By Chris Gray
By Corey Deiterman
By Jef With One F
By Chris Gray
By Rocks Off
By Rocks Off
Well, folks, it's gotten hot. After a June that felt more like an April, this summer's finally stopped underachieving and is now hammering us with the unholy trinity of ridiculously high temperatures, soul-drenching humidity and alarmingly frequent ozone alerts. The gators have retired to their bayou-bank havens, and the blue jays are tumbling from the sky as the West Nile virus shreds their insides.
All of which augurs one thing: the arrival of the Houston Press Music Awards. This is our 15th year -- or crystal anniversary, for those of you of a gift-giving persuasion -- and it's notable for a few reasons. One, there are more Latin and dance categories than ever on the ballot. Two, shows will be happening at a bunch of new venues -- Clark's, the Blu Torch and the Speakeasy weren't around this time last year -- and they're closer to one another than they've ever been since we moved this sucker downtown. And three, for the first time ever, in Switchfoot we have a headline act that has a massive pop chart hit at the same time they're playing our event.
But even given all that, the spirit of the event should remain the same. It's a celebration of Houston music in all its varied glory, from the old-school blues and R&B of Grady Gaines and the Texas Upsetters to the techno/tech house of Henry Chow; from the Korean War-era country of Hilary Sloan & Aunt Erma's Fillin' Station to the Aztlan/Dirty South hip-hop of Chingo Bling. And, of course, there will be lots and lots of rock and roll, in Spanish and English, old-school and new-school, from cover bands and originators and those that mix the two.
Sure, it's always hot as the devil's ass and you have to do a bit of hiking, but you know what? There's nothing else like this event. It's Houston music's Woodstock, Coachella and Burning Man all rolled into one, and you can catch 65 bands for a mere seven bucks.
Back at Strake Jesuit, the good fathers told me you couldn't call yourself a Catholic if you skipped Mass on Easter Sunday. And I believe that you can't say you "support the scene" if you miss Showcase Sunday. Be there, or go to purgatory.
(About the guide: In an effort to let the bands explain themselves as eloquently as possible, we sent out questionnaires to all of them. That's why the band blurbs read like a Zagat guide -- it's the best possible format for letting everyone have their say. Unfortunately, not all of the bands could be reached, and some didn't send in their questionnaires on time. In those cases, we relied on band bios and positive press coverage. This is one event where we suspend our critical faculties and let the bands say how great their music is without our butting in. We may trash 'em and slash 'em the other 51 weeks of the year, but not this week.)
508 Main, 713-227-1511
4 pm Drexl
5 pm Vatos Locos
6 pm JW Americana
7 pm Infinity's Twin
8 pm The Handsomes
9 pm Carolyn Wonderland
Song of the Year ("Nectar")
About two years
"Recklessly blending elements of modern rock, funk, R&B and metal into a controlled chaos that stretches the previously untamed waters of aggressive pop" is the wordy stock-in-trade of this quartet, "a band that sees sound as elastic: ever changing and ever stretching." Hailing from "a barrio-slash-ghetto near you," Drexl hopes to "to save the world and outlaw cheese out of a can."
This band considers itself "unique and aggressive" and says it comes from "deep within one of the meanest inner-city barrios" in H-town to combine "rock and roll, blues, metal, jazz and hardcore." "She Loves Me for My Dickies," off their 2003 album, Fortune and Fun, was filmed as a video by the blue-collar clothier. People who come to Vatos Locos shows are treated to "a band with a tremendous stage presence," with "an energy that captivates the essence of entertainment," they say. An as-yet-untitled new CD will be coming out next month.
Bridling at the punk label, JW Americana claims they are more of a "a musical skeleton key with the teeth being the roots of rock 'n' roll and soul." Or maybe they're purveyors of "straight-forward, no-effects rock and roll, whose lyrics resemble the ramblings of a brilliant eight-year-old kid" and deal with "such fascinating things as hot dogs, M-80s, water and boudin." "Anywhere in front of wild gyrating women!" is their favorite place to play, and you can't accuse them of false modesty -- or modesty of any kind, for that matter. Their boast: "JW Americana is probably the best rock 'n' roll band to come out of Houston in a long, long time, if not ever."
Best Alternative Rock
Two years and counting!
These modern rockers worship at the altars of Live, A Perfect Circle, Stone Temple Pilots and Incubus, though all of these musicians are mere demigods in their pantheon when placed next to Grohl, the supreme being. Some of the praises they sing: "So much talent and so little time! Bad-ass drummer and bad-ass guitarist! The guy can sing, too!" The band describes music as "the canvas on which we paint our picture of beauty" and adds that they "LOVE TO ROCK!" The band is currently involved in the Meltdown to Cabo Contest for the Hard Rock Cafe, and they hope to make it to the finals, where they could have "a chance to open up for Sammy Hagar in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico!"
Best Pop/Rock, Best New Act
Party-hearty rockers the Handsomes offer good-time music tinged with funk, pop and ska, a blend popular at the Lounge, where they pack in 300-plus a show. "Music is our favorite thing to do in life," they say, and since two members are law students, the success of their band would ensure that there were two fewer lawyers in the world. The band name causes them much grief; it started as a joke, but the band "booked our first show with it, and it stuck." Says one member, "I used to be sort of embarrassed when people asked what the name of the band was. I've gotten over it." The band has yet to tour, so they have no horror tales from the road. They do, however, have one from here in town: "There were real ram skulls glued to the amps of one of the bands we played with recently. Their crowd didn't dig us too much."
"That too few people know anyone outside of their circle" is the "grossly overgeneralized" lament this rootsy rocker has about her hometown, a place she says "rubs off on you whether you play blues, metal, zydeco, hip-hop, country, jazz or what have you." Though she now calls Austin home six nights a week, she still can be found every Tuesday at the Last Concert Cafe alongside her "talented" band of players "with big hearts." "Doug Sahm, Albert Collins and Billy Joe Shaver" are the first monikers she rattles off when asked to name her favorite artists, but that list goes on to include 16 more people ranging from her mom to Bach. Clearly, without music, this girl would be in a world of hurt, but she thinks she could find some contentment penning "a lot of paranoid anti-government rants...but with no guitar parts."
Blu Torch Lounge
809 Congress, 713-228-3409
Songwriter of the Year
Two years with current lineup
Charles Bukowski, Bob Dylan, Bill Hicks, Beggar's Banquet-era Rolling Stones, Sam Kinison, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Penthouse"Forum" and John Prine roil together in the soul of this immensely talented barroom bard, one of the finest songwriters alive. What's more, he can really sing, too; a high lonesome Kentucky keen often creeps into his conversational baritone, one that injects a full $40 on the hype-full of desperation into his tragicomic songs about death, debauchery and desolation.
Slop Jar Jr.
"A fun band" that mixes "funk, heavy rock and jazz" with "excitement, passion and plain craziness" is how Slop Jar Jr.'s members describe themselves. The band's lineup is Chad Strader, formerly of Global Village, who fronts a group consisting of every member of the defunct band Soular Slide that isn't named Shawn Pander. The band's freewheeling live shows have drawn comparisons to everything from This Is Spinal Tap to The Muppet Show to Jesus Christ Superstar.
Best Alternative Rock
"Sharing the stage with Hank Williams Jr., Sugar Ray, Dishwalla, Cowboy Mouth and Bob Schneider" are prominent pages in the scrapbook of modern rockers Pilot Radio, and they have a soft spot for "the bands, as well as people, that are honestly trying to make a change in the local scene for the better." The location of live venues, however, is something they dislike about the scene.
Guatemalan-born salsero Walter Suhr and his merry band have had quite a year. Not only did the group perform at the Super Bowl pregame show, where they got to "stand side by side with Willie Nelson, Toby Keith, Aerosmith, Beyoncé and Josh Groban," but they also played at Mayor Bill White's inauguration. The band's album ¿Qué me pongo? has made it onto heavy rotation on Spanish-language MTV, VH1 and HTV. Suhr's composition "Nothing, Nothing" will serve as the theme for the fall flick Love for Rent. Mango Punch enjoys the "loyalty, word-of-mouth and great love and support from people" in the Houston scene, but they say they dislike control of many clubs by a few promoters, and what they see as "a big void in the coverage by local newspapers." Ouch!
Best Rock en Español
Ten or 11 years
Most people don't think of the Village People when they hear the ska/punk/cumbia/rock/rockabilly/ Tejano music of Los Skarnales, but their day jobs beg the comparison -- tattoo artist, exterminator, janitor, construction worker, and the final member is a UH student/Children's Museum worker. The blue-collar band will have a new CD, Pachuco Boogie Sound System, out by the end of this month. The band says it loves H-town's diversity of music, but dislikes the city's "close-minded people." Little-known Skarnales factoid: "The guy who looks the oldest in the band is actually the youngest...and he's a virgin."
1010 Prairie, 713-225-6372
Best Lounge DJ
About ten years
Man about town Ceeplus has his irons in a lot of fires. There's the touring shows he promotes, there's Reprogram Radio, his Monday-afternoon KPFT show, and there's Dynamite Lounge, his Monday-night residency at the Proletariat, where he spins "cool rock-n-roll, dance punk/electro funk, indie pop/rock, trashy beats & grooves, retro/nü/no wave, misc. electronica and dirty hip-hop & cheese pop."
Best Dance Club DJ
More than ten years
If you loved the '80s, you'll love Wes Wallace, a DJ who reveres, relives, reshapes and remixes the Greed Is Good Decade every week at Numbers. But we ain't talkin' that overexposed Fixx and Don Henley crap you hear on the Point -- we're talkin' stuff like the Normal, Clash tunes other than "Should I Stay or Should I Go" and "Rock the Casbah," Ultravox and Revolting Cocks. He can almost make you believe the unbelievable: that the Reagan years were livable ones. Maybe that's why his Friday-night "Classic Numbers" sets have long been the best-attended '80s night in town.
Best Lounge DJ
Despite his residencies here -- "Metronome," Tuesday nights at Licor Lounge is the latest -- techno/tech house spinner Chow finds his biggest successes abroad. He just returned from a tour of Germany, where he played before 25,000 people in Bremen. Chow also spun at South By Southwest this year, but he digs playing "wherever people are really up for the music." Recorded "collaborations with Zenit artist Tomie Nevada" are also in the works.
Best Dance Club DJ
More than ten years
"House music can save your soul," says DJ Sean Carnahan, which should give the more astute of you a hint about what he spins. He's also a bit of a conspiracy theorist: "There is and has only ever been one techno' track," he avers. "It has been mixed continuously round the clock by a team of nine committed DJs for the last 12 years. Anytime you hear a supposed live' techno mix, the DJ is in fact tapping into the live stream that is being transmitted from a secret location in Detroit. This explains why all techno' tracks sound the same to you who don't know shit about it." Carnahan -- whom you might not expect to be the rabid Stevie Ray Vaughan fan that he is -- has been the mastermind behind the Spundae shows the past few months, and he has still bigger plans in the works: "I just opened a club at 2401 San Jacinto (formerly known as Rich's), which I plan with my partner Neil to develop into something that is very noteworthy."
Best Lounge DJ
This multiple-award-winner thinks the "lounge DJ" label a bit of a misnomer. "I like to move the crowd as well," he notes. Jackie Mattoo, ATCQ, Massive Attack and Bob Marley are among the favorite artists of this Suriname-born decknician, who wants you to know that the South American nation of his birth "produces the most world-class soccer players per capita" of any country in the world. Sun, who takes his DJ name from his Chinese grandfather, has two recent mix CDs of note (Soular Grooves 4, Nine Before Ten) and is at work on an original production, an untitled collaboration with Mark Sound, Nappy G, Jai Jordan and Tim Ruiz. Sun says that music is "the most enjoyable" career he could imagine, though he finds the Houston scene "a bit small for the size of the metro area we are."
314 Main, 713-237-8220
David Brake & That Damn Band
Best New Act
Almost a year
"I have always believed that country, rock and roll, and blues are just a beat apart." So said Waylon Jennings, as quoted by David Brake, another guy who also subscribes to that credo. Brake spends most weeknights performing requests, but on weekends he unleashes his own material; "once people warm up to you, they really seem to enjoy original music," he says. He only wishes more club owners would do the same. "Some of the more established clubs in town really need talent scouts," he says. Still, other scouts have found Brake -- his 2003 release Lean Mean Texas Machine "made the top 13 independent releases for 2003 in Texas Monthly."
The instrumental jazz funksters in Drop Trio have it all planned out should their promising music career go suddenly south: "We play a mean game of blackjack." The band hates it that "hype isn't always backed up with hard work" in this town, but they love how the local musicians "are really supportive of each other." For example, "If not for musicians, most of our gigs would be pretty empty. Well, okay, they're often empty anyway, but...we can still feel the love." One song off Album of the Year nominee Big Dipper was recently included on the Johnson Family Vacation soundtrack, with vocals by Beyoncé's little sis Solange Knowles, and a hip-hop version of another will soon be released by rapper LRJ.
The Lonestar Bluegrass Band
More than 22 years
"Representing Houston in the Festival of Cities in Chiba, Japan" was one of this local institution's recent thrills. Bandleader Chris Hirsch restores antique guns by day and picks banjo by night, though he stresses the fact that his is not a trad bluegrass band: "We throw other styles in the mix and play songs that were never intended to be bluegrass, [but] with bluegrass instruments in a bluegrass style." Hirsch believes "fun" and "friendship" are the twin engines of his band's longevity and success. "All the members of the band are in this because we honestly love it and we are friends. We have fun on stage, and I believe that is why the audience has so much fun."
Best Alternative Rock
"Aside from breathing and dying, music is the one element that connects us all, a common ground," said goneblind lead vocalist-rhythm guitarist John Curry, back in the heady days when his band was signed to Roadrunner Records. The band has been pretty inactive recently, but four years ago their "aggressive and melodic" "AM rock" was all the rage in Houston and on the road.
Best Salsa/Merengue/Latin Pop, Best Female Vocalist
More than 25 years
The daughter of prominent Latin bandleader Roberto Zenteno, Norma can swing anything, from Latin salsa, merengue, cumbia and cha-cha to blues, rock and Top 40. Since getting a guitar from her father at age 11, Norma has been a performer. Today, "She's jazz, she's Latin, she's funked-up fusion, she's rock and roll, she is an original!" She's also something of a local celeb: In addition to being a staple on the big-time festival circuit, like former Astros hurler José Lima, she has starred in a Casa Olé ad campaign.
Dean's Credit Clothing
316 Main, 713-227-3326
5 pm Dr. Jeff & the Painkillers
6 pm The El Orbits
7 pm Guy Schwartz & the New Jack Hippies
8 pm Southern Backtones
9 pm Liviya Compean
Dr. Jeff & the Painkillers
Best Cover Band
This "Beatles, blues and oldies and originals" band recently played the infamous Balinese Room in Galveston. Dr. Jeff chafes under the "cover band" description. "We also do some originals," he says. "There should be a category next year for best fun band or best party band!" By day Dr. Jeff is a first-call recording engineer, and he loves Houston's "wide-open, unlimited possibilities," but he decries the scene's "lack of camaraderie." On a cryptic note, Dr. Jeff said that a previous band of his "used to feed the motel television late at night due to boredom."
The El Orbits
Best Cover Band
These suit-wearing, lounge-adelic covermeisters shake up musical martinis comprising equal parts "pop radio swing standards from the '50s and '60s, country hits from your grandfather's AM car radio, and nearly forgotten Gulf Coast R&B favorites." For some, being an El Orbit is "as much of a lifestyle as a musical endeavor." The band has been hosting a Monday-night bingo party every week for the past few years, and can often be spotted around Texas in one of their flotilla of vintage Suburbans, often towing their custom-built yellow RC Cola trailer.
Roger & Guy for 33 years; this band for eight years Cagey music veteran Schwartz touts Houston's "humans and music" but slams the city's "mosquitoes and humidity." He also has choice words for "all the venues who shorted the musicians bucks or treated musicians like shit," but he won't name any names. "I won't allow any of those venue-owning assholes who burned us to feel better about themselves 'cause someone else was even worse." Schwartz wants it known that his is not exclusively a blues band -- "we're songwriters with a band," he says. His love for Elvis Costello, Frank Zappa, Robbie Robertson and Willie Dixon should give the uninitiated some idea of the band's breadth. Schwartz says enigmatically that his funniest gig was "the night that Heath got laid!" and wants it known that "George Bush isn't as smart as he looks."
Best Roots Rock/Rockabilly
Southern Backtone Hank Schyma likes band names that roll past like freight trains: "the Homeless Drunks Who Wake Up in Strange Beds" and "the Bridge Burners Who Shit Where They Eat" are two that he says "would have probably been more fitting" in description of his hard-to-describe band. Schyma damns the local scene with faint praise, to put it mildly -- "I do like that it is very unsaturated, very dismal," though he adds that the trio of "Houston, Austin and Dallas together make a great scene." As for his dislikes, among them are this paper's annual misappraisal of his band -- "I scratch my head after every subtle mentioning," he says, sounding very much like a philosophical Parisian on his fourth espresso as he reels off a litany of wrongs that includes our branding them a rockabilly band with an upright bass that occasionally lapses into German oom-pah. (For the record, they aren't, don't have one, and don't.)
Best Female Vocalist
About eight years
PJ Harvey, Prince, Gato Barbieri, Tool, Linkin Park and Rush all mingle in the sound of Liviya Compean's well-traveled band, which has opened for Jose Feliciano, Leon Russell, Consolidated and Saliva. Compean, the product of a multigenerational music family, says she basks in "the undying support of our fans, who continue to come see us play show after show and have been patiently waiting for the release of our new record." But she's irked by the "misconception that we are a female, acoustic/folk act instead of a heavy, alternative rock band." Compean isn't "just the singer, but also the songwriter and performs all of the guitar work, both live and in the studio." As for the previously mentioned album, it will be called Hormonal Injustice, and it's to be released in August or September.
Hard Rock Cafe
502 Texas, 713-227-1392
Five years under own name
"I jam, therefore I am" is the motto of this dexterous guitarist. Towns has two CDs coming soon, one of "very mellow" guitar, the other of "hot, upbeat" Latin jazz. Towns also has a record out now -- Passion, with jazz legend Hubert Laws, and he has performed live with Kirk Whalum. Towns enjoys playing outdoor festivals and large events best, and adds that "nothing" particularly bothers him about the local music scene. Towns believes the music of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and Miles Davis can help as you "seek that which is good: peace, love and enlightenment through music."
Best New Act
About a year
That there is a piano in this young group leads to the greatest misconception about them, according to Nick, the redheaded guy who plays it. "People think we're soft," he says. "Don't get me wrong, we're not hard-core, but people see the piano and think we're another Ben Folds or Coldplay, but we're not." Still a very young man, the Vines, Mars Volta and Bright Eyes fan also says that he has the medical history of a 75-year-old, including having been "clinically dead three times," but he feels very much alive when he plays music. "It's what makes me happy," he says. "Everything else feels like work; this feels like play."
Best Bassist (Rusty Guess)
"Hanging out with Fountains of Wayne" was a recent red-letter day in the near-ten-year career of rockers Dune*TX. They do say "having a 70-year-old lady tell us we suck" and "using our merch as blankets since we didn't realize we were going to be sleeping in the van and it was going to be 25 degrees" came in at the other end of the satisfaction spectrum. Though stylistically different, the power pop/garage rockers have much in common with Mark Towns: They prefer outdoor festival shows, cite Hendrix as a top influence and share his optimistic outlook. Asked to name their worst gig ever, they say there's "no such thing -- it's rock and roll...Have fun!" Trends here do bug them, but they even find a silver lining in the cloud of frequent band breakups on the scene: They like that "you can get good deals on gear since people don't stay in bands too long." And in case you forgot, they say "Billy Gibbons is a cool mofo."
Grady Gaines & the Texas Upsetters
Best Horn/Horn Section
Roughly 50 years
Harlem's Apollo Theatre is cited by "living legend" Grady Gaines as his favorite place to play, and he has seen many rooms in the saxman's five full decades of entertaining. Gaines says he can't quite decide who is his favorite all-time musician -- so he calls it a tie between Sam Cooke and Little Richard, both of whom he has toured with. Gaines's grandfather played music, so he says the art is in his "blood and soul," as are his favorite records ever: "Caldonia" by Louis Jordan and "Honky Tonk" by Bill Doggett.
Sean Reefer & the Resin Valley Boys
Best New Act, Best C&W
You'd expect there to be more than one stoner in a band that goes by the name Sean Reefer & the Resin Valley Boys, but according to drummer Neal LaCroix, that's not the case. "Only one of us actually gets high," he says, "and at least one of us has a college degree." The drummer for the hard-core country traditionalists also surprises with what he listens to in his leisure time: U2, Jane's Addiction, the Smiths and Zeppelin. Poor promotion on the part of some club owners irks this band, as does a certain lack of selectiveness on the part of fans -- "They will be happy and clap for any drunk yahoo who gets on stage," LaCroix grouses. But he loves the HPMA Showcase, which he says "has to continue for years to come. It is one of the few things that culminates all of Houston's diverse acts into one setting and allows all of the cliques to experience something out of their own world."
By now, Elvis Costello's "dancing about architecture" dig at the music critic's profession is so famous as to be clichéd. But D.R.U.M.'s Alafia Gaidi knows a fresher, if likely older, way to say the same thing: "Do not allow your eyes to be made from the lips of another," he says, citing an African proverb. In D.R.U.M.'s case, the axiom is most apt; many people think erroneously that the band "plays only reggae or only drums." In fact, you'll hear echoes of many of their favorite artists, a list that includes Bob Marley, sure, but also "Coltrane, Fela, the men and women of Motown, Baba Olatunji, Parliament/ Funkadelic, Duke Ellington, Tito Puente, Nina Simone, Baaba Maal, Antonio Carlos Jobim -- don't get us started." D.R.U.M. has a new live CD coming soon, but in the meantime you can go see them "anyplace there's enough room to play, enough money to pay and enough people to sway."
1008 Prairie, 713-225-MERC
5 pm Mando Saenz
6 pm Chango Jackson
7 pm Clouseaux
8 pm Tony Vega Band
9 pm John Evans Band
For Mando Saenz, Houston's "bad listeners" are balanced out by the city's "good musicians." Though he has a record and publishing deal with a Nashville company -- Carnival Music -- he bridles when you call his twangy, tasteful, rustic rock "country." Saenz's recent feats include co-writing with Kim Richey and gigging with Buddy Miller and Leanne Womack at Stubb's in Austin. Though those are indeed worthy deeds, he still believes all musicians "are fucked in the head." His 2002 album, Watertown, is scheduled for rerelease in September.
Best Rock en Español
We have the basic truth that "average doesn't cut it in porn" to thank for the fact that the members of Chango Jackson chose musical careers, and they claim that without music they would be nothing but "pinche borrachos." "Los Beatles, Hendrix, Doors, Bowie, Rush, etc..." are all pureed in the CJ blender, along with Spanish lyrics and flying hazards at their shows -- "We would like to apologize if you have or will be hit by a tamale at our show." A long-waited release of a four-year-old CD could be looming for the group. They claim that by day, they "are the Chuck E. Cheese band!" The greatest misconception about Chango Jackson? "That we actually have a shot."
Clouseaux singer Tomas Escalante considers it a noteworthy recent feat that they "actually played a show with all the members in attendance." And it's no small one when you understand that this "tiki-lounge-exotica" outfit boasts a dozen members. On August 2, Lagoon!, their second full-length album, will drop, though that day is something of a sad one for the band, since the CD release party will be drummer Claudio De Pujadas's last with them. (He's moving to Philadelphia to pursue jazz drumming.) "Michael Haaga" is Escalante's favorite thing about the Houston scene. Among his worries: that "Main Street is destined to become the Richmond Strip rather than a live music haven" and that too many people erroneously believe that Clouseaux plays "ska and funk...good job, Houston Chronicle! Really doing your homework."
Tony Vega Band
Why play music? "I suck at everything else!" says Tony Vega, who chafes under the blues label. Although he admits his band has "a blues-based backbone," he says he "never asked to be nominated for Best Blues alongside men like Texas Johnny Brown and Joe Guitar' Hughes." His favorite artist is Lyle Lovett; his favorite albums are NWA's Straight Outta Compton and The Neighborhood by Los Lobos. Vega's band is big overseas; his favorite places to play are "the Hide-out club in Munich and anywhere in Switzerland." Closer to home, Vega digs the fact that H-town has "an indigenous sound, a Gulf coast sound, if you will." But he wishes that every local bar would charge a cover. "It would make things easier on everyone involved," he believes.
John Evans Band
Best C&W, Best Roots Rock/Rockabilly, Best Male Vocalist, Local Musician of the Year
"Real music. Real different." That's the motto of the John Evans Band, and by that he means a rootsy blend of styles -- including country, Texas swing and rockabilly -- presented with the balls-out energy and drive of a hard rock band. And evidently Houstonians think he's "real cool" -- over the last three years, the six-foot-six singer-guitarist-Luby's pitchman has won a total of seven awards, including Local Musician of the Year two years running.
Red Cat Jazz Café
924 Congress, 713-226-7870
Novak says if anyone wants to "hear good songs with great harmonies, they should come out" to see her and Mones, or check out their individual bands. By day Novak is a hairstylist and owner of All Decked Out, a hair salon with a musician-heavy clientele -- "I am responsible for creating nice-looking musicians!" She notes that cutting heads has given her "set hours to play music as well as the funds to record the CDs." Lucinda Williams, the Wallflowers, Luna and Teenage Fan Club are some of her national faves, while Chris Sacco, Tody Castillo, Mando Saenz, Mark Zeus and Clay Farmer are among her favorite locals. Though she enjoys performing, she says, "Writing is my passion...I'd like to get a song recorded by a big artist!"
Best Indie Rock
An indie rock band, some of whose members are Houstonians who go to college in Pennsylvania, UME makes up for lost time by gigging as often as possible while home on school breaks. My Bloody Valentine, Sonic Youth and Sleater-Kinney with a bass are decent comparisons. Petite singer Lauren Larson caterwauls like a she-devil who's missed a few meals. Beware.
Hilary Sloan & Aunt Erma's Fillin' Station
Best C&W, Best Bluegrass
Gruene Hall and the Broken Spoke are two of Hilary Sloan's fave places to play, and even if you don't catch her at one of those legendary Texas dance halls, her music will take you there. The singer-fiddler says that "music was never a choice I made -- just what I've always been," and adds that without it she would have only "ever-increasing insanity" or "incarceration." Sloan is proud of the fact that she is often mistaken for a classic country cover band -- "People that I've talked to are surprised to hear that most of the songs are mine." Emmylou Harris and Ralph Stanley are two of her favorites, which is no shocker, but so is "Me'Shell NdegéOcello," which may surprise some. For final wisdom, Sloan turns to the Book of Tom T. Hall: "Joe, don't let your music kill you -- nobody cares."
About 15 years
Former Kirk Whalum protégé Kyle Turner has been called a "rising saxist with the sexy sound," and his repertoire includes "straight-ahead jazz, fusion, R&B, gospel, blues and smooth jazz." After he spent stints in Austin and Los Angeles, the new millennium found Turner back in Houston, where he was born and raised. "Kyle Turner's soul is exposed in every note he plays," says Whalum of his onetime apprentice. "And that's the way music was intended to be!"
Free Radicals with Harry Sheppard
Free Rads drummer Nick Cooper answered our questionnaire from Chiapas, Mexico, where he was chilling "in an indigenous Zapatista community." The band's new CD, Aerial Bombardment, was recorded with 50 musicians. Cooper likes to say that his ska/reggae/jazz/funk/rock/etc. orchestra features some "members too young to drink, and others with great-grandchildren." He lists "Helios, Super Happy Fun Land and the Brooklyn Academy of Music" as top gig spots for this band, which was almost named Zeno's Paradox.
Current lineup since 2002; Zwee since 1997; Zwee & the Graveberries since 1994
By day, Zwee's Frank Zweback is a teacher, and he offers this lesson: "Better to get off your ass, do something and be marginally successful than to complain about what you can't do. It's only life, so live it." His band has done just that, by taking home the Best R&B/Funk trophy last year, and "headlining at Griff's St. Pat's Day fest, playing at the Super Bash, and the 40 Ounce party on Super Bowl weekend," the last of which he says "was our best show ever, maybe." Zwee loves "the good people" that are in the Houston music scene, only he wishes there were more of them: "People just don't go out to see music that much." Among Zwee's pantheon of greats: "Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, James Brown, Pharoah Sanders and A Tribe Called Quest."
709 Franklin, 713-22-REHAB
5 pm Lise Liddell
6 pm Studemont Project
7 pm The Buddhacrush
8 pm DeSangre
9 pm [Band to be announced]
Hearing "Puff the Magic Dragon" on the radio in carpool on the way home from kindergarten was a watershed moment in Lise Liddell's life. She recalls that she "bawled her head off" when she found out that "twit" Jackie Paper left Puff alone by the sea. "Music has always charged me emotionally like nothing else ever could," she says. A third CD is slated to join the 1997 release, White Heart, and 2002's Lovers' Moonlater this fall. Barbra Streisand, k.d. lang,Nanci Griffith and Elton John are the progenitors of her favorite albums, and she doesn't care what you think about that. "I'm not lying about [that question] and I'm not embarrassed, either!"
A little over two and a half years
MC Caption says the greatest misconception about his underground hip-hop group, Studemont Project, is that it takes itself too seriously. "We do take creating music seriously, but we are not conservative, stone-faced individuals," he says, adding that they "throw crazy movie quotes off the dome frequently, get amped for three-on-three basketball, and participated in an underground kickball league." The defending champs in the Best Hip-hop/Rap category dig listening to the Mars Volta, Diverse, Cursive the Doors and Miles Davis, performing at the Proletariat and checking out the "many talented undiscovered artists" on the local scene. But the cliquishness of the same scene annoys them.
"A truly synergistic pop/jazz/funk melting pot" is what the Buddhacrush say they cook up, a stew enlivened by "spicy rhythms, imaginative wordplay and a sincerity of sound crafted on real instruments." They strive "to be both hip and overwhelmingly honest" in delivering "challenging pop music." The sextet hopes to keep it downright fun, while also being thought-provoking but not pretentious.
Best Rock en Español
DeSangre's manager, Raul "DJ Woo," answered for these rockeros, reporting that their most noteworthy feat is for the band to "stay together." Though most of the fans of these metal merchants are Hispanic, Woo says the majority of their CDs are sold to gringos. The band wishes there were more community in the music scene here. According to Woo, "Houston is a cultural pit" where people prefer to stay at home. He believes local commercial radio stations contribute to this malaise: "They don't play the better music that exists; instead we our crushed to death with the one or two songs the corporate bands put out per month."
St. Pete's Dancing Marlin
300 Main, 713-227-1511
4 pm Rapture
5 pm Skyblue 72
6 pm Dubtex
7 pm Molly & the Ringwalds
8 pm Deep Ella
9 pm Silverleaf
Best Salsa/Merengue/Latin Pop
About three years
A five-piece Latin variety band with a decidedly non-Hispanic lineup, Rapture has been around for three years. Somehow, group leader Henry Banrevi, an ethnic East European gypsy, landed in Venezuela and fell in love with Latin music. A few years later, he stopped off in Monterrey, Mexico, and fell in love again, this time with a singer named Norma who eventually became Mrs. Banrevi. The two later moved to Houston, where Henry joined Mango Punch. Banrevi eventually split to form his own Latin band, Caribe, with Norma taking lead vocals. When audiences kept asking for American pop tunes between the cumbias and merengues, Banrevi changed the group's name to Rapture and added some Pink Floyd and Gloria Gaynor to his book of Paulina Rubio and Gloria Estefan songs. The group, which also includes Paolo Castagnoli and Eric Brown, is working on its first CD, a collection of Latin originals. -- Olivia Flores Alvarez
Zweback, who "sweats for a living" as a Bikram yoga teacher, also sings and pounds drums. Of her new band Skyblue 72, Zweback says Stevie Wonder serves as the chief inspiration, alongside the Police, the Beatles, Joni Mitchell and Miles Davis. Zweback adds that she'd "go insane without music," and says that the largest crowd she has ever played for was "probably the millions of imaginary faces in my bedroom. Those shadows are spooky!" Not to worry, though, for she also adds, "My therapist says I'm progressing nicely." The band's only recording so far is a three-song EP produced by Robbie Parrish, a man the band "hearts."
About three years
"Urban reggae from Space City" is Dubtex's pithy way of describing themselves, and "Selena's Dead" and "O.J. Did It" are two band names they rejected. Favorites of the band include U2, Burning Spear, Sizzla, Public Enemy and Bad Brains, so don't go expecting a bunch of overly familiar reggae tunes -- these guys are creators, not dilettantes. "Just 'cause you're screaming all the titles from the Legend collection at us" doesn't mean you'll get to hear "Jammin'" or "Satisfy My Soul." They list "realness and diversity" as their favorite things about Houston; "people who call themselves promoters' and do nothing of the sort" get what rappers Third Bass used to call "the gas face." And they claim that they are "honestly quite possibly the freshest sound you've heard in at least ten years."
Molly & the Ringwalds
Best Cover Band
About four years
"Moody synths, loud guitar solos and hot girls with big hair" help this '80s-only cover band conjure the Decade of Greed. The Ringwalds don't shy from "playing the Go-Gos, Van Halen and Young MC back to back, with a little Madonna and Gary Numan thrown in for good measure." Equal parts "wacky banter" and "musicianship," Ringwalds shows are "events" full of "bacchanal pleasures" such as "free nachos."
Best Alternative Rock
About four years
"Postmodern U2" and "Live with a hint of English rock sensibilities" are two descriptions of these alt-rockers, whose album Last Year's New Thing is, they claim, "a diverse collection of power-pop songs showcasing big hooks and catchy melodies." In concert, the band claims to "move effortlessly from heavy, guitar-driven tunes to eloquent, compelling ballads." In short, "a Deep Ella show leaves an indelible impression on each listener, which can only be overshadowed by their next Deep Ella experience."
Best Alternative Rock, Album of the Year (The Show)
Almost two years
"Anywhere that people want to rock and get rocked" is where Silverleaf likes to play, and recently 700 of those people showed up at Numbers for the release of their new CD, The Show. The fact that "real jobs suck" is their impetus to pursue music; another thing that sucks in their view is the fact that "Houston is soooo spread out. There's not really one central spot for good local music like Sixth Street or Deep Ellum." And the third thing that they think sucks? This misconception: "A lot of people think we are fairly light and poppy." Au contraire, says the band. "Especially our live shows. They are very intense and energetic." Which is what you would expect from a band that cites Live and Pearl Jam as faves, though not from one that cites James Taylor, who they say is a "brilliant" songwriter.
110 Main, 713-547-0566
Lady D & the Zydeco Tornadoes
Nine and a half years
Lady D had come a long way when she won last year's Best Zydeco award. After all, eight years previously she'd made her debut "at 6 a.m. on the shores of Clear Lake. I played Happy Birthday,' and it went from 25 ducks to two ducks. I said, If I can get y'all to listen, I can get anybody to listen.'" Now, she often plays on a different body of water -- Galveston Bay -- for a different creature, namely humans, who, um, flock to see her shows on the Kemah party boat Sensation. The Opelousas, Louisiana, native works two full-time jobs but lives for her weekend gigs -- "zydeco makes people happy," she says, "whether you're old, young, handicapped, black or white." Alone among zydeco musicians, Beau Jocque encouraged her -- "Don't give up Lady D, it'll pay off,' he would tell me" -- and thus ranks as tops with her within her genre. But her favorite tune is one by another Louisiana native: "My favorite song right now is Toxic' by Britney Spears."
Last year's River Oaks Redneck Musician of the Year has a solo album slated for release later this year. The bluesy, folksy Cubs fan touts "Dan Electro's and JP Hops House" as his favorite local gigs -- though he says he has plans of his own -- "I'm thinking about opening a restaurant/club in the future." Zeus loves the "diversity, mix of style and mostly the songwriting" in H-town but loathes the "lack of recognition for the amazing acoustic songwriter community here." The former instructor -- "I coached football and taught English at the high school level" -- says local Ken Gaines is his favorite artist "right now," and he touts Bruce Cockburn's Burning Lightand Traffic's Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys as desert island discs.
Opie Hendrix & the Texas Tallboys
Best Roots Rock/Rockabilly
"Roots-rocking alt-country, spiced by a pinch of rockabilly" is the forte of this flame-haired outlaw, the defending champ in the Roots Rock/Rockabilly category. The son of an Elvis-loving mother who named him Stephan Buchanan, Opie earned his moniker at the late, lamented Boat Yard, where the hard-bitten regulars took a shine to both his hair and his six-string dexterity. Since then, Opie has assembled a "premier backing band," including steel guitar legend Susan Alcorn, and they always "play from the heart, not a set list."
Songwriter of the Year
Landing songs on TV (Felicity soundtrack, MTV's Camp Jim) and films (Breaking Dawn), and playing a show in Liverpool's Cavern Club are among the recently installed feathers in this sophisticated modern popster's cap. Yoria claims to "enjoy working very hard and making very little money," which rather puts the lie to his claim that if he weren't a musician, he'd be a "sleep research volunteer." The Colombian-American Cubs fan cites Piero's self-titled record and Charlie Rich's Behind Closed Doors as his favorite albums ever, though he looks beyond his field for his fave artist: Richard Pryor.
Over 20 years
Two years ago, somebody not from around these parts called 1999's Local Musician of the Year "the best guitarist you've never heard of, and arguably the most versatile talent working the blues today," but we've obviously known all that for a long time. The same goes for Dickey Betts, who says he was "blown away" by May and took him on the road with him for two years. Dollmaker, May's long-awaited follow-up to 1997's Telephone Road, came out this year, and this paper called it "a great party record," as much a necessity for your next outdoor soiree as "beer, insect repellent and meat for the grill."
218 Travis, 713-222-1962
5 pm Beetle
6 pm Ezra Charles & the Works
7 pm Hayes Carll
8 pm Fondue Monks
9 pm Zydeco Dots
Best Cover Band
About three years
These privates in Sgt. Pepper's platoon lean heavily on the band's early and middle period -- say, up to Help! and Rubber Soul. Paul Beebe serves as John and Paul rolled into one, while guitarist Jim Henkel impersonates George Harrison. Last year, we cited the band's "authenticity," saying it extends "right down to the collarless suit coats, mod hairdos and even John Lennon's jangly Rickenbacker guitars." A regular at the Continental Club, this fab combo conjures mania wherever it perches.
Ezra Charles & the Works
Best Roots Rock/Rockabilly, Best Keyboardist
About 20 years
As much an institution of the city's music scene as Felix Mexican Restaurant is on the culinary, swamp-boogie piano man Ezra Charles got his start in Beaumont in the late 1950s in a band called Johnny and the Jammers, which featured, in his words, "Johnny and Edgar Winter on guitars, me on piano and David Holliday on drums." "I am the last protégé of Professor Longhair," Charles notes, and his favorite artist ever is his " uncle,' Ray Charles." Ezra is also an inventor -- a piano pickup he dreamed up is now standard gear ("I sold my first to Elton John in 1972"), but he claims the local media is an even greater inventor -- or make that fabricator. "Local reporting on my career has never examined my music; instead it has always focused on what is perceived to be my personality. Fortunately, the public has never bought into the egomaniac propaganda, preferring instead just to buy 15,000 of my CDs because (they tell me) they love the music, as do I."
"Retirement homes and cheerleading camps" are Hayes Carll's favorite venues, and what he likes best about the Houston music scene is "all the free drugs." The Bob Dylan acolyte and multiple past winner of HP music awards also cites albums by Ray Wylie Hubbard, Todd Snider and Bobby Bare Jr. as touchstones. The follow-up to his 2002 release, Flowers and Liquor, should be on shelves soon, at least in geological time; expect it to drop in "June 2009." Meanwhile, Carll will continue gigging and toiling at his day job: "dating affluent women." And he also continues to be proud of and amazed by the fact that he has "hung out with John Evans for three years" and is "still standing."
Best Bassist (Rozz Zamorano)
ZZ Top is one of the few bands that has been together with the same original members longer than the Monks, who have featured the same lineup since March 1991, according to Rozz Zamorano. "Jaco Pastorius" is the bassist's favorite, and he's perhaps the closest thing we've got to that late master on the local scene today; after all, he's been "nominated over five times for best bassist" in these awards, and he has "opened as a solo bass artist for Stanley Jordan, Eric Johnson and Johnny Winter." Of music, Zamorano says he was "born into it, I love to play, I play in my sleep"; if there were no such thing, though, he would settle for continuing his career as a high school running back. "Emmitt Smith stole my life, so I turned to music," he says. Zamorano loves the fact that there are "lots of great musicians to learn from" here, but hates the absence of "outside help for musicians to get to the next level."
The Z-Dots have "won the HPMA more than any other band," though that streak was broken last year by the Lady D. According to guitarist Tom Potter, here's what they love about the Houston scene: "It pays." Here's what they dislike: "It doesn't pay enough." Still, don't expect them to throw in the towel anytime soon: "Our mamas would switch us if we didn't play." Potter resents the fact that zydeco is somewhat ghettoized as music for crawfish boils and nothing more. "We play at weddings, private parties, festivals, New Year's Eve. You name it, we've done it -- not just crawfish boils."
Verizon Wireless Theater
520 Texas, 713-230-1600
5 pm Caliente
6 pm Paris Green
7 pm Chingo Bling with special guest
8 pm Faceplant
9 pm The Hunger
Best Salsa/Merengue/Latin Pop
Last year's winners in the Best Latin category, the youth orchestra Caliente recently performed with -- note, that's not the same as "shared the stage with" -- Jon Faddis and Pete Escovedo at a local showcase, where they blazed through a whopping 32 songs. "They're only kids," says Caliente executive director Susana Robles, "but they can play!" Last year, the grande band played before a crowd of more than 5,000 at Miller Outdoor Theatre, a venue that Robles says has an ambience that's "beyond compare." The band's artistic director, Jose Antonio Diaz, who was featured on the cover of Band and Orchestramagazine, has played with such legends as Eddie Palmieri and Wynton Marsalis and has an open-door policy for Caliente. "There is NO audition process," says Robles. It is a desire and dedication to want to play or perform."
Best Alternative Rock
Northside alt-rockers Paris Green take their name from a "poison/insecticide," but their "aggressive R&B" is the opposite of deadly. On the contrary, people seem to thrive on it -- as the Press's Bob Ruggiero put it, "their extremely marketable and infectious blend of metal, punk, rap and scratching" has the potential to "make them yet another in a line of bands sure to break' out of Houston." The band has a couple of CDs, but they're best caught live, where, says Ruggiero, singer Matt Patin shows his "patented onstage thrashing vocal exorcisms that find his eyes rolling toward the back of his head while the band builds a cacophonic sonic wall behind him."
Best New Act, Local Musician of the Year, Best Latin Rap
Been in the game for 25 years, but not old enough to drink
UGK, Los Tigres del Norte, Punjabi MC, Ramon Ayala and Bill Gates are among the diverse influences cited by this unique rapper, who adds, "Pinche Bill owes me $3." "Walk Like Cleto," the new video from the Tamale Kingpin, debuted on Mun2 this month, thus bringing this Ghetto Vaquero one step closer to his ultimate dream: "my own shoe endorsement." Meanwhile, his record label -- Big Chile Enterprises -- has gotten in the philanthropy game; it recently awarded college scholarships to two Chavez High School grads. "Stay in school and help outsmart la migra!" the rapper advises.
Best Metal/Industrial, Song of the Year ('Here I Am')
Going on eight years
Charlie Carlisle, drummer for Faceplant, reports that his band would be lost without music, but that perhaps an adequate replacement would be careers in "porn?" Not that they should be stocking up on the tubes of Sta-Hard anytime soon; the group says Song of the Year nominee "Here I Am" has moved more than 50,000 units. People "who care about their music," fans and others "in the business somehow that put up the effort to make the scene better" put a grin on Faceplant. They report that "bands that bitch and complain while they sit on their lazy asses and don't do anything" make them scowl, as does the misconception that the members of Faceplant "are rock stars.'"
"Album No. 6" is almost in the can for this band, which owns a club by day: the Scout Bar in Kemah. The industrial music pioneers -- 311 and Deftones fans, and a full-blown local institution -- love the diversity of the Houston scene but view with dismay the fact that "the bands don't help each other." "Support the local music scene," they urge. "When another band is successful, don't hate, appreciate! It helps us all when another local artist breaks out."