best new act
If you didn't see this one coming, you forgot to look both ways. This past year has seen The Jinkies win every local accolade possible, from Public News' "Band of the Year" to the present fave new act nod. Justice Records honchos smartly kicked off the label's Hellhole compilation with The Jinkies' instantly karmic "Instant Kar Krash," and pushed the tune on a split single with Keenlies. There hasn't been this much excitement -- not to mention the unfortunate and too-soon hints of backlash in some quarters -- about a local unhyphenated rock band since God knows when.
Of course, all that and a buck will get you a cup of coffee in this town, and despite all the local attention, there have been distressingly few packed venues, and no quitting of day jobs. As for the future, The Jinkies are still in a production deal with former King's X/Galactic Cowboys guru Sam Taylor, and later this month they're leaving town for a week's tour of the deep South, which culminates in a gig at New Orleans' Howlin' Wolf club during The Cutting Edge Music Conference.
Meanwhile, brothers Carlos and Mike DeLeon (guitar/vox and drums, respectively) are still pounding out those little white packets of guitar sugar, those bitchin', Beatle-y harmonies and that disarmingly charming who-cares attitude. Commenting upon the band's triumph in the Houston Press poll, Carlos offers: "I thinks it's great, it's an honor ... I dunno, something like that ...."
And oh yeah, this little postscript: those of you who voted The Jinkies your favorite new act early -- before Sunday's showcase at Sam's Place -- saw a new band on that rainy stage. Chapman Stick player Giancarlo Caffarena has been dismissed from the fold, replaced by former Smile 69-er Matthew Thurman on guitar and former Bleachbath-er Vince Mandeville on bass. Word is the new lineup had only four days to get ready for the gig, and in that brief time they managed to master at least one crowd-pleasing trick -- the ability to play a more-or-less continuous set, with transitions between songs and everything -- without losing their punch. Lineup changes can be tricky beasts in a scene this close, but no nasty rumors have flown at the time of this writing, so at the moment, there's no reason to expect anything from this band but more of the good stuff. (B.T.)
best rock/pop venue
Fabulous satellite lounge
With its neon-lit gutted-out interior, garage door windows and curvy, pastel bar furniture, the Fabulous Satellite Lounge looks like an icehouse out of an episode of Miami Vice. The patrons aren't solely Versace-wearing hipsters, however; the Satellite draws quite a variegated crowd. It may only be open Thursday through Sunday, but when the Satellite's up and running, it's hopping to the tunes of local crowd pleasers such as Miss Molly and the Whips and Hadden Sayers Band, as well as out-of-towners such as Brave Combo and Storyville. The drinks are cold, the staff is friendly and there's even a nifty plasma light show on one of the artsy graffiti-clad walls. The Washington Avenue club's back yard, surrounded by corrugated metal and chainlink fencing, provides a nice respite from the happenings indoors, which end up being claustrophobic -- in a good way -- more often than not. (J.H.)
hadden sayers band
T'ain't nothin' like progress. Sayers' band took home Best New Act honors in last year's Press Awards, and rather than drop off the face of the Earth, Sayers has climbed the ladder to Best Rock/Pop a mere year later. If you're looking to pin responsibility on something, just blame Sayers' work ethic.
The red-haired, guitar-slinging frontman pared his band down to a trio format in April, with drummer John Hamilton and bassist Charlie Knight providing able support for Sayers' expanding songbook, and since March, the band has toured under the sponsorship of Bud Light. That sponsorship, and the band's eponymous CD released in January, has opened doors across the country, and Sayers has taken advantage by keeping his boys on the road at an almost nonstop pace. They've been concentrating, says Sayers, on the Midwest, where they've picked up substantial followings in Kansas, Missouri and Indiana. There's an old, seldom-heeded axiom that says any Houston band wanting to be anything more than a Houston band had better take its show on the road, and Sayers has done just that, aiming the trio at a goal of 250 nights a year on-stage. As for Houston, Sayers is still finding time to play at the Satellite once every six weeks or so.
Future-wise, the band has just returned from a weeklong, eight-date tour of Germany, and is kicking around ideas for the next CD, though Sayers doesn't know if it'll be a live recording or another studio exercise. More immediately, says Sayers, the band's simply going to continue writing new songs and "trying to build a grassroots following with heavy touring." (B.T.)
best male vocalist
of mango punch
Walter Suhr can still remember when Mango Punch was just a one-man band, when it was just Suhr and his vast program of sequencer sound bites playing for half-interested diners at a Steak and Ale. It's a bit of an understatement to say he's come a long way in four years. In that time, he's expanded his band to five members, launched his own small record company and developed a broad, multiethnic audience that not only voted Mango Punch Best Latin/Tejano artist but also cast enough write-in ballots to earn Mango drummer and co-lead singer, Brian Torres, a Best Male Vocalist nod.
It's a bit misleading to label Mango Punch a mere salsa band. Suhr, a former member of the '60s rock band the Saltwater Cats, has maintained close ties to classic rock with Punch. If his band isn't pounding out a salsa rhythm for the folks at Elvia's Cantina, then it's cranking out Top 40 tunes, Spanish rock and R&B covers for festivals and corporate parties. It's all part of Suhr's vision to make Mango Punch accessible to Houston's multicultural population, à la Selena.
The band's success allowed Suhr to start Punch Records about two years ago (which released Mango Punch's self-titled, nine-song CD) and has helped the band gain entrance to Telemundo's Ritmo Latino. That video clips program has put Punch's "Que Me Pongo" on heavy rotation, widening the group's popularity in other cities.
Over the years, Suhr has assembled a crack band, which now features David Flores on saxophone, Frank Rodriguez on guitar, Julio Cestedes on bass and Torres on drums. Suhr, a multi-instrumentalist, splits lead vocal chores with Torres, which may lead one to think he might be a tad jealous of Torres' victory in the Best Male Vocalist category. Not so.
"He's a very strong vocalist. He deserves it,'' Suhr says with a self-deprecating chuckle. "We all work together and for each other."
That all-for-one teamwork, not to mention Suhr's impressive promotional skills, have Mango Punch primed for the big time. The band's CD is already selling well in Houston, but Suhr, as usual, wants more. He wants national and international distribution through a major label. And who's to say he won't get it? He's already gone from playing at a Steak and Ale to playing at the Republican Convention. (T.C.)
best latin/tejano venue
Khan, the bad guy from Star Trek, has visited Elvia's Cantina, the Mexican pub at the corner of Fondren and Westheimer. There's even a framed photo on the wall in Elvia's entrance hall to prove it. Okay, so it was only actor Ricardo Montalban, and the photo is only one of many taken of celebrities, politicians and professional athletes who have stopped by over the years. The Mexican pub has consistently drawn in plenty of not-so-famous people as well, serving up tasty Mexican food and nightly entertainment. A flamenco show that's orchestrated by the ultra hip Rogelio Rodriguez has become a Tuesday night fixture, where girls in colorful ensembles twirl about on the waxed hardwood-floor stage; the show is followed by the live Latin disco of Sony 3, who's more or less become Elvia's house band. Various other Latin performers, including this year's Best Latin/Tejano winner Mango Punch, grace the stage Wednesday through Saturday nights. A recent addition to Elvia's is Wednesday night dance lessons, where patrons can be schooled in the art of salsa for free by the suave Eddie Lopez. Things have been hopping ever since Elvia's has been open; at this rate, the pub's proprietors, Ed and Elvia Parsons, are going to have to find another place to display their various awards and celeb photos, or the purple papier-mache wolf in the entrance hall will have to go. (J.H.)
carolyn wonderland/eric dane
The songwriting bug bit Carolyn Wonderland at an early age -- like when she was eight years old. The still young singer/songwriter remembers when she was even younger, writing pop and country tunes for an elementary school quartet. Pretty embarrassing stuff, Wonderland recalls. "I certainly wouldn't play them now," she says with a laugh.
But even as Wonderland and her Imperial Monkeys collaborator, Eric Dane, collect their first Best Songwriter award, you get the sense Wonderland still isn't overly impressed with her composing skills. Ask her to name her favorite songs, and she'll say she can't think of any. Ask her to analyze the appeal of her and Dane's music, and she'll hem and haw and say, aw shucks, there ain't nothing special about these songs, especially if you compare them to really talented writers such as Screaming Kenny or Sean Walters or Don Sanders or Allison Fisher.
This is obviously someone who respects her elders. And why not? A musician with impeccable taste, Wonderland spent her formative years absorbing the sounds of blues legends around the Bayou City, folks such as Trudy Lynn, Joe "Guitar" Hughes and Big Walter "The Thunderbird" Price. She and Dane have taken those lessons and molded them into their own rock and roll vision, one that's taken them around the country and just recently landed them a record deal with Big Mo, an independent label out of Washington, D.C. The band's first Big Mo release, Play with Matches, is scheduled for an October release.
Wonderland and Dane have been writing together for about four years now, in a collaborative process that's never the same thing twice, Wonderland says. She pens most of the lyrics, while she and Dane split the music-writing chores fifty-fifty. For Wonderland, it's a quick and mostly intuitive process. "Every song is different," she says. "It's like you stick an antenna up and you try to catch it .... If you don't catch it in about 30 minutes, you're probably never gonna catch it."
One thing's for certain, though: with the Imperial Monkeys' new record deal, and its attendant national distribution, more people will be able to catch Wonderland and Dane's writing. (T.C.)
song of the year
"walking with Colleen" by jerry lightfoot
This is the first time in memory that the Press' readers selected an instrumental tune -- a blues instrumental, at that -- as Song of the Year. It might be just a mass collective consciousness that after 25 years of kicking around the scene Jerry Lightfoot is long overdue for some kind of recognition -- or perhaps it's an agreement among the readers that a song featuring Grady Gaines on tenor sax and Joe "Guitar" Hughes doesn't need lyrics to soar.
"Walking with Colleen" is a conversation without words between three longtime friends, all professional musicians and authentic bluesmen, whose friendships are rooted in decades-old teacher-student relationships. Lightfoot is a blues lyricist of no small talents -- witness the soul-baring truths in "Someone's Doggin' My Baby" or "Lost in the Shuffle," both, along with "Walking with Colleen," from his recently released Burning Desire CD -- but he tells a story equally well without words. There's an exuberant joy to Lightfoot's guitar, almost as though he were telling Hughes and Gaines that some long-standing problems were finally under control and a wonderful woman had come into his life, and their reply is a lengthy, gleeful, wailing, honking salute to the happy couple. Not to mention a heartfelt "Congratulations, kid, we knew you'd make it" to Lightfoot. (J.S.)
album of the year
raisin' cain by jesse dayton (justice records)
The competition in this category was unusually interesting. Justice's Hellhole was ambitious; The Linus Pauling Quartet's Immortal Chinese Classics had moments of narrow brilliance; and Sugar Shack's Shotgun for Two was undeniably great. Still, it shouldn't have been difficult to guess that Jesse Dayton's long-awaited solo debut would ultimately get the nod, especially since it's such a fine album. Justice Records kicked out the stops to surround Dayton with some of Texas' jim-dandiest session players -- folks such as Floyd Domino and Johnny Gimble -- and let Dayton and his house band of Charlie Sanders (bass), Johnny Benoit (drums) and Brian Thomas (pedal steel) do the rest.
There's some barbed-wire honky-tonk on the record, and some swing and some blues and some rock and some zydeco even, and if Dayton hasn't yet mastered one and all, he's nonetheless showing precocious kick for a Beaumont boy finally carving out his piece of the spotlight. Critics have raved, radio programmers taken note, and Dayton's booking schedule has benefited from the boost, most prominently with his July 4 appearance at Willie Nelson's annual picnic. Raisin' Cain is, musically and production-wise, one of the most promising pieces of digitized plastic ever to snag this particular award, and establishment-bashers should take note: this is a Justice Records release.
It's been said that a debut record can break you as well as make you. If that's so, Jesse Dayton has nothing to worry about. He ain't even bent. (B.T.)
It may be the presence of all that Herb Life, but the continuing tale of Planet Shock!'s rock-and-rap exploration is looking less and less like the story of a band with a focus and more and more like some kaleidoscopic thing Tom Robbins might have cooked up before coffee one hungover morning. You see Plant Shock!, per se, broke up (or disbanded, or entered hiatus, depending on who you talk to) four months ago with a final gig at the Urban Art Bar.
There are presently two entities with some claim to the defunct band's crowd. One, Aftershock, is composed of Planet Shock!'s bassist, guitarist and DJ, with a new drummer, sampler and singer. Aftershock has played one gig -- at Fitzgerald's -- and the set included nothing from Planet Shock!'s set lists or CD, but the band does lay claim to, you know, the original vibe. Aftershock is supposed to go into the studio next month.
The other half of Plant Shock!, including rapper Joe B. (now "Psychedelic B-Boy"), drummer Ricky (now "Lion 808") and someone called "Rebel John C," is gigging as Soul Rebel and propagating the Herb Life philosophy, whatever that quasi-spiritual mishmash might be at the moment.
In the meantime, Planet Shock!'s second CD, recorded with Dan Workman and reportedly in the can, is just sitting there, unreleased and unlikely, from the sound of things, ever to see the light of day. The official story (assuming, probably wrongly, that anyone's in charge) is that Planet Shock! is, for the moment, disbanded and pursuing the Aftershock and Soul Rebel projects independently, with the option for a later-date regrouping. The unofficial vibe, if you will, is that Planet Shock! is dead and done for. So bone up on your rap, kids. You're probably going to have to vote for someone new next year. (B.T.)
best country & western
Covert operations are taking place at the Sisters Morales music complex. The sibling act of Lisa and Roberta Morales, repeat winners in the Best Country and Western category, are being very hush-hush about the band's future. Yet hints are being dropped like smart bombs.
"We have a lot of things going on that I can't talk about," says Lisa, with an embarrassed laugh. An announcement, however, could be made within a month, she adds.
It seems the Sisters Morales -- a five-piece band that also features David Spencer on lead guitar and triple-neck steel, Roger Tausz on bass and Rick Richards on drums -- have been busy since last year, when the band won both Best Country and Western and Song of the Year awards. The Sisters have signed with new management, BDM Management out of Nashville, which also handles heavy-hitters like Beaumont's Mark Chesnutt. And they've been touring "all over Texas," with occasional forays into Nashville and Arizona. A scheduled European tour had to be scrubbed at the last minute, Lisa adds cryptically, "because of some good things that were happening."
The band may be pigeonholed as "country," but the Morales sisters are proud that their music, which also draws from rock and blues, appeals to a wide variety of listeners. "We've been really building quite a diverse audience in the past year. It's just happening," Lisa says. "It's nice to see that we're a country band that appeals to all races and all ages. We do a lot of Spanish (music)."
The siblings, playing together for six years now, have developed into a strong, complementary pair -- Roberta is the bluesier one, Lisa is more country -- who view the family tie as a help, not a hindrance. "We worked out a lot of the little sibling stuff," Lisa says. "It's like a marriage, you have to work everything out. It's great. I trust her. She believes in me, and I believe in her."
And from the sound of things, some major industry folks are beginning to believe in them, too. (T.C.)
best folk/c&w venue
McGonigel's mucky duck
Tucked away on Norfolk between Kirby and Greenbriar, McGonigel's Mucky Duck has a cozy feel to it. You could say it's the earthy tones of the interior that are complemented by the soft light of candles. Or you could say it's the little things like the throw pillows on the wooden booths, or the bookshelves that are painted on one of its walls. One thing's for sure though, and that's the feel of intimacy that's generated by the various folk acts the Duck offers every Monday through Saturday. In its five years of business, the Duck has provided the perfect environment for listening to singers/songwriters such as Kimberly M'Carver and Shake Russell and Jack Saunders. Every Monday night, Lisa Morales of the Sisters Morales hosts an acoustic open mike night, and an Irish jam session on Wednesday nights is fast becoming an institution. And in addition to serving food, the house of folk also commands a respectable beer and wine selection, and has been known to serve the best Guinness Stout in town. One thing not to expect is for the cigar trend to hit the Duck anytime soon; the pub likes to be considerate toward its non-smoking patrons by offering select smoke-free shows. (J.H.)
Paul English is the closest thing Houston has to a jazz institution. Most local players in this field flee to the coasts to take advantage of the action there; English has remained steadfastly loyal to Houston for nearly two decades, often creating his own opportunities where none existed.
Perhaps that loyalty is one reason why English is a repeat winner in the Best Jazz category. Because, God knows, English has kept a fairly low profile since last year, when his star-studded release party for Beauty at Rice's Stude Hall was the jazz event of the season. Since then, English has been performing irregularly at Ovations with his chamber-jazz group and palling around with fellow pianist Joe LoCascio, smoking cigars and devising plans to energize Houston's anemic jazz community. Together, English and LoCascio have co-hosted lectures and performances, trying to educate (and therefore expand) the city's jazz audience.
English is also talking with some investment banking folks about launching another jazz club/restaurant; the project has been on the boards for some time, but English sounds serious about it now. It could make for a busy fall for English, who'll also be taking a position as a jazz instructor at San Jacinto College in Pasadena. The college gig should be good not only for the students but also for the teacher: San Jacinto has a state-of-the-art studio that English will have access to for his Capstone Records projects.
Sound like English is biting off more than he can chew? Well, if history has taught us anything, it's taught us not to underestimate the man. His friends call him the most over-extended jazz musician in town. But if anyone can find a way to teach full-time and still open a club and manage a label, it's English. (T.C.)
best jazz venue
One club's loss is another club's gain. Or so it seems with Cody's, this year's winner of Best Jazz Venue. Jazz clubs, and others of similar ilk, have been dropping like flies in recent months. Dizzy's, the Roof and Soulstice have all ceased operations, and with Ovations taking a summer hiatus for renovations, many jazz-starved fans have been flocking to Cody's to soak up the improvisational sounds.
The Cody's management estimates that 100 additional people are now traipsing regularly through their doors; Friday and Saturday nights draw 300 to 400 folks to the cross-shaped room that rests on the second level of the Village Arcade at University and Kirby. Those weekend evenings have been reserved for a few enticing treats: happy hour drinks, a buffet and some of the funkiest jazz fusion you're likely to hear in this city.
Horace-Alexander Young and John Gordon III's Above the Rimm has been Cody's main fusion instigator, holding down the prime weekend slot for months. And for good reason. Young and Gordon are serious students of the saxophone; both have played with the legendary South African pianist and composer Abdullah Ibrahim (Young, in fact, has been Ibrahim's musical director and arranger for several years), yet both men know how to get funky. It makes for an undeniable combination.
But Cody's, looking for a little diversity, has broadened its bookings lately, inviting other fusion groups such as New News to hold down the weekend slot. And starting this month, Norma Zenteno will bring in her salsa-jazz band, in a move that management hopes will expand the club's base of customers.
Cody's enduring popularity is, of course, part contemporary and part historical. The club's name has been associated with jazz for nearly 18 years in Houston, mostly at its old location on Montrose (which recently shut down after converting into a cabaret club last year). The old Cody's on Montrose was a place where the city's finest jazz players were featured and nurtured. Cody's in the Village, which turned three in June, is carrying on that tradition, although in a more contemporary vein. (T.C.)
best record store
cactus Music & Video
Trends in retail paint a dismal picture for the future of family-owned businesses threatened by the juggernaut of monolithic, nationwide chains. But when we're all wandering the aisles of Home Depot wishing real hardware stores hadn't gone the way of the passenger pigeon, Cactus Records will still be showing the chains how to sell records. Country music producer H.W. "Pappy" Daley opened his first record store in 1947 in Houston's Heights; Daley's Records went on to become Records Houston, one of the largest distributors in the state. Then, 20 years ago, the family's retail efforts took a new turn with the transformation of a dilapidated grocery store on Shepherd into Cactus Records. H.W. "Bud" Daley Jr., son of the store's founder, explains that "our idea from the start was to hire good help, good managers. We try to offer every customer assistance when they walk in the store, from helpful people that we can count on to be knowledgeable about the product." It's a concept of particular appeal to buyers of eclectic and esoteric tastes. Longtime Cactus customers report a trusting rapport with clerks whose recommendations can be taken seriously. The store's practice of promoting noteworthy artists with in-store performances has resulted in some of the best free concerts in town, and even their advertising is often more useful information about under-recognized acts than cut-and-dried label-generated promotion. The best way to succeed in business is to love what you do. There's no way to talk about music with the folks at Cactus without having a conversation with serious music lovers, which is something Houston Press readers have applauded for three years in a row. (J.S.)
best metal/hard rock
One might have thought that, after years of deservedly thrashing the competition in the yearly popularity contests, dead horse might've given way to another contender this time around. It's just that the band's profile was so, shall we say, less than dominating, and the competition so strong this year. After all, if dead horse has recovered from its year-old split with former vocalist Mike Haaga, you wouldn't know if from flipping through the calendar listings (wherein the band's name appears with notorious infrequency), or from any new product (of which there is none as yet).
But dead horse is still dead horse, and nobody who's had the privilege to see the new band, with former Force Fed vocalist Scott Sevall handling the screamer chores, has registered any complaints with the new look and new material. dead horse has been in the studio with L.A. producer Tim Gerron (Skrew) working out six new tracks for an upcoming demo CD, and the labels, as ever, are sniffing. dead horse contributed a cut to the Milwaukee MetalFest Metal Mania compilation CD out last week, and later this month they're scheduled to perform at San Antonio's three-day Woodrock Festival. (B.T.)
Leesa Harrington is a big beautiful bear of a woman -- 25 years old, mother of one lovely daughter -- who likes to hit things with sticks, hard. She's done just that for Linda Lou and Libido, Bloodfart and Oreo Beef Maggot over the years, as well as sporadic gigging and recording with Stinkerbell, Manhole, Josephus and Happy Fingers Institute. Call her ambitious. Last year she even answered an audition call when Ozzy Osbourne was looking to assemble a new band. Harrington didn't get the gig -- good for Houston -- but she did get a nice letter from the Oz thanking her for her tape. The letter is framed on a wall in Harrington's house.
Most folks got to know Harrington as the heavy metal thunder in the Joint Chiefs' art rock mix, but she left that band after five years to join Carolyn Wonderland's Imperial Monkeys this January, and by all accounts -- both fan and band -- it's a marriage made in some truck stop on the outskirts of heaven. With the Monkeys, Harrington's playing every day or so, somewhere or other, and awaiting the October release of the band's second CD -- their first for Big Mo Records and first with Harrington behind the kit. She says it rocks hard, which would be no surprise. As to winning the long-overdue, first-ever balloting for best drummer, she says it's "kinda weird, because there's so many killer drummers in town, and a handful that'll blow my ass in the dirt. But I'm happy. It's cool that people would vote for me." (B.T.)
This is one of those categories filled with startlingly talented players, almost anyone of whom would easily live up to the title. And so you've got to assume that the guy who finally took home the trophy is either A) a really nice guy to boot, or B) anchoring a terminally popular band.
Chris King, as an all-around swell guy and one-half of the rhythm section for Carolyn Wonderland's Imperial Monkeys (Best Drummer Leesa Harrington is the other half), is both, as well as being an extraordinarily accomplished bassist. He's also the hairiest man in Houston music, and that probably counted for something.
As we found out last year, when King took Local Musician of the Year honors, he doesn't much like to talk about himself and his instrument, especially if the context tends toward the flattering. In the great tradition of stone-faced bassists from John Entwistle to Donald "Duck" Dunn, King comes from the aw-shucks school of self-promotion, preferring to let his four fat strings do his talking for him. This year, they spoke volumes. (B.T.)
shake russell and jack saunders
It wouldn't be the least bit cynical to refer to this category as the "McGonigel's Mucky Duck Award." The Duck is, after all, the Bayou City's unchallenged folk-music headquarters -- in large part because the management has carefully wooed and cultivated a regular audience that knows exactly what it wants. The club was built for, and survives on, musical storytellers such as Shake Russell and Jack Saunders, and it's impossible to understand the duo's popularity unless you've seen them, for all practical purposes, at home with their friends. Their invariably SRO shows have a warm energy that's the complete antithesis of their recent dry-toast CD; folk music is a genre that thrives on audience feedback and suffers without it. Russell and Saunders bask in, and transform, the laughs and requests and long-rehearsed responses to critical moments in their compositions, and return to the audience the warmth and energy it has generated. It's a happy, comfortable situation that brings people back at every opportunity; indeed, most other two-guys-with-guitars music that inspires this much camaraderie tends to involve a campfire and a babbling brook. (J.S.)
musician of the year
For years now, Carolyn Wonderland has been described as being a sunrise away from being an overnight success. When she was still a teenager, many predicted that she would go straight from a Monday night gig at the smallest club on Washington to Carnegie Hall. One of the few who never put much faith in that fairy-tale career chart was the subject of the fairy tale herself: Wonderland, instead of waiting for a mythical express elevator to fame and fortune, has quite sensibly been taking the stairs. Her progress, one step at a time, has been impressive. Carnegie is still somewhere in the future, but a steady touring diet of club dates from coast to coast has given her a nationwide base of fans who took a copy of Truck Stop Favorites Vol. II home from the show and won't stop raving to their friends about the voice on that pink-haired girl from Texas who passed through town. There's been plenty of opening-act gigs with the likes of Jimmy Vaughan, Johnny Winter and Buddy Guy that left audiences who had come to see a legend convinced they'd also seen a legend in the making.
Wonderland is as adamant about remaining true to her Texas roots as she is about being in the music business for the long haul. She's quick to acknowledge her debt to, and reverence for, the many Houston blues artists who inspired her to look for the elements that take her voice beyond rock. In spite of having come to the blues through rock and roll -- and, in all honesty, being much more of a blues-influenced rocker than a traditional blues performer -- Wonderland has shown a rare knack for heartfelt, bare-bones roots music. There was the night when the noise police pulled the soundboard plug, and were answered with a furious, unamplified rendition of Son House's "A Good Friend Is Hard to Find." And there was the afternoon at Jones Plaza when a rapacious promoter informed the Imperial Monkeys they had to do one more song to get paid after the drum kit was already broken down. Not many Party on the Plaza-goers knew what the story was, but they knew that the show closed with the most incredible a cappella rendition of "I Shall Not Be Moved" to ever rattle a skyscraper window.
Wonderland has been studying both music and the music business since her teen years; her talents with voice, guitar and songwriting are matched by her knowledge of publishing, booking and promotion. Gifted with a wonderful voice, she's shown that she has the savvy to take full advantage of her gift. It's occasionally grumbled by the waiting-for-the-world-on-a-platter malcontents that readers' polls are nothing but a popularity contest. Well, that makes Carolyn Wonderland the most popular musician in Houston -- with good reason. (J.S.)
best blues venue
The big easy social and pleasure club
The upscale environs of University Village, that tony little shopping and entertainment hamlet between Rice University and West U, might seem an unlikely site for a blues revival. But a number of clubs in the area have found that nothing brings the customers in, and back, quite like those hard-working men and women who can do that Houston blues shuffle.
This was old news to Pete Selin of Hey Hey and Bon Ton fame a few years ago, when he temporarily succumbed to the live-music club bug again and helped convert the old Crown and Serpent into the combination blues bar and record store that became the Big Easy. Pete's moved on to other ventures, but the initial Big Easy concept is going strong -- live music several nights a week, with a dedicated emphasis on local acts, in a casual, laid-back environment, and Houston's only all-blues and zydeco record store in a side room. It's a chance to see local legends such as Guitar Slim, Oscar Perry and Joe "Guitar" Hughes up-close and personal one night, and a few nights later check the progress of the future of Gulf Coast roots music -- which seems to be safe enough in the capable hands of Leonard Brown, Allison Fisher and other stalwarts of the next generation. At least one night a weekend, the Big Easy is home to zydeco as well, and the no-cover policy, mixed with strong local talent, adds up to a venue that's easy to stop by for a minute, and easier to stop by for a while. (J.S.)
Joining the Basics, Lupe Olivarez's bilingual multiethnic rock band, was probably the best thing that ever happened to Marie English, the veteran Houston keyboardist whose career was idling in neutral before she met up with Olivarez in May 1994. Since then, English has found a comfortable and creative home with a band that could soon ride the Selena crossover wave to a major-label deal. What's more, English has hitched up with Basics drummer and journeyman producer Robbie Parrish, who is guiding the keyboardist through her first solo album, which will feature ten tracks that English has written over the past seven years.
"It's a kick playing with those guys. They've given me my life back in music," English says. "It all started with Lupe's friendship .... You know, Lupe and I both have been at it for about the same amount of time, and he still has a lot of passion and energy about it. When I started playing with him, it transferred to me. He gave me the spark again, even if it was the kind of music I never played before and a language I don't even speak."
English started out playing country music with her brothers, then she left to perform gospel music. But when Lisa Morales approached her to start a band, she opted again for more secular sounds. The pair performed under the moniker Lisa and Marie, a popular draw for nearly five years before the two musicians went their separate ways. "Lisa was more country. I was enthralled in the blues," English says simply. "I wanted to stretch out."
So English began playing with veteran blues guitarist Jerry Lightfoot and piano legend Big Walter "The Thunderbird" Price. It was a time of learning for English. "They taught me to be real with yourself and your playing no matter what you do," she says. "You can take that anywhere. That's why I'm playing with the Basics."
The Basics have taken English to heart. Olivarez calls English "an excellent songwriter" and says one of her songs, "Promises," has become a "pretty good hit" among Basics followers. The band is also sharing its manager with English, who hopes that managerial muscle, along with the master tape of songs she's currently mixing, will help her land a record deal. (T.C.)
joe "Guitar" hughes
For the third year in a row, the readers of the Press have declared that Joe "Guitar" Hughes is one hell of a guitar player. No disagreements here; it's just getting a little harder every year to find good things to say about Hughes that haven't been said before. After four decades of performing, Hughes has a style that's as unique and instantly recognizable as that of any guitar player who ever came out of Houston's Third Ward. The musicians Hughes grew up with, learned from, taught and played with is a complete list of everyone who's had an influence on Houston blues -- and Hughes' own contributions have been considerable. He's credited as a major influence by virtually every young local musician who has any plans of ever playing the blues, while Hughes' albums -- recorded and released by a variety of German labels -- gather no dust in the import racks. The stories are legion from people who say, "I never really dug the blues until I saw Joe Hughes play," like the crowd at Woodrow's during the Music Awards Showcase -- who may have shown up to see someone else, but finally decided to fill out a ballot after hearing Hughes. The club ran out of ballots, which was of some concern to Hughes' manager, but now I can tell her what I couldn't on the phone: don't worry, Mrs. Hughes. Joe already had Best Guitarist in the bag. (J.S.)
best act that doesn't fit a category
beans barton & the Bi-Peds
Ah, the self-defining Mr. Barton, who would be head and peds above any challengers to the performance art/rock and role theater crown, if there were any. It's a role he's been defining with the Bi-Peds for almost a decade, indeed, since his first night in Houston (back before the bayous were cemented) when the arm of Elvis rose from the swimming pool at the Alamo Motel on Old Spanish Trail and gave the young Barton the Dark Guitar.
Confused? Just go see the show; you'll still be confused, but delighted by an innovative, original performance that mixes art, music and theater for an evening unlike anything inboard of the asteroids. As a play unfolds in front of backdrops painted with scenes from Barton's alternative universe of guys, gals, birds, guitars and gars, Beans molts every few songs into a new costume, a new role, a new personality. Between verses, the audience is kept amused by the interplay between violinist/pianist Sue-Bob Jackson and veteran space-bassist Dr. Zomac, as Barton scrawls crayon and daubs paint on a stretched canvas under the hand-held spots and strobes of the Bi-Bulb, then tosses the canvas aside and leaps from his easy chair to rip away another layer of his costume and expose another facet of his persona.
By the time Paco, the lover of many women, emerges in shorts and tank top, the seemingly random splatters and strokes on the canvas have become one of those peculiarly Bartonesque portraits. Look -- it's a bird! It's a gar! It's Richard Nixon scowling at the dove of peace perched on his finger! And the painting is auctioned off to benefit the Houston Food Bank. And then the Ped-Heds mingle with the Bi-Peds for a while, before going their separate ways until the next night of rock and role theater. (J.S.)
best horn/horn section
Horn-section funk bands have a rough enough time getting by without getting involved with international diplomacy. Still, if there was ever a band from the local scene whose good intentions were likely to be thwarted by global tensions, it would have to be Global Village, whose plans to funk and boogie their way through 30 Chinese cities in 35 days are currently on hold because of the growing tensions between the nuclear powers on either side of the Pacific. It's the most original twist-of-fate hard-luck story from a Houston band in quite a while; it's hoped that not one but two Press awards is some small compensation.
Global Village's horn section is almost a band-within-a-band; the occasional forays into the weeknight jam-session world of trumpeter Keith Van Horn, trombonist Mike Donohue and sax man Trey Smith has given the trio a persona of their own, as in, "We had a great jam last night, the Global Village Horns showed up." And experimenting with an eclectic, give-it-a-try-and-see-what-happens gumbo of sounds and styles stands the Global Village Horns in good stead when they find themselves with the other two-thirds of the band on a stage anywhere from Austin to Lafayette, where they remind the crowd that horns mean party and funk is just another word for dance.
After five years with a remarkably steady lineup -- four of the nine Global Village members are original, and the other five have seniority going back almost to the beginning -- the band has polished its interplay to a perfect balance between loose enough for fun and tight enough for style. Percussionist "Boogie Man" J.P., drummer Vernon Keith and bassist Marco Yepez do what they can to keep vocalist Chad Strader, guitarists Roger Igo and Les Greene, and the Horns in a low Earth orbit for awhile, and then kick in the rhythms that send the band and audience far out through the multicolored lights and sounds of the funk universe. (J.S.)
best reggae/world beat
D.R.U.M. -- Divine Rhythm, United Motion -- likes to think of its music as "African rock." However, such simple categorization doesn't do the music justice, considering that it draws from not only African music, but Latin, Caribbean and American as well. Originally founded in 1988 as a percussion ensemble consisting of Nathan Faulk (traps, vocals, Agogo bells), Alafia Gaidi (lead vocals, sax, Djimbe, conga, Berimbau, flute) and Kenyha Shabazz (vocals, conga, Djun-djun, Djimbe), D.R.U.M. has evolved into a seven piece, adding Ameen Abdur-Raheem (rhythm guitar, Djun-djun), Jamaal Ali (lead guitar, Maracas), Michael Royster (keyboards, percussion) and, most recently, Osakwe (bass). The band, garbed in African dress and painted in tribal colors, prays before every performance; another traditional aspect is that the members actually make their own drums, having been instructed by elders from Africa, who also taught them a variety of African musical styles. As a seven piece, D.R.U.M. has played just about everywhere, from AstroWorld to Laveau's to the Museum of Natural Science; they even played in the Wortham with a full orchestra during the 1993-94 Da Camera series. Occasionally, the original members play as a three-piece to provide music for dance performances at venues such as DiverseWorks. They've released a self-produced album, 1993's Ancient Sounds of the Future, and the follow-up, Skin on Skin, is expected before the end of the year.
And D.R.U.M. isn't simply a band of "African rockers," either. Besides performing numerous benefits for charitable organizations, D.R.U.M.mers Gaidi and Shabazz devote much of their time to passing on their skills to inner-city children. At the School of African Percussion, located at the Midtown Arts Center, Gaidi teaches African percussion styles, while at the Seven Principles Youth Drummers on Almeda, Shabazz instructs kids in the classical technique of crafting drums. (Other D.R.U.M. members occasionally stop by as guest teachers.) It would seem that the unique sounds of D.R.U.M. will be around for generations to come. (J.H.)
pierre blanchard and the zydeco dots
Considering the number of local zydeco bands that have the word "zydeco" as part of their names, it's not surprising that there's some confusion over who's who. Take, for example, this year's Best Cajun/Zydeco winner, Pierre Blanchard and the Zydeco Dots. Formed in 1987 by band members from Pierre and the Nightcats and Ted and the Polka Dots, the band has always retained the same core group -- guitarist Tom Potter, rubboardist Mike Vee, saxophonist L.V. Davis, bassist Joe Hurst and drummer Joseph Rossyion -- but has employed two different frontmen/accordionists with the same first name but different musical styles. Pierre Blanchard, a Frenchman who sings in his native tongue and whose accordion style is also very European, has been the more prominent Pierre over the years, and was the Pierre on the band's only major CD release, Naked Zydeco.
However, Pierre Stoot, a Louisianian whose accordion handiwork is described in a recent press release as "the true zydeco technique," has been chosen by the band to be their one and only Pierre from now on out. Incidentally, Pierre Stoot and the Zydeco Two Step -- Stoot's now-defunct zydeco band, sometimes going by the name Pierre Stoot Zydeco -- was one of the other nominees for the Best Cajun/Zydeco category, and it was Pierre Stoot, not Blanchard, and the Zydeco Dots that performed at Woodrow's during the Houston Press Music Awards Showcase. Blanchard has moved on to form Pierre Blanchard and the Bayou Stompers, a based-out-of-Houston band that's smartly left "zydeco" out of its name. But things could have been a hell of a lot more confusing, considering that in the process of finding Bayou Stompers, Blanchard approached some of Stoot's Zydeco Two- Steppers. They declined. (J.H.)
best female vocalist
After two years during which Carolyn Wonderland ruled the female vocalist roost, this year's voting indicates a slightly unexpected return to form, and it also suggests that maybe, just maybe, you voters are paying attention. Carolyn's voice certainly hasn't gotten any worse, but when you've got two women who can belt 'em out like these two can, the difference can come down to sheer visibility. Carolyn didn't release any new material this year, while the timeless Miss Molly slapped her own nekkid self on the cover of her second CD In the Garden last August, and the disc has been selling slowly but steadily ever since.
In the meantime, Molly herself has been doing anything but resting on her laurels, touring coast to coast, from L.A.'s House of Blues to Boz Scagg's San Francisco club, Slim's, to Atlanta and Nebraska and Little Rock and all points in between, averaging about 150 shows a year. And all with negligible airplay. Molly also just signed up for a third renewal of her Budweiser sponsorship, recruited a new drummer for her band and is in and out of the studio, writing songs and recording tracks for a new CD slated for release in the spring of 1996, which makes her one of the busiest women in local show business. Come August 12, she'll be celebrating her Sixth Annual Birthday Extravaganza at the Satellite Lounge.
When she's not on the road, in the studio or on a local stage, she's kicking back at her new home on Pine Lake near Conroe -- where the Gulf Coast diva moved some four months ago -- bass fishing and watching the world go by. She reels in the big ones with special super-stinky worms that a friend in Houston makes for her, and she swears she throws them all back. And as for the award, she sounds terribly relaxed when she says: "I just really appreciate that." (B.T.)
In a musical genre that's known -- nationally, at least -- for a fascination with the current thing, and a genre where quick hits are generally followed by even quicker fades, it says something that The Hunger is taking home the Best Industrial/Dance prize for the third year running. Exactly what that something being said is, of course, may depend on your perspective. Cynical scenesters may sniff that The Hunger's dominance reflects a lack of competition in the category. Other industrial/dance bands, who'd argue that the competition's damn tough, might pass off The Hunger's lock on this prize as a mark of the Houston audience's notorious unwillingness to move beyond the familiar. But the truth of the matter is more likely that The Hunger just knows how to work their crowd -- or just knows how to work, period. These guys from Clear Lake, led by brothers Thomas and Jeff Wilson, have eschewed the protective coloration of day jobs to focus their attention on their music and getting gigs wherever a club owner would let them plug in. As a result, they've probably started more sweaty bodies twitching across the dance floor than almost any other band in the city. The Hunger has a brand-new CD, Devil Thumbs a Ride, slated for release next month on their own Gut Records label; those not willing to wait that long for a dose of pulsing dance-floor bass can undoubtedly find them live earlier. (J.H.)
best cover band
Jamie Jahan, lead singer with Toy Subs, confesses that his peers are getting a little worried about him. It seems they think he's transforming, like some musical version of Frankenstein's monster, into -- God forbid! -- a cover band. Jahan has one word of advice: relax.
Yes, Toy Subs is a cover band. No, it's not what Jahan, or the other three members of the band, plan to do for the rest of their lives. Toy Subs is simply a means to an end, that end being Jahan's artistic outlet, the modern-rock band Shed. Toy Subs, with its lucrative gigs at Richmond Strip clubs, finances Shed's artistic visions, including an upcoming six-song EP.
"Basically, we consider Toy Subs a job," says Jahan, whose real name is Jamie Daruwala. "We're glad people like the cover band. I guess it's like people saying it's a job well done."
Jahan and Toy Subs' other members -- guitarist Alex Tittle, bassist Greg Mayfield and drummer John Simmons -- are actually part of a modern breed of musicians who understand that art and commerce go hand in hand. Theirs is a three-step plan to success. The first step was to make Toy Subs, which was officially launched on April Fools' Day 1990, a "well-oiled machine that we could make a living off of." That's been done; the Subs performed about 225 shows last year (it was even a semifinalist on Star Search in 1991), more than enough gigs for the musicians to buy their own PA system and build their own 24-track, in-home studio. The second step was to put Shed together, which Jahan and company have quietly been doing over the past year. They just recently developed enough original material for a full set, and now they're showcasing those tunes in clubs around town.
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And not a moment too soon. Jahan admits that working in a cover band can dull your artistic drive. That's why the band members maintain a delicate balance between Toy Subs and Shed as they try to realize their third goal: securing a record deal so they can finally sink the Toy Subs. But for the moment, it's good cover. (T.C.)
best alternative rock
Given that everything is an alternative to something, I'm not sure if there's a way for one genre to be exclusively alternative to everything else. Despite confusion over this classification, it's safe to say that the definition chosen by Press readers deals with rock that addresses the concerns of, and fits the format preferred by, age groups who consider their particular conformity to be individualistic, unprecedented rebellion against an unjust world. There's also a good possibility that the genre-slot currently held by the members of Crazykilledmingus (named for a tragic encounter between two felines owned by a band member) is an alternative to the music that these musicians will find themselves playing years from now.
It's obvious, even to flabby, middle-aged critics who wouldn't be caught dead in a mosh pit, that guitarists Brandon Becker and Anthony DeBorde and vocalist/songwriter Allen Craig have talent with staying power. There's a complexity to Crazykilledmingus' twin-guitar attack that's rare among the stage-dive set, and the band's rapport with the audience further fuels the fires of loyalty and enthusiasm. On both their debut steadyhead * faster CD and at overflow all-ages shows, Craig-penned-and-sung lyrics deal with the current young-adult versions of the eternal concerns of trust, love, life and death, and Crazykilledmingus weaves music that appeals to their peers around his words. It may be alternative; it's also just what successful musicians do as they learn their craft. (