Unlucky Winners

A recent Sports Illustrated story explored the "cover jinx" legend. According to long-running myth, those who grace that mag's cover are soon headed for a fall. Senior SI writer Alexander Wolff, evidently a man with plenty of time on his hands, conducted a six-month investigation of SI's 2,456 covers dating back to 1954 and concluded that 37 percent of the time the cover subjects came to grief within two weeks of their cover story.

Evidence of the jinx abounds on the mag's Web site. On the very next Monday Night Football broadcast after Howard Cosell posed for SI's cameras, the arrogant commentator made the infamous "look at that little monkey go" comment that destroyed his career. The University of Texas seems especially prone to this curse. UT's Ricky Williams appeared on the cover on November 16, 1998; his next game saw his Texas Tech namesake outrush him in a Red Raider upset victory. Twice in the 1970s the Longhorns appeared on the cover of SI. They were 21-0 and poised for national championships in the two seasons preceding their photo shoots and 0-2 for the two weeks after, losing to the dreaded Notre Dame Fighting Irish both times by a combined score of 52-21.

A similar investigation is necessary here at the Houston Press. It seems that those who win big in our Music Awards can expect something bad to happen to either their band or themselves almost immediately. Racket's approximately six-minute traipse through our archives came to a conclusion much the same as -- though infinitely less precise than -- SI's Wolff.

It seems that a hell of a lot of the time, bands that win a Press Music Award either leave Houston, break up, lose their record deal or worse. Labels that win the award are almost guaranteed to founder.

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Take 2001, for example. Last year's big winners were South Park Mexican and Japanic, who between them took home six awards, including Best Local Musician (SPM) and Album of the Year (Japanic's Social Disease). Six months later, SPM has a plateful of troubles that could see him in the Graybar Hilton for the rest of his natural life. Japanic merely broke up.

Yes, that's right. Japanic is no more. As a farewell posting on the band's Web site (www.japanic.blogspot.com) dated January 16 reads: "Optimists beware! The rats jumping off this sinking ship sprung leaks…After three years and more than 100 shows the japanic epidemic endemic to houston can be declared over. We had civic pride and pimpled chads. We buttered our bread with boomtime cheer and did a bunch of stuff along the way. Scoop the press and tell your friends. Get a record while you still can, they're almost out of press."

"It had just run its course, and everyone had different ideas about how it should move ahead," says Brandon Davis, Japanic's erstwhile guitarist. "It wasn't really a unified thing anymore." Davis then composes a somewhat muddled yet Zen-like epitaph for many an almost famous band. "The more we were able to do, everybody wanted to do more in different directions, whereas before, whatever we were able to do was what we did."

Davis ponders a moment and then wonders aloud. "Geez, I'm talking in circles here. I sound like that guy on Mystery Men."

So Japanic is now splintered into many bands. Davis has a new group called the Magnum. Drummer Rob Barry and synth man Josh Smith, according to Davis, "are planning a new band with this guy Derek." Vocalist Tex Kerschen, who was in Russia at press time and thus unavailable for comment, has been playing the keys in the Fever as well as working on another project called Nikki Texas. Margeaux Cigainero, who left Japanic in December, is in a band with Rusted Shut drummer Domokos Benczedi called Japanix 2.

Just another band breaking up, or victims of a jinx? You decide. In addition to Japanic and SPM, the Red Cat Jazz Café, last year's winner for Best Jazz Venue, had a bad 2001. Business there plummeted mostly because of the never-ending downtown road projects.

Going back further, Blue October won our Best Rock/Pop category in 2000. The blurb that followed was full of good news; the Houston band had just signed with mega-label Universal. They lost the deal within a year. Los Skarnales took home the Best Horn/Horn Section award in 2000. Soon thereafter they fired the horn section. Best Cover Band Texas Guinness Lovers broke up very soon thereafter, if not even before, the announcement of their win.

In 1999, I-45 won Best Hip-hop, and they soon took I-10 out of town for L.A. and haven't been heard from since. Mark May won Local Musician of the Year; now he's no longer local. Broken Note Records won Best Local Label. Now they're gone, as is Justice Records, a multiple mid-'90s winner.

Carolyn Wonderland, the Hollisters and Jesse Dayton won awards by the barrelful in the mid-'90s, and now they're all in Austin. Do any of these ingrates ever stick around after we vote them Musician of the Year? (Well, at least one has: Jug O' Lightnin' drummer and Imperial Monkey bass player Chris King won the award once.)

On the other hand, a little trio called Destiny's Child did win Best Funk/R&B way back in '98 and has since gone on to some small success without renouncing Houston completely.

So (enter Robert Stack and cue the music from Unsolved Mysteries) You be the judge.

Scuttlebutt Caboose

Those seeking the Sound of Texas or other Americana will have to start twiddling their radio knobs a little. Here's a listener's guide for KPFT refugees. KTRU has the Americana Show 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. Monday, hosted by an immensely knowledgeable cast including Richard R. Johnson, Lisa Spiro and Kat Swenson, plus "super-subs" Mark Lacy and Clint Broussard, and regular guest Dan Wallach. Unlike many Americana shows, which skew toward the narrow country/folk definition of the genre, the Americana Show plays everything from bluegrass to zydeco. KTRU's folky Chicken Skin Music program, hosted by David John, runs Thursday nights from seven to ten. In the realm of commercial radio, KIKK DJ Leslie T. Travis launched Texas Most Wanted on January 27. The show spotlights up-and-coming Texas country artists and runs Sunday nights from six to nine…Speaking of KPFT, has anyone seen the latest issue of Houston Radio Report? For the uninitiated, HRR is the semimonthly paper edited by Dan "Chug" Jones and Edwin Johnston, two of the more prominent newly triumphant KPFT activists. Anyway, there's something quite disturbing about the cover photo on the December issue. Is it just Racket, or do those aging white liberals pictured there above the "New Pacifica!" headline (www.geocities.com/kpftradio/ hrr.html) appear to be giving a hearty "Sieg Heil!" salute?…Here's a scenario many clubbers are familiar with. You wake up at about one on a Sunday afternoon with an aching head, sore feet and an infectious song you heard the night before running through your mind. You can't get the song off your mind, but you haven't got a clue who made it. A San Francisco company called Proto Tracks is trying to come to the rescue. They cull hot electronic dance tracks from nightclub set lists and put them on CDs that Proto Tracks mails to subscribers monthly. Check the Proto Tracks Web site (www.prototracks. com) for more details…On January 22, the Aerial Theater officially became known as the much less catchy Verizon Wireless Theater. Now if we can only do something about that baseball stadium. (Racket must confess that when the Aerial opened he didn't know that Aerial was a company. He took the name literally, thinking it referred to some kind of new concept in music venues, that the stage was suspended in mid-air or something.) Just as there is also a Compaq Center in San Jose, California, Verizon Wireless Theaters dot the land. Others exist in San Antonio, Charlotte, North Carolina, Indianapolis, Los Angeles and Virginia Beach. Maybe one day soon bands will start selling their names to corporate sponsors and we can see Chevy Trucks Bob Seger or Pepsi Britney Spears at Verizon Wireless Theaters from sea to shining sea…The Handy Awards, the Grammys of the blues, announced their nominees earlier this month. Once again, Houston's showing was poor. Lightnin' Hopkins's Lightnin' and the Blues: The Herald Session garnered a nomination in the reissue category, and accordionist CJ Chenier and former Houstonian Gatemouth Brown, in a nod to his fiddle prowess, were nominated in the Best Instrumentalist - Other category. So we got one Houstonian who's no longer of this earth, another who never gigs here, and a third who doesn't live here anymore. So while we're staking all these tenuous claims, we might as well grab Best Contemporary Female Artist nominee Shemekia Copeland, whose daddy was from here.

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