It wasn't by accident that youth figured so prominently in this year's Houston Press Music Awards. An overhaul of the nominating committee to include a younger segment of nominators slightly more on the fringe -- not to mention the addition of a Best Underground category -- ensured that almost as many young faces as old reliables shared space on the 1997 ballot. And even if that injection of juvenescence isn't as prominent in the 1997 winner's circle, it certainly colored the June 29 Music Awards Showcase at Shepherd Plaza.
Last year, rules keeping minors out of many of the participating clubs limited the options of the under-21 crowd. But this year, the addition of an outdoor stage gave that demographic a chance to make an impact on the proceedings. And the bands playing for the outside crowd more than fulfilled their end of the bargain by keeping a stiflingly hot afternoon alive and hopping. In the end, it was the music -- from the carnival punk of the cross-dressing She Demons (yes, the hairy chick in the hip-hugging, hot-pink-sequined dress was really a guy) to the swift, rap-metal kick of Aftershock (by now veterans of the Houston scene) -- that made standing on the baking asphalt and wilting amongst the sweaty, tattooed bodies not only tolerable but enjoyable. The naughty fun was in full swing by the dinner hour, when profanity-crazed punkers 30footFALL led the restless crowd in a defiant "fuck" chant -- much to the chagrin of the police officers monitoring the area.
And the shenanigans continued indoors. Twisted indie-poppers Clouded made such a racket at the Q Cafe that the club's manager forced them to pack it in after just a few songs; I End Result took the power-trio format to its most abrasive funk-metal extremes at Instant Karma; and a vigorous Rhino Room set by thrash-funk skacolytes Middlefinger had the sidewalks buzzing. Meanwhile, the old guard held its own with enthusiastic sets by the likes of Sisters Morales, Jesse Dayton and Mary Cutrufello, each giving their own uniquely different spin on the country idiom. Ever the trouper, Cutrufello endured nagging sound problems at the Voodoo Lounge with a wink and a smile.
When the votes were tallied, the kids had their say in a few categories. Middlefinger made its first appearance in the Press Awards as both a nominee and a winner; ditto I End Result. Ska purists the Suspects were able to snatch "most categorically unfit" honors from lovable but aging eccentric Beans Barton. Elsewhere, however, the surprises were minimal. Local faves Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys, Dayton, Paul English, Norma Zenteno, Jack Saunders and Toy Subs reprised their roles as winners. Even the Sonnier Brothers, this year's Best New Act, are hardly green to this sort of attention, the group's sibling leadership having enjoyed national exposure with Galactic Cowboys and Atomic Opera. Give Houston music fans credit; their loyalty is unwavering.
(Profiles by Hobart Rowland, Mark Towns, Joe Hon, Craig D. Lindsey and Marlo Cobb.)
Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys
Album of the Year
Bursting With Flavor by Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys
Local Musician of the Year
Best Female Vocalist
Eric Dane (Imperial Monkeys)
Chris King (Imperial Monkeys)
Leesa Harrington Squyres (Imperial Monkeys)
Well now, what is there left to say? Last year, Carolyn Wonderland and her crew pulled down seven first-place finishes in the Press Music Awards. And this year, Wonderland and company pulled down ... seven first-place finishes in the Press Music Awards. (That's 25 percent of all the top spots available to musicians, for those among you with a statistical bent.) Obviously, her fans have spoken. About the only change this year was in the categories won. More of Wonderland's band was given a nod for excellence (last year Chris King and Leesa Harrington Squyres took top honors in their respective categories, while this year guitarist Eric Dane joined the crowd), and for the first time in recent memory, Wonderland was edged out in the Best Blues category, winning instead the nod for Best Rock/Pop.
It's doubtful anyone's more pleased by that turn of events than Wonderland herself. In past years, the singer has been loath to accept the Best Blues honor; after all, she, Dane, King and Harrington Squyres are quite obviously a rock and roll band, one that shares about as much in common with the likes of this year's blues winner, Joe "Guitar" Hughes, as the Rolling Stones do with, say, Muddy Waters. There's an appreciation, yes, and a connection, sure -- but it's a distant one, at best.
Still, in being an honest, innately soulful rock outfit attuned to its East Texas roots, Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys inevitably retain a distinctly bluesy aura. Bathe that gritty authenticity in a good-timey hippie vibe, and you come up with music that works equally well in frat houses and biker joints. Thus far, the group has had a banner year -- busy even by its own labor-intensive standards. When not touring the region in support of their strong second release, Bursting with Flavor, the group can be found performing weekends at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge or taking up its regular Tuesday post at the Last Concert Cafe. Meanwhile, "Stuck in the Road," Bursting's liltingly pretty (yes, pretty) first single, has been catching on at radio stations far beyond the Texas border.
Despite problems with their former label (they're now on Houston's own Justice Records) and an insane road schedule, the easy symmetry between the group's core members -- Wonderland, guitarist Dane, bassist King and drummer Harrington Squyres -- remained steady. But that ended a few months ago when Squyres abandoned the rigors of the Wonderland orbit to devote more time to raising her daughter. For a replacement, Wonderland turned to ex-Beat Temple skin man Chris Axelrad, who had proven his chops while filling in for Harrington Squyres in the past. And while Dane's ragged guitar work, coupled with the relentless backbeat of the King/Harrington Squyres rhythm section, remains unmatched, Axelrad's funk leanings do lend a punchy dynamic to the mix. So there's no reason not to predict another Music Awards landslide next year. (H.R.)
Best New Act
Texas Guinness Lovers
In a little over a year, the Texas Guinness Lovers have progressed from playing their first gig at Amy's Ice Creams and Coffees (for gift certificates) to performing at events such as the KTRU spring concert (alongside national acts such as Spoon) and a couple of Infernal Bridegroom theater productions (Woyzeck and Tamalalia 2).
A barometer of their ever-increasing popularity has been their regular Tuesday night gig at Rudyard's, which has gone from attracting a small audience to a consistent crowd that's hooked on the band's non-traditional renditions of traditional songs, pulling on a repertoire that includes Irish folk, Texas swing and Latin ballads. (They've also done a great rendition of the old Thunderbolt transmission ditty in the past.) Their lineup features and has featured members from bands such as de Schmog, Drynod and Sprawl: Killian Sweeney (guitar), Thomas Ayers (drums), Chris Bakos (bass), Roberto Cofresi (guitar), Jennifer Nera (fiddle) and Bo Morris (tuba). Various band members take turns at the vocals, and it's not uncommon for instrument-swapping to occur, both of which make each of their shows a little different.
As the slogan from the Irish brew that gave the band its name goes, "Guinness is good for you." (J.H.)
Best Act That Doesn't Fit a Category
Song of the Year
"Caffeine" by the Suspects
If Carolyn Wonderland is the established wave, first-time winners the Suspects may be the next wave. In the past, the competition for Best Act That Doesn't Fit a Category tended to consist of the musically homeless (due to the lack of an appropriate category) and the truly unclassifiable, with the prize generally going to the weirdest of the lot (that would be Beans Barton and the Bi-Peds). This year, however, the winner turned out to be the Suspects, a three-year-old ska band made up of some really normal guys: vocalist Thomas Escalante, guitarist/stunt vocalist Bill Grady, guitarist Alan Hernandez, bassist Charlie Esparza, drummer Claudio De Pujdas, trombonist Hunter Close, tenor saxophonist Chuy Terrazas and keyboardist Joe Cote.
Another surprise in this year's music awards was "Caffeine," a single off the Suspects' debut disc, Ninety-Nine Paid, which took Song of the Year honors despite being well over a year old. (An overwhelming number of votes from the 1997 nominating committee led to the song's inclusion on this year's ballot.) How I Learned to Stop Worrying ... and Love the Ska, the follow-up to 1995's Ninety-Nine Paid, was released in March and has been moving like hotcakes; already, its sales have surpassed those of its predecessor. Next up for the Suspects is a grueling nine-stop, ten-day tour that will take them as far north as Wisconsin, followed by a month of downtime. Their music may be infectiously peppy and energetic, but hey, even rude boys need their sleep. (J.H.)
Anyone who doubts the power of commercial radio should take a look at the Hunger, for it's given this industrial rock band an insurmountable edge in this category for years. The band's original incarnation, keyboardists/vocalists (and brothers) Jeff and Thomas Wilson and bassist Brian Albritton, got plenty of local attention back in 1991 thanks to heavy rotation of their sweet synth-pop single "Never Again" on Houston radio stations. Later that year, following the addition of band members Stephen Bogle (guitar) and Max Schuldberg (drums), the Hunger released a full-length CD, Leave Me Alone, on an independent label that unfortunately went belly-up. Forming their own label, Gut Records, the band went on to release their second CD, 1993's Grip, which featured "Communication Breakdown" and "If," two singles that received generous amounts of radio airplay in Texas.
That caught the attention of Universal Records, and the Hunger was signed to the label in 1996; their Universal debut, Devil Thumbs a Ride, was released that same year. The disc's first single, "Vanishing Cream," garnered airplay at stations coast to coast, and the band began an almost year-long stretch of national tour dates to promote the CD. Currently, the Hunger is working on the yet untitled follow-up to Devil Thumbs a Ride, which should be released some time in 1998. That's when we'll see if the breakthrough band has what it takes to keep their radio audience captive. (J.H.)
Best Local Label
Apparently, Justice Records's recent downsizing -- and the inevitable rumors surrounding the label's decision to lay off a part of its work force -- did nothing to shrink its stature in the eyes of Music Awards voters. Justice's easy victory is even more impressive when you consider that the label to come in second, Rap-A-Lot, has its imprint on one of the biggest releases of the year, Scarface's platinum The Untouchable. Just goes to prove that unless your bag is hip-hop, Justice is still the only label in town with the money, reputation and connections to compete with the big boys.
Not that long ago, Justice was home to only a single up-and-coming local artist -- Jesse Dayton -- and a small stable of aging Texas treasures. But over the last year, Justice cast aside its conservative ways and courted Houston acts like never before. Local faves Carolyn Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys were the label's biggest signing of the last 12 months, inking a multi-release deal that began with the '97 Press Music Awards Album of the Year winner Bursting with Flavor. Justice is also distributing Horseshoe's King of the World debut, and appeared to be going after the Hollisters, though that deal apparently went south. Then just as the label seemed to be expanding, the personnel cuts came. Now Justice's cheery receptionist has been replaced by an answering machine. We just hope those taped voices aren't as ominous as they sound. (H.R.)
Paul English has played and recorded with jazz veterans and newcomers alike, and he has never limited himself to any one color on the improvisational palette, flitting from fusion to straight-ahead jazz to the occasional freeform dabbling. And though he had always written, classical composition has only recently been added to his musical arsenal. In fact, English has become a prolific composer, writing music for radio, film, television and chamber and symphony orchestras. Earlier this year, he premiered "Wrestling with My God", a full oratorio for mixed choir, chamber orchestra and organ with texts by 19th-century English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, as well as "Her Name Shall Remain Unspoken," a piece for French horn and piano that got its first hearing at the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. The classical bug has spread to English's jazz performances as well. In 1994, he formed PICO (Paul's Improvising Chamber Orchestra), which features classical French horn, oboe, flute, cello and various percussion. When was the last time you heard a decent jazz solo on French horn or cello? If the answer is somewhere along the lines of "never," English has got a show for you. (M.T.)
Best Male Vocalist
Songwriter of the Year
One reason Jesse Dayton -- former (and occasionally still) frontman for storied Houston rockabilly outfit the Road Kings -- decided to go solo was so that he could focus on his songs rather than just on his band. And if his double winnings this year are any indication, that decision was a good one. Dayton's solo career has been gradually gaining momentum since the release of his critically acclaimed Justice Records debut, Raisin' Cain (which, incidentally, won Album of the Year in the 1995 Houston Press Music Awards). In addition to warming up the stage for acts such as the Supersuckers and the Presidents of the United States of America, this "next generation" country artist has had the honor of opening for the legendary likes of Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson. He also played guitar on Jennings's Right for the Time release and was featured on Justice's well-publicized tribute to Nelson, Twisted Willie. And the exposure has bled over into other mediums: The Beaumont native's music has been featured on TV's Melrose Place and in the Sam Shepherd film Curse of the Starving Class, and he has appeared in two Pam Tillis videos.
If Raisin' Cain was Dayton's proving ground, Hey! Nashvegas, its long awaited follow-up due in January, should determine whether he has what it takes to go to the next level. Hey! Nashvegas was recorded in Nashville and features Dayton regulars Charlie Sanders (bass), Brian Thomas (pedal steel) and Richie Vasquez (drummer) as well as Raisin' Cain collaborators Floyd Domino (piano), Johnny Gimble (fiddle) and Flaco Jimenez (accordion). Given that stellar supporting cast, we wouldn't bet against him. (J.H.)
Anyone who's seen Middlefinger play live or heard their debut CD, 1996's 3 Martini Lunch, would be hard-pressed to deny that these guys are good, regardless of whether or not said listener digs the band's volatile mixture of hard-driving punk and rootsy ska (flavored with occasional metal nuances). Live, Middlefinger is simply amazing, with a hyper-kinetic frontman (in the person of former Sprawl vocalist Matt Kelly, whose madcap antics with a microphone and its accompanying stand make you wonder what he does in his spare time) and a band that, despite being obviously youngish, plays tighter than many veteran groups.
3 Martini Lunch is exactly what every local, self-released release should aspire to: an accurate representation of a band's sound without too many studio bells and whistles. Recorded "in the armpit of Summer 1996" at Deep Dot Studio, the CD leaves one salivating for more. Fans will have to wait a while for another full-length effort, but Middlefinger has finished recording an EP at Texas Music Studios that should be ready for release later this summer. Until then, check them out live if for no other reason than to be able to say you saw them when they were still "underground," man. (J.H.)
It's been almost two years since the Hollisters began work on their debut CD, The Land of Rhythm and Pleasure, with veteran Texas guitarist/producer Rick "Casper" Rawls, and still no date has been set for its release. But things are looking up. The group has finally found a home for its effort on the Austin independent Freedom Records. Those who have paid attention might recall that Freedom is the label responsible for releasing the Hollisters' initial foray into recording -- "Good for the Blues," the group's contribution to Freedom's 1995 Texas roots compilation, True Sounds of the New West. Though that song featured the stylized, bullhorn warble of Mike Barfield and the precise twang of guitar ace Eric "Eddie Dale" Danheim, the band's founding members and its songwriting core, it was a teaser at best, offering only a hint of where the Hollisters -- always a slick, potent and vastly entertaining live act -- might take their staunchly Bakersfieldian honky tonky sound. Minus the popping rhythm section of bassist Denny "Cletus" Blakely and Kevin "Snit" Fitzpatrick, the tune bore little resemblance to the bulked-up Hollisters sound of today.
You would think that might make Hollister fans ( the number of which seems to be multiplying daily) even more antsy for Rhythm and Pleasure. But grumbling over the CD's slow evolution has been minimal. That may be because, while letting their debut disc age like fine wine, the guys have been playing their hearts out on stages all over Houston. After all, who needs digital audio when the living, breathing item is so readily enjoyable? (H.R.)
Best Cover Band
Inside the accomplished copycat shell of Toy Subs is a burgeoning originality just waiting to emerge. Indeed, it's already shown itself on "Dr. Bre," the alternately angsty and good-timey single from the band's all-original 1995 CD Vim Fuego. Late last year, the tune -- a radio-friendly confection if there ever was one -- grabbed the attention of the Buzz 107.5/FM, which added the song to its playlist. "Dr. Bre" caught on in other parts of the state as well, further boosting Toy Subs' case for a career beyond the gig-a-night confines of the cover circuit.
But don't expect the Subs to abandon their bread and butter just yet, especially when the bookings continue to pour in. And while they may not be the most technically accomplished in the Dennis Lange cover empire, they certainly have the coolest chemistry -- not to mention the most magnetic group of personalities. (H.R.)
Joe "Guitar" Hughes
On this one, may we say it's about damn time? For the past few years, voters have been dutifully noting Joe Hughes's nickname and handing him the Best Guitarist prize. But somehow those same voters never noticed just what sort of music it was that issued out of his instrument. Well, this year they noticed. When it comes to blues, Hughes is about as real as it gets. Beyond that, he deserves credit for sticking by his hometown while Third Ward pals such as Albert Collins and Johnny Copeland left to hunt down fame and fortune elsewhere. Given how blues historians have ignored the Gulf Coast branch of the form, such loyalty may end up proving detrimental to Hughes's rightful place in legend. At the same time, though, it's virtually sealed his status as a local icon. Of course, it doesn't hurt that he's a monster on guitar, his fingers negotiating his ax's neck with the blithe swiftness of a blues-slinger a third his age.
It's interesting to note, then, that Hughes originally had designs on becoming a balladeer, and that it was a discomfort with performing in front of an audience that impelled the young singer to find an instrument to hide behind. Soon enough, that instrument became as much Hughes's calling card as the sophisticated big band blues by which he swears. Though the style has yet to pay notable dividends for Hughes here in the States, it has earned him significant fan support in Europe, where he tours frequently. (H.R.)
Best Rock Venue
The Fabulous Satellite Lounge
With nothing left to prove, the Fabulous Satellite Lounge has, nonetheless, gone about the business of improving its digs and overhauling its image. Renovations have included decorative splashes of fresh paint and psychedelic bubble projections on the interior's concrete walls; a revamped PA system with a spiffy enclosed booth for the soundman; even a brand new martini bar stocked with cigars for the club's Monday lounge night. And just in time for summer, the venue has gussied up its back patio with a bigger bar, more chairs and tables and a tent-style roof to keep out the rain.
But the biggest change afoot at the Satellite has come about gradually, month by month, in its live music schedule. More and more, the club is taking risks, booking younger, hipper acts in the hope of attracting new customers. So far, the strategy seems to be working. One weekend last month saw feisty guitar relic Link Wray and arty, ambient noise pioneers Yo La Tengo draw comparably large crowds on back-to-back nights -- and two more divergent sets of clientele you're not likely to witness often. (H.R.)
Best Traditional Ethnic
In 1974, Greg Harbar -- a one-man crusader for world music before world music was cool -- formed the Gypsies as an outlet for exposing the offbeat sounds he had accumulated in his head via his extensive and eccentric music collection of over 3,000 titles. By 1977, his wife, violinist Mary Ann, had joined the band, and together they've remained the core of the Gypsies for the last decade. The Gypsies describe themselves as a polyethnic band with two distinct personalities: the "strollers," which include Dave Peters on mandolin, Kelly Lancaster on guitar and Barry Roberts on bass, and the "dancers," made up of all of the above plus Mike Mizma on drums, Pam Bingham on clarinet, Martin Langford on sax and Eden McAdam-Sommer on second violin. The band's repertoire includes some 1,200 songs covering various Eastern European, European, Mediterranean, tropical and South American styles. When not performing, the Harbars keep busy on various recording projects. They are also planning a trip to Africa, with designs on adding even more exotic colorings to the Gypsies' already extensive musical travelogue. (M.T.)
Best CD/Record Store
Specialty shops may carry some titles that Soundwaves lacks, but the majority of the competition simply can't match the extensive and inexpensive selection of new and used CDs and cassettes available here. The chain's seven (soon to be eight) locations are staffed by friendly and knowledgeable employees who -- thankfully -- don't reek of corporate conformity, and the stores feature listening posts (so you don't get burned) and schedules of upcoming releases to keep you hip to what's likely to be on the shelves in upcoming weeks.
What's more, Soundwaves pays good money for used CDs and cassettes; their spacious flagship store on Montrose buys and sells vinyl, as well. Given all this -- combined with the chain's continuing effort to breathe humor into late-night TV with its campy commercials featuring the two women who are always "flat busted" -- it's easy to see why voters selected this as their favorite place to part with cash. (J.H.)
Norma Zenteno Band
You could argue that the Norma Zenteno Band doesn't fit either of the categories in which they took home top honors this year. But then, you could also argue that this 15-year local institution, if so inclined, can fit in just about anywhere. They're jazz, they're salsa, they're funked-up fusion, they're classic rock and roll -- sometimes all within the span of a single blistering evening. With its sizable inventory of originals and covers, the group displays remarkable versatility, catering its shows to multiple audience types -- from the younger, paler demographic at the occasional Fabulous Satellite Lounge gig, to the posh, multicultural mix at Cody's, to the mostly Hispanic crowds that dominate the various Corpus Christi venues the band has headlined.
And while the Norma Zenteno Band are, by very definition, Latin, they are not Tejano -- not in the modern-day, commercial sense, at least. Their approach is too steeped in the percussive synthesis of blues, rock and Hispanic dance forms pioneered by the likes of Carlos Santana and Ruben Blades for that. And when you factor in Zenteno's vocals -- part Gloria Estefan spit-and-polish, part guttural emoting à la Grace Slick -- nothing about the band can be handed over to simple categorization. Then again, why slap a category on greatness? (H.R.)
Best Jazz Venue
Cody's has had its ups and downs over the last 20 years. In its late '70s/early '80s heyday, the club's original Montrose location featured live jazz six nights a week, often by a local supergroup that included the now internationally renowned Kirk Whalum on sax and local luminaries Paul English on piano and Scott Gertner on bass. The club was something of a celebrity hangout, with members of the Rockets, Oilers and Astros showing up on a regular basis. In the early '90s, Cody's continued to move forward, opening locations in Galveston and Rice Village. But the growth turned out to be premature. Two years later, the club's owners, the Taylor brothers, had a falling-out. One sibling got the Montrose location, the other got the club in the Village, and the Galveston Cody's closed.
Today, the Village location is the only remnant of the Cody's empire. Mostly, it features live funk, fusion and rhythm and blues, though every once in a while, true jazzers such as Tod Vullo show up. So while Cody's is no longer exclusively a jazz club, its stellar reputation thrives on the weight of its history. (M.T.)
Best Reggae/World Music
D.R.U.M. is certainly one of Houston's most unique groups. But while they draw from a diverse pool of distinctly African influences, the group notes that it's easier for them to get gigs posing as your everyday, average reggae act than to explain what they really do -- which involves creating a loosely combined and tightly played mix of sambazulu, funk, yoruba, jazz, ashanti, kongo, binghi and reggae. Lately, D.R.U.M. has begun referring to their music, vaguely enough, as "African rock." Judging by the clubs they regularly play around town -- the Blue Iguana, Instant Karma, Rudyard's -- that's not such a bad decision. They're equally at home, however, at more jazz- and blues-oriented venues.
D.R.U.M. is also at home on the festival circuit, which has taken them to New Orleans for the Jazz Festival and New York for the African Street Festival. The band's infectious tribal beats and boundless energy have been captured for posterity on two local releases, Ancient Sounds of the Future and D.R.U.M., which are available at Cactus Music and at the band's performances. What's in the band's future? Well, most immediately it's for keyboardist Michael Royster to replace Kenyha Shabazz, who's departing to pursue an Afro-Cuban project, Gemini. Then it's to continue letting Houstonians in on the little secret that African music covers a whole lot of ground, just like the continent it comes from. (M.T.)
Best C&W Venue
Your typical urban cowpoke would never mistake Blanco's for a Top 40 kicker bar. Rarely flaunting its laid-back roadhouse flavor, this West Alabama honky-tonk institution remains the most authentic and low-key of Houston's established country joints. Tucked away on a gravel lot near Alabama's intersection with Buffalo Speedway, the 15-year-old club seems to grow more charming with age. The interior's U-shaped setup, with its small stage and dance floor directly in front of the bar but cordoned off from the drinkers and the socializers by wooden rails, holds firmly to the Texas dance hall tradition, as does the venue's emphasis on live original music.
Blanco's manager Karen Barnes has a real ear for authentic indigenous sounds, and though cover bands are still featured on occasion, the club remains a regular tour stop for the likes of Don Walser, Gary P. Nunn and Chris Wall. What's more, local C&W favorites Mary Cutrufello and the Hollisters might as well have their own dressing rooms in the place. Blanco's has no use for publicity, paid or otherwise -- it never has. Word of mouth has worked just fine so far. Fridays are the best bet for a great night of music, but Thursdays aren't a bad move either, seeing as there's usually no cover charge. (H.R.)
The Zydeco Dots
Still commonly known as Pierre and the Zydeco Dots, these perennial Music Award winners have been largely Pierre-less for quite a while. It's been at least two years since accordionist Pierre Blanchard left the band and moved back to Louisiana, leaving the Dots temporarily without an accordion player. After trying out various unsuccessful replacements, good fortune arrived in the form of Li'l Jabo, son of the zydeco legend Jabo. At 22, Li'l Jabo is the real deal, even if he is a couple of decades younger than the rest of the Dots, who are all in their forties. But zydeco has never been just a young player's game, and creeping middle age has done nothing to reduce the Zydeco Dots' rigorous performance schedule, which, according to guitarist Tom Potter, generally involves playing live 300 days a year. And while the older guys may not have any delusions of sudden grandeur, one has to wonder about the young and ambitious Jabo. Who knows? Before long, we might be seeing "Li'l Jabo and the Zydeco Dots" on nightclub marquees all over town. (M.T.)
Houston's hip-hop scene has been expanding in a variety of directions lately. And you could argue that each of the five nominees in this year's Best Rap/Hip-Hop category are in their own way indicators of that burgeoning individualism. But only one could come out on top, and this year it was the veteran rap-and-rock configuration Aftershock.
Emerging from the rubble of the much-respected rap-metal outfit Planet Shock!, this MC5-reminiscent, turntables-and-wah-wah-pedal-dependent sextet evokes the same sort of thought-provoking, thrash-metal, hip-hop anarchy that Rage Against the Machine and 311 have milked for all its platinum-selling worth. So really, shouldn't the equally talented and capable Aftershock be hot on their heels? Apparently, the Phoenix-based Retrograde label thinks so, signing Aftershock to a five-release deal, which began with a self-titled debut last October. Now it's up to the rest of the country to get with the program. (C.D.L.)
Best Folk Venue
McGonigel's Mucky Duck
Part cozy Irish pub, part intimate folkie enclave, McGonigel's Mucky Duck has grown from the risky culmination of Theresa and Rusty Andrews's love for acoustic music of all origins into a full-fledged success story. With a life span going on seven years now (mature by local nightclub standards), the Mucky Duck is so permanent a fixture on the Houston live music scene that it's tempting to take the place for granted -- and, in a way, that's the ultimate compliment.
While the Andrews's business savvy can be credited for keeping the club afloat through the inevitable ups and downs, the Duck is much more than a financial venture for the couple; it's a reflection of who they are. The mood of both tends to fluctuate depending on a night's turnout (if the crowd is tiny, tread lightly around both of them). And with Theresa normally stationed in a rocking chair just outside the front door greeting customers, and Rusty darting around the club seating folks and working the sound board, seeing a show without running into one or both of them is damn near impossible. The Duck is, after all, the Andrews's second home, and that familial affection for their work goes a long way toward explaining why the venue has almost as many loyal performers as it does loyal patrons. (H.R.)
Best Metal/Hard Rock
I End Result
Heavy metal hard-liners would contend that I End Result's densely amplified wall of sound is too reliant on melody to be an authentic head-banger's feast. Obviously, the skeptics haven't witnessed the power and the fury of "Everyday" and "Face," a pair of I End Result showstoppers with plodding power chords monumental enough -- and lyrics menacing enough -- to move mountains, let alone the hazy craniums of the most cynical Sabbath devotee. Even the hooky, more upbeat material on the group's debut, Cosmic Electric E.P., is founded on grooves feverish enough to evoke swells of flailing torsos in the audience. You can add to that the fact that Cosmic's centerpiece, "Instrum," is the best tune to come out of the Inner Loop scene in quite some time, its infectious funk-metal hook capable of nabbing this young, biracial quartet a few free dinners with eager A&R types. It's that good.
So in essence, those aforementioned cynics could argue that I End Result is really two bands: the band that fashions its sound in the hit-capable, crossover style of early Living Colour, and the band that might be a little hesitant to see its underground credibility slide for the sake of a sing-along chorus. Fair enough, says I End Result leader/guitarist Arnett Vaughn, whose own tastes run the gamut, from R&B trailblazers such as Prince to obscure roots reggae to the heaviest '70s metal. Recently, I End Result emerged from a friend's home studio in Austin with a work tape of songs they hoped to work over for an upcoming full-length release, slated for January 1998 release. By that time, Vaughn hopes, the band will have had its share of free meals from label scouts -- one of which might possibly be topped off with a sweet record deal. (H.R.)
Best Blues/R&B Venue
The Big Easy Social & Pleasure Club
Who would have guessed that Houston's down-homiest blues bar would be located in uppity West U? Well, maybe the Press voters who have, year in and year out, given it the nod as the city's Best Blues Venue. Sure, the Big Easy is something of a hole in the wall -- but it's a hole in the wall with character. Out in front, the Christmas lights stay on year round, overseeing a small, AstroTurf-lined patio complete with plastic tables and chairs. Inside, two pool tables and two pinball machines line the back left side of the room, with a long bar in the rear and a small but big enough stage up front past a few rows of tables and a small dance floor. Mardi Gras colors of gold, green and purple grace the room, accentuating the club's Louisiana theme.
As for music, if a band's got "blues" in its name, you can probably hear them here. And perhaps the most unique thing about the Big Easy is the record store housed right inside the club, which features rare blues and zydeco vinyl, cassettes and CDs. (M.T.)
Best Horn Section
Though the name Global Village would seem to imply a more worldly aggregation, this well-heeled Houston outfit is American through and through. Founded by saxophonist Roger Igo in 1990, the band cut its teeth playing horn-heavy, old-school versions of classics by the likes of P-Funk, Earth, Wind & Fire and James Brown. Gradually, more and more original numbers were introduced, culminating with the band's first CD, released last year, which features all original tunes. As of now, Global Village's live shows consist of a mix of originals and covers.
Igo, who left the band last year, recruited the bulk of the original Villagers -- lead singer Chad Strader, trumpeter Keith Van Horne and trombonist Mike Donohue -- right out of high school. This group formed the nucleus of Igo's project, which was inspired by his studies at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. Back in the early '90s, the time was ripe for a new horn band, and Global Village quickly became a huge draw.
While it seemed Global Village might be in danger of stagnating over the last year, the band is now touting a fresh outlook, thanks in part to the addition of saxophonist Ken Mondshine and bassist Carl Jones, the latter formerly of Beat Temple. A few labels have expressed some renewed interest in Global Village lately, and the band is in the process of recording its second CD. (M.T.)
Jack's back, with yet another Music Awards win. That, of course, would be the Jack of Shake and Jack fame. In the past, Shake Russell and Jack Saunders have all but had a lock on the Press Music Awards folk category, and despite splitting up to go their separate ways, that lock can't be broken; it's just passed along to one of the pair.
Saunders's recent self-titled solo debut shows a singer/songwriter whose music is undergoing a continued evolution. And with another CD already in production, Saunders promises more changes, pointing out that his new material is "not just gentle acoustic, melodic folk-rock, but R&B, blues, rock and roll." A man who has written songs to entertain himself and others since the age of 15, Saunders seems resigned to leaving the "pure acoustic" nature of his past material behind him, and he hopes to do so with more than a little help from guitarist/collaborator Rick Poss. Formerly with Alejandro Escovedo and Jimmy LaFave, Poss is, by and large, an electric player, and his more aggressive approach should add considerable bite to Saunders's songs. Also part of the upcoming effort (due this fall) are drummer Rick Richards and bassist Roger Tausz. Hmmm, maybe there is a way to break the Saunders lock on the acoustic title; have him go electric. (M.C.)
Best Latin Venue
Elvia's Cantina has become the upscale Latin nightspot in Houston. Even on weeknights, the dance floor is crowded with folks trying out their fancy footwork to the live sounds of salsa, merengue and other tropical rhythms. And on the weekends -- forget it. It gets so crowded you have to fight your way through the throng just to get to the bar. It wasn't always that way. When the club first opened back in 1991, owners Ed and Elvia Parsons had the idea of combining their heritages -- he a native Houstonian who lived in Europe, and she Mexico City bred -- into a unique combination British pub/Mexican restaurant.
The early days saw live music on weekends only, with acts such as Trish and Darin, Kevin Black, Shake Russell, Pierre and the Zydeco Dots and Trout Fishing in America doing their thing. There wasn't even a dance floor. The club advertised heavily, though, and some people came. But the people really came when the couple decided to try a midweek Latin night. Soon, Wednesdays became the most popular time to be at Elvia's, and a dance floor had to be quickly added.
The demand for Latin music was so great that the single Latin night expanded to other evenings. For a while, Thursday, featuring Angelucho's Copacabana, was the most popular day, with overflow crowds lining up to get in. Eventually, the club had to expand, knocking out walls and building out onto what had been a patio. The club now features live Latin dance music -- that would be salsa, not Tejano -- Tuesday through Saturday, with a live flamenco show every other Tuesday. And if you don't know how to dance to salsa yet, free dance lessons are given an hour before the band starts every Wednesday. The musical mix has proven so successful that the Parsons are now thinking about expanding to Dallas and Austin. But the original will always be Houston's. (
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