than a year old. "It felt unexpected and surreal, to tell you the truth," he says before rattling off a list of "more deserving" winners. "But I was certainly happy to win it." Varley -- who plays mostly a Fender Rhodes 73 or Roland VK-7 electric pianos -- got his first musical training through his conductor/composer father, who started teaching him piano before he could reach the keys. But his parents didn't make him go the "serious pianist" route of stiff conservatories and obsessive practicing. "They wanted me to be well-rounded, so I 'practiced' a lot with my ears -- listening and imitating, soaking up every kind of music I could get my hands on, and being able to assemble and dissemble music in my head." He later studied music theory, conducting and arrangement. But a computer programming job in San Francisco after college (and 70-hour work weeks) basically kept him from playing for about five years. When his wife, Jill, got into the Creative Writing program at the University of Houston, they dropped everything and moved back here. "It was a clean slate, so I decided to get back into playing music seriously...and I have so much room to grow now." -- B.R.

Critic's Pick: Rick Thompson (Moses Guest)

Best Blues
Little Joe Washington
He arrived too late to accept his award, but when he did get there, he made a splash. Washington somehow made it past the doorman on his tiny, ancient Schwinn and pedaled right up to the stage. "You let a guy in on a bike!" one of the Engine Room doormen was heard roaring to another doorman. "What the fuck are you doing up here, anyway?" Although he didn't get to bask in the glory of the Houston music community, and seize somebody's guitar for an impromptu performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" as he did last year, Washington still has to count 2003 as perhaps his best year as a musician. He has performed on festival stages in both Europe and Japan and also released Houston Guitar Blues, his critically acclaimed official debut CD. -- J.N.L.

Critic's Pick: Joe "Guitar" Hughes

Best Zydeco
Lady D and the Zydeco Tornadoes
The Diva of Zydeco was moved to tears by her upset win over the long-reigning Zydeco Dots, and stammered out a touching acceptance speech that was in stark contrast to her spicy live shows. Like Beau Jocque, the Opelousas, Louisiana native was a late-comer to the accordion. "I did not start playing the accordion until I was 44, when my boyfriend said I couldn't do it," she recently told a Louisiana reporter. "I learned it, I like it and the rest is history." And so is the record-setting run of the Zydeco Dots atop the Press's readers poll. -- J.N.L.

Critic's Pick: Step Rideau

Best Latin
Caliente

It's not often that an early bedtime prevents winners from attending the Houston Press Music Awards ceremony but most members of this year's Best Latin group were probably sleeping by the time their name was called.

"This is unbelievable! The kids are going to be ecstatic!" said Jose Antonio Diaz, the group's founder and artistic director.

The kids Diaz is referring to are a bunch of middle and high school students with secondhand instruments and homemade costumes that nudged longtime HPMA Latin Music champion Norma Zenteno out for this year's honor. Part of the 100 singers, dancers and musicians trained by the Diaz Music Institute, Caliente is a tropical music ensemble that has performed around the country, appearing with Latin music legends such as Eddie Palmieri, David Sánchez, Danilo Pérez and Pete Escovedo.

"We started the group because we thought that we would be filling an educational need, presenting Hispanic music to youth but we've been surprised by the results. During our last (two-week) workshop we had about 20 little babies show up, and when I say babies I mean little, little kids like 5 years old. But by the end of the session they were able to perform two songs, on their own. That was really great."

"For the older kids we offer high-level training, conservatory style training. It's kind of a pressure cooker for them because we want them to understand what it is to perform on a professional level. We train them to be literate musicians, teach them not only how to read music but also how to read contracts."

Students from around Houston attend the various workshops Diaz holds throughout the year, with older, more accomplished kids working their way into Caliente. Local salsa and jazz musicians such as percussionist Jorge 'Cro-Cro' Orta and saxophonist Horace Alexander Young pitch in to train the kids, teaching theory and prepping for concerts -- all for free. And there's the rub.

No funding has been secured for the group despite its nonprofit status so none of the teachers or support staff are paid and Diaz has to scramble to find used instruments the students can borrow for performances.

"We've been able to do good things so far but now the needs are getting so great that we're really having to look for serious funding. Who knows, maybe this award will help us get some corporate sponsorship. Because if we're able to do this on very little money, can you imagine what we could do if we had the funds to put quality instruments in the hands of these kids, if we had a rehearsal hall we could use? If we can get funding to keep doing what we're doing, it would be wonderful opportunity for these kids."

It wouldn't be too bad for Houston's Latin music scene either. -- O.F.A.

Critic's Pick: Vudu Cafe

Best Guitarist
Jay Hooks

For this tall and fiery six-stringer, this award was a much-deserved show of love from a hometown that often neglects him. Much of Hooks's fan base is overseas -- in places like Germany and Holland he's regarded as one of Stevie Ray Vaughan's worthiest successors, while in his hometown he's as taken for granted as a great plate of barbecue. Maybe that's because it's just as easy to find tasty brisket as great blues here -- as the list of previous winners of this award shows. Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Mark May, Eric Dane and Little Joe Washington are pretty good company to keep, and Hooks seemed visibly stunned to have won. -- J.N.L.

Best Traditional Mexican
Fito Olivares
Tejano music veteran Fito Olivares wasn't on hand to receive his first ever Music Awards honor but talking from his East End home the next day he said "It's a great pleasure for us, especially because it's here in Houston. This is where we started, where we live, where our families are. It's wonderful to have the affection of fans here who have followed our work for so many years."

With a string of hits to his credit, Olivares's biggest claim to fame so far has been "Juana La Cubana," one of his earliest songs. "That's my favorite," he laughs, noting that "Juana" still pays a lot of his bills. Although Olivares wrote the Tejano classic, another group recorded it first, but it didn't exactly hit the charts. Then Olivares put the tune on his own album in 1986 and his ode to the loose-hipped, dancing Juana took off. "We had no idea that it would be such a big hit but thankfully people seemed to really like it," he says. "After us, other groups started to record it, in lots of different styles and now it's a standard."

With more than 23 years in the business, Olivares is a Tejano music pioneer and he was among the first to attract fans from both sides of the Rio Grande. "It used to be that you had either a Tejano audience or a Mexican audience. We've had the luck to enjoy both, with success in both formats."

He's also been part of some of the genre's most important moments including Selena's legendary 1992 Monterrey concert. Tejano music was still largely ignored south of the border and promoters were expecting a small turnout. More than 50,000 showed up.

"The Monterrey concert really happened just like they showed in the (Selena) movie. We were lucky enough to have appeared at that concert," he remembers.

Even after such exciting times, Olivares is happiest here at home -- with his first fans. "It means a lot to me that the public voted for this award. From the very beginning we've enjoyed the affection and support of Houston fans. And I want to thank them for all the support they've given us over the years, and now for this award, too." -- O.F.A.

Critic's Pick: Fito Olivares

Best Latin Venue
Elvia's

This year's win makes it ten in a row for Elvia's. Not bad considering the club's been in business for only 12 years. And the club's beautiful blonde namesake, Elvia Parsons says winning is still a thrill. "I love it! I still get excited. And ten years, wow!"

During her acceptance speech Elvia scolded the crowd in her charming, slightly fractured English saying "There are lots of you here that I haven't seen at my club. What's wrong with you? Why don't you come to see me?"

Elvia has a simple recipe for success -- great music and a family atmosphere. "That's really what it's about, isn't it? That people feel comfortable, like they are at their own home," she says. "And we just opened a new patio so there's even more room to dance!"

Ever the booster, Elvia was still calling out "I want to see you at the club soon! Don't forget! Come to see me!" as she left the awards presentation and made her way into the Houston night. -- O.F.A.

Critic's Pick: 610 Arena

Best Jazz Venue
Cezanne

It's another nod for the tiny Montrose jazz club which has been the site of some incredible performances over the years. Joshua Redman and his group played there during his very first tour, giving fans an up close look at a legend in the making. Houston's own heavy hitters Dennis Dotson, David Caceres, Kido Zapata, Sebastian Whitaker and Mike Wheeler frequently take the stage. Bob Henschen, Joe Locascio, Harry Shepard and Kellye Gray are also regulars.

The biggest draw lately has been the Weekly Jazz Jam, which is on the schedule for most Thursdays. The Jam's house band features Ken Ward on piano, Aric Nitzberg on bass and Keith Karnaky on drums and anybody who's got the chops (or guts) to sit in. -- O.F.A.

Critic's Pick: Red Cat Jazz Cafe (posthumous award)

Best Cover Band
Molly and the Ringwalds
It was Revenge of the Nerds, Continental Club style, as the lounge's new Friday happy-hour residents captured the Best Cover flag from long-standing champs (and fellow CC lizards) the El Orbits. Proof that the Eighties are officially back? To a point, but above all else it demonstrates what a solid human jukebox the Ringwalds have morphed into since their humble birth (opening for Best Cover also-ran Allen Oldies Band) three years ago. A karaoke segment is currently being integrated into the Friday gig, so drop in, sign up, and play (for a moment) on a true winning team. -- J.T.

Critic's Pick: Molly and the Ringwalds

Best Horns
Secret Agent 8
Saxophonist Clay Duncan has a not-so-secret formula for coming up with cool horn lines for his ska fusion band: Duncan doesn't listen to ska. Yet this musical juxtaposition is exactly why Secret Agent 8 has developed its hybrid sound that combines elements of ska, R&B, jazz and rock.

Trombonist Chris Jensen, heading into his junior year as a music major at Southwest Texas, and trumpet/flugelhorn player Aaron Koerner are both jazzheads, in fact. "Everybody in this group brings different influences," says Duncan. "Aaron and I don't approach our writing from the point of view as being in a ska band. For the songs I wrote on the last album ("Stay" and "Things to Come") I just worked off the chord progression at my keyboard and developed the melody lines."

SA8's latest album -- Start.Action.Stop -- is full of inventive ascending and descending lines that run through the collage of influences. And though a couple of band members dress in traditional ska garb at their shows, the focus is on the licks, not on the floor gymnastics routines of '70s-era ska bands such as Madness.

Duncan is glad to see the band getting some citywide recognition with the award. "I really wish it was a best band award rather than focusing on just (the horns)." As for SA8's somewhat cloudy future, we must point out it's not officially affected by the Press Award curse, considering that the wheels were in motion before the group picked up its trophy. Trombonist Jensen, one-third of the winning horn section, has just gotten married and packed his bags for Tyler, where he will be, of all things, the manager of a Ryan's Steakhouse. And drummer Justin Brouillard, whose work was one of the best elements of Start.Action.Stop, has finished his training with the Texas City Fire Department and will play his final gig with the band Aug. 30. Rehearsals and auditions will continue this month so that the group's newest members will be ready for gigs in September. -- G.B.

Critic's Pick: Secret Agent 8

Best Drummer
Mike Potter (Paris Green)
For a self-described "former band nerd" who started skin-thumping in junior high, this award was special not only for what it was, but for what it represented. "It was a very good feeling," Potter said backstage immediately following the awards ceremony. "A lot of the guys who won this category before are good buddies of mine, so to follow in their footsteps is kind of nice." Potter is the drummer for Paris Green, the hot rock/rap/metal band from The Woodlands. "Mike adds a lot of personality to the band. He is a very amusing person," notes the band's Web site. Hopefully, he won't end up like Keith Moon or John Bonham, other "amusing" drummers. Paris Green has just released its third effort, a self-titled CD. Potter had to rein himself in during the recording. "In the studio, you've got to dummy it up a little," he explains. "They tell you 'don't do a lot of fills, don't hit your cymbals so aggressive, and sometimes that's frustrating. But live, it's just balls to the walls playing and showmanship." Potter admits that his victory in this category has a lot to do with the band's very dedicated fan base, who show up in droves at gigs, sporting their Paris Green T-shirts. "Once the word got out, a lot of people voted, and that's cool," he says. When someone jokes that the drums are the "weakest instrument" in the band, Potter is quick to facetiously agree. "They are. That's why I beat the shit out of them!" -- B.R.

Critic's Pick: Claudio de Pujadas

Best Folk Venue
Anderson Fair
Age trumped youth in this battle of the birkenstocks. While the Mucky's hardly a new club, Anderson Fair has been around since the pre-Watergate era, providing the north Montrose area with the finest in acoustic picking, well-turned phrases, heartfelt singing and mean quesadillas. To step over the threshold and on to the famous red brick floor of Nanci Griffith song is to enter into the mother church of Gulf Coast Folk, the architecturally eclectic sanctuary where everybody from Townes Van Zandt and Lucinda Williams to Adam Carroll and Tish Hinojosa have either launched or polished their reputations. -- J.N.L.

Critic's Pick: Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe

Best Rock Venue
The Engine Room
The first win for the venue is just one of the highlights for manager Mitch Burman. In addition to booking a steady stream of local bands, the club that he opened with Harris Kempner in 2000 has seen a sharp uprise in the quality and level of national acts from the Black-Eyed Peas and Ziggy Marley to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Buzzcocks. In addition, Burman's band, goneblind, signed a record deal with respected hard rock/metal label Roadrunner, and a five-song self-titled EP is out. Burman called this a sweet victory, and thanked those who followed him to the Engine Room from his former club, Instant Karma. "I feel that the Engine Room has a great staff, sound, vibe, and gets a broad range of talent through its doors," Burman says. "And having a variety of local and national acts is very important to bring in a different cross section of the public." Burman also credits manager Tommy Bryant and booker Jeff Messina at Clear Channel for upping the venue's prestige in the past year. As for the Engine Room's place in Houston clubs, he sees it as part of something much more than just a refurbished square warehouse location. "Support music by going out and listening to bands you never heard," he suggests. "You may find something you like." -- B.R.

Critic's Pick: Fitzgerald's

Best Rock en Español
Los Skarnales
It's tough categorizing bands. Sometimes the only approach that's feasible is to go as general as possible. Therefore, we're content to just call Los Skarnales a rock band that plays in Spanish, the better to avoid creating a category for surf-punk-rockabilly-ska-Tejano bands, which would be a category that these guys would win sin dificultidad ("hands down," for the Spanish-challenged) year after year. Calling Skarnales a rock en español band also gives them a little competition, but not too much -- the tattooed, fedora-wearing quartet won pretty easily. But even their competitors don't begrudge them their success. "They're a great band and they've really got their shit together," says Chango Jackson guitarist-singer Jaco Jackson. "There's a lot of rivalry in Spanish rock, but we aren't bitter about losing to those guys. As a matter of fact, it's been too long since we've done a show with them." -- J.N.L.

Critic's Pick: Chango Jackson

Best Punk
30footFALL
30footFALL's single-monikered Rubio was at a loss for words when asked his reaction to winning this year's award. "Uh...hmmm...uh....OK," he answered. Then he found his groove. "It's really cool that the Press supports local music, and it was an honor to win. We were totally surprised. I thought this year's ceremony was the best, and I was really proud of Blue October. They have worked just as hard as any of us, and it's cool that they've gotten where they have." (Take that, those of you who booed them when they won.) Not that Rubio's all sweetness and light. "I thought that Claudio De Pujadas got robbed in the drummer category. I always knew he was good, but I didn't know how good until he played a few shows with us." -- J.N.L.

Critic's Pick: Fatal Flying Guilloteens

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