After Little Richard retired from rock circa 1957 (the good reverend came back
of course), Gaines took the Texas Upsetters and his volcanic horn on the road, backing up other R&B greats, including such titans as James Brown, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke. With the last, Gaines appeared on the classics "Bring It On Home" and "Twistin' the Night Away." Meanwhile, in Houston, Gaines and his Texas Upsetters have become an institution. After a brief retirement during the early '80s, Gaines has been knocking out Houston audiences with powerful R&B that's authentic because, well, he helped invent it. So young wanna-bes take note. Grady Gaines plays R&B the way it should be played: with swing and soul and a whole lotta fun. -- Paul J. MacArthur
Critic's pick: Phuz
Clandestine was on the road when the band won the Best Folk/Acoustic award. That's not surprising, since Clandestine tours up to 200 dates each year. The Celtic quartet combines an extraordinarily high level of technique with a fiery verve that comes from playing full throttle in front of festival-sized crowds. Perhaps the best Celtic band in Texas, Clandestine has begun to spin off side projects, including Jen Hamel's solo album this year. -- Aaron Howard
Critic's pick: Denice Franke
True story: In 1999, while on a business trip in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this writer crashed a folk festival and tripped upon a Houston showcase put on by the Mucky Duck. What act was blowing the roof off the joint with a serious Southern rock sound? The same one that just took home its fourth Best C&W Pressy. There is a country flavor to the good sisters' music. But they are hardly "just" a C&W band. In 1998 they took home a Best Folk/Acoustic Pressy and have been nominated in that category several times, but they could sound at home next to the Marshall Tucker Band or even the Allman Brothers. In other words, no one really knows where to put the Sisters Morales. Well, actually, we at the Press know where to put them: on your "must see live" list.
Fronted by Lisa and Roberta Morales, the group mixes Americana sounds (rock, folk, country and even a touch of Latin) with a sense of verve. Their vocals are both beautiful and genuine, and convey a sense of integrity. The music, well, that sometimes takes a turn for the rougher side as the group rips out some smoldering jams. Mix it all together, and you have one of Houston's finest groups, be it C&W, rock, folk or something in between. -- P.J.M.
Critic's pick: Davin James
Prior winners of the now-defunct Best Band Without a Category prize, the Hellcats take home the inaugural Best Rockabilly award with their patented vatobilly. What is this vatobilly, you ask? High-octane, fully automatic Uzi boogie with occasionally screamed Spanish lyrics (though most are hollered in English), as evidenced by their recent version of "Should I Stay or Should I Go" on their new CD, Comin' to Your House.
That title, when delivered by one of these dudes, is anything but welcome news. Unless you're Hunter S. Thompson or share his appetite for destruction and debauchery, you won't want these three vatos locos anywhere near anything fragile, including your ego. Call it music to massacre by. -- J.N.L.
Critic's pick: Jesse Dayton
The Tony Vega Band
"What a year it's been," says Tony Vega after learning the band won the Best Blues Band category. "We've done our work, and this is the cherry on top." There's always room for another great Texas blues band, and the Tony Vega Band is rapidly approaching that level. Catching Vega's live act is like being anointed with a blazing guitar fusillade. For Vega, being nominated alongside blues guitar heroes Texas Johnny Brown and Joe "Guitar" Hughes was a thrill. "If it wasn't for guys like that, I wouldn't be doing any of this," he says. "I wish I could share the award with them." -- A.H.
Critic's pick: Joe "Guitar" Hughes
The Free Radicals describe themselves as "a jazz, funk, ska, reggae, African music, Indian music, punk, klezmer, polka and Latin-jazz group committed to noncommercial original innovative music, political action and incessant rehearsing." In other words, these guys dig different types of music.
The Free Rads' attitude comes more out of a jam-band tradition than of jazz. They permit taping at their show, as long as you don't sell the tape and you send them a copy. They can play seemingly forever. (They once played 24 hours straight for charity.) But like jazz icon Sun Ra, the Free Rads aren't afraid to play cacophonous sounds that scare off the average listener. Their game, it seems, is mixing influences in new ways, and the moment something sounds normal, they search for a way to make it out of sight.