¡Viva H-town!

In the annals of

Houston Press

Music Awards, 2004 will go down as the year of the Latino. First off, there were a half-dozen or so new categories for Latin music, all of which were, of course, won by Latinos. Also, this year's big overall winner was Chingo Bling. The pride of North Tamaulipas won a total of four of the fist-shaped trophies, including Local Musician of the Year, Best Latin Rap, Best New Act and Best Local Label.

As is already plain, it wasn't just Latin categories where Latinos prevailed. Norma Zenteno took home Best Female Vocalist honors, Vatos Locos prevailed in punk, and Nick Gaitan of Los Skarnales broke the hold of the Fondue Monks' Rozz Zamorano (a Latino himself, now that I think about it) on the Best Bassist category.

And sadly, there came an untimely reminder that Latinos had been a part of the Houston music scene for many, many years. Word passed around that Norma Zenteno's father, Roberto, had passed away that afternoon, though that was not confirmed until hours later when his daughter took the stage. (My grandmother once reminisced to me about going to see Roberto in the early 1950s, making him perhaps the only musician we have ever both seen live.) In her acceptance speech, Norma said that she considered not coming to the ceremony, but her mother told her that many years ago her grandfather had ordered her father to a gig from his deathbed, and that Roberto would no doubt tell her the same thing, that the show must go on.

Roberto would have been proud to see this night, and not only because his daughter won her umpteenth award. He also would have seen how Hispanics have come to define music in Houston.

For no musician represents H-town, the city where Aztlan meets the Dirty South, better than Chingo Bling, the ghetto vaquero, the tamale kingpin. Who else dares to combine the hip-hop of the Boxx with the sounds of Los Tigres del Norte? Who else would dare fuse the fashion from the latest narcocorrido flick on Raza TV with the crunkest clothes or ice grill Lil' Jon could sport? Even his fighting cock is crunk -- have you seen Cleto's ice beak?

Unfortunately, neither Chingo nor Cleto was able to make the ceremony -- they were out in L.A. chunkin' la deuce and poppin' trunk on the pinche bootleggers that steal his chit. But he was considerate enough to send along an acceptance speech on what he would call a "DBD." And for some reason the audio didn't work on that film. (Did the pinche bootleggers steal the sound?)

But big winners are just a small part of what the awards ceremony is about. Much earlier on in the evening, Rodney Elliott of JW Americana -- a fine band, albeit one on the ballot for the first time -- spoke for many of the also-rans when he told me sincerely how much it meant to him to just be in the ceremony. "This is really weird for us," he said. "I mean, I've got a lazy eye and all that. Nobody likes us."

And in a way, he was right. Almost without exception, it was the old, non-lazy-eye guard that prevailed. Los Skarnales, Zenteno, Grady Gaines, the Zydeco Dots, D.R.U.M., DJ Sun, Mike Snow, Carolyn Wonderland, Ezra Charles and Brian Davis of Middlefinger have all been winning awards since Bill Clinton's first term. Tony Vega, John Evans and Faceplant have been doing so since his second. Other winners came from last year's crop of first-timers, including Drop Trio, Caliente and Molly & the Ringwalds.

But then there were the upstarts and surprises, not the least of which was the narrow triumph of Vatos Locos over 30footFALL, the blowout win of Lisa Novak and Melinda Mones over a tough crowd of Folk/Acoustic competitors, Lise Liddell's conquest of some pretty stiff competition in the Best Songwriter field, the Handsomes' handy victory over several much more battle-tested bands in Best Rock/Pop, and Kiss Kiss Kill Kill's easy win in Best Indie Rock. And even those that didn't win got to revel in the camaraderie of the evening, one of the only nights of the year when Houston's music community doesn't scratch, fight, claw and drag each other down like crabs in a bucket.

Anyway, thanks to all the sponsors, presenters (sports reporter Jorge Vargas of the WB, Quinn Bishop of Cactus Music and Video, Steve Sucher of the Musicians Benevolent Society of Houston, Jerry Brown of Budweiser and host Michael "Hi-Tech Texan" Garfield. Thanks also to the bands that performed (John Evans Band, Silverleaf, Faceplant, Arthur Yoria and the Handsomes). And thanks to all the bands on the ballot, the fans who love them, and congrats to the winners, a list of which follows below. -- John Nova Lomax

Best New Act, Best Latin Rap, Local Musician of the Year, Best Local Label

Chingo Bling

Rapper-entrepreneur- tamale kingpin Chingo Bling is as much a social commentator as he is a musician. Swipes at la migra, big-business radio and snooty stars like J.Lo are standard with the "Money and Masa '04" tour headliner. But even the glare off Chingo's bling (which includes belt buckles as big as his head) doesn't outshine the rapper's musical talent. The first-time nominee also earned nods as both Best New Act and Local Musician of the Year, an almost impossible combination given the stellar competition in the two categories.

Chingo has his money (at least he says it's his money) where his mouth is. Big Chile Enterprises, the record label of which Chingo is president, CEO and mero chingón, handed out $500 scholarships to two Chavez High School students this year. Of course, Chingo made some of that money selling Torta-thongs (a.k.a. pan protectors) and T-shirts that have a copyright-infringing "Air-Chingo" logo, but hey, the checks didn't bounce. -- Olivia Flores Alvarez

Critic's pick: Chingo Bling (Best New Act, Best Latin Rap, Local Musician of the Year), Big Chile Enterprises (Best Local Label).

Song of the Year

"Suga Suga," Baby Bash and Frankie J

In all but one of the last nine HPMAs, the song of the year in this competition has either been about or had a strong undercurrent of substance abuse. The streak began in 1996 with Carolyn Wonderland's "No Really I Can Drive" and continued the next year with the Suspects' "Caffeine." After an off year, the streak commenced again with Poor Dumb Bastards' legendary "My Dad, Two Whores and a Crack Pipe," which was followed by South Park Mexican's weed ditty "High So High." In 2001 the winner was Rodney Crowell's "Telephone Road," which reminisced about getting wasted off the vapors trailing behind the Jacinto City mosquito dope truck. In 2002, Davin James's "Magnolia" took top honors, and while the drug content in that tune was minimal, it was there -- there is a line about "cool mint juleps." Hayes Carll's "Highway 87" reupped the ante: Carll's narrator drank for six straight months and had a stash of coke. And this year, Baby Bash's weed-drenched hip-hop/doo-wop number finds the rapper boasting that he loves to get blowed, has a fat sack and that he treats his Suga "like my sticky-icky or my sweet ooey-gooey." To trot out that overdone phrase one last time, Houston, we have a (drug) problem. -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: "Just a Dog," Big Moe

Songwriter of the Year

Lise Liddell

Since she was attired in black jeans and matching T-shirt and not her trademark postage-stamp-sized miniskirt, it's safe to assume that Lise Liddell didn't expect to win. And all she could do once her name was announced was take the stage, brandish her award, stare myopically at the blaring spotlights and waffle on aimlessly. Winner by a wide margin, all Liddell could say later was "I wish I hadn't sounded so retarded up there." Liddell also professed to be at a loss about how it was she came to win. After all, she said, her last album had been out for over a year and "didn't sell squat," and her new one has yet to be released. (When it does come out, it will be on brother Frank Liddell's new Carnival Music label based in Nashville.) Liddell once said she doesn't write her dark, Leonard Cohen-ish lyrics "while having orange juice and cornflakes," and whatever her doubts, there seems to be a large non-OJ-and-cereal-consuming fan base here. -- William Michael Smith

Critic's pick: Hayes Carll

Album of the Year

Houston Guitar Blues, Little Joe Washington

Voters went old-school with this pick, tabbing the 1961 vintage guitar blues of the pint-sized Third Ward wildman over candidates in several more up-to-date genres. Not that this wasn't a worthy pick -- Washington is the sole survivor of a group of guitarists/neighbors that once included Joe "Guitar" Hughes, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Albert Collins and Johnny Clyde Copeland, and this smokin' disk, which ranges from sizzling slow-burners packed with blues feeling to sophisticated, jazzy old-fashioned R&B can stand next to the best work any of them ever did. Special kudos goes to Austin-based producer Eddie Stout for catching the lightning that is Little Joe in the bottle that is this album. Sadly, Little Joe couldn't make this gig; happily, he had an even better one lined up: opening for the White Stripes in Japan. -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: Houston Guitar Blues, Little Joe Washington

Best Rock/Pop

The Handsomes

After treating the Engine Room to two slices of their Sublime-esque sound, the Handsomes thanked the crowd and did a little self-promoting: "We're playing a free show tonight at the Lounge. It's on Montrose. Look us up on www.thehandsomes.com." Later, after winning their award, they again reminded the crowd about their show and Web site, prompting a hater to shout, "Get a publicist!" The thing is, they don't need one. The band of law students knows that a bit of the ol' word of mouth goes farther than anything else. Sold-out shows at the Continental, Rhythm Room and Lounge (it's on Montrose -- they're playing a free show there, look 'em up) have proved that. -- Brian McManus

Critic's pick: Panic in Detroit

Best Recurring Club Night

Rent at Union

It would be easy to look at a party like Rent -- with its buzz, its sheen and its addictive energy -- and assume the elements somehow came together effortlessly. An effusive and ever-affable Jonathan Sewell, whose breathlessness upon receiving the award could not have been faked, pointed to the realities of promotion, however: the "blood, sweat and tears" that go into making a good house night great.

"We didn't think it would [succeed]," says Sewell, who hatched and nurtured the monthly affair with his DJ partner, Little Martin. "We dreamed it would and we hoped it would." And so it has. He had great praise for fellow promoters at Spundae, Danseparc and the like who are working to make dance music vibrant in Houston. In the coming year, he says, Rent will expand with CDs, merchandise and even other cities to be announced. Their goal in the beginning, he told the crowd, was to bring a little bit of Chicago, New York, London, Miami and Ibiza to Houston. Perhaps one day soon Houston will return the favor to a much-obliged world. -- Michael Serazio Critic's pick: Rent at Union

Best Folk/Acoustic

Lisa Novak and Melinda Mones

While both of these talented women have bands and albums of their own, their regular Friday-night duo gigs at the Harp on lower Richmond have become one of the city's choicest easy-listening evenings. Accompanied by bassist John Haddad and ace sideman Mark Zeus, Novak and Mones manage to inject a higher-than-usual amount of energy and passion into acoustic, adult-situation original songs that are smart enough to make both of these women strong candidates for songwriter of the year. Given their grueling workday schedules (Novak is a well-known hairdresser and Mones is a high school teacher and soccer coach), both admit that the music is something that just has to be squeezed into their lives. -- William Michael Smith

Critic's pick: Hayes Carll

Best C&W; Best Male Vocalist

John Evans Band

Although his two-year string as Local Musician of the Year was broken, it was still another year, another couple of wins for the singer and his slammin', rockin' honky-tonk band. (For those keeping score, these are his eighth and ninth wins.) Meanwhile, the lanky, bespectacled singer has another album in the works, one that should be in by the end of the year and available on Houston label Compadre. -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: John Evans; Felipe Galvan

Best Keyboardist

Ezra Charles

He's been on the Houston scene longer than complaints about potholes and freeway construction, but this boogie-woogie piano man remains a steady draw and a regular crowd-pleaser at everywhere from holes-in-the-wall to fancy Super Bowl bashes. The dapper Charles is never at a loss when it comes to playing for an audience; at his red-hot HPMA Showcase gig, he deemed it both timely and appropriate to ignite his piano, as his smokin', jive-choreographed, four-horn big band vamped its way toward one last blazing crescendo. -- William Michael Smith

Critic's pick: Ezra Charles

Best Roots Rock/Rockabilly

Opie Hendrix

"I can't live in sin," Opie Hendrix said at the Music Awards, "but I can sin and live." The latter statement must be true, as the notoriously hard-living singer-guitarist bested all his competition for a second consecutive year. And he's had lots more to deal with than most bands: Since winning his first award in 2003, he's lost not one but two bass players, not to mere band attrition, but to that big band we'll all play in someday, the one beyond the grave. Still, the Opie Hendrix juggernaut goes on, older and wiser with each passing band member. Or at least one would hope. -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: Greg Wood

Best Rock en Español; Best Bassist

Los Skarnales, Nick Gaitan

Yep, they've been around forever. Yep, they've won a bunch of these awards. Yep, a lot of y'all bitch about how Los Skarnales always winds up on our showcase and then later how they win our awards. (Answer: People vote them there.) And the reason people vote them on the ballot and then into the winner's circle is simple. They are fucking awesome. If there has ever been a Skarnales show that has been something less than seriously entertaining, I wasn't there, and I've seen them five or six times. If you've seen them, you know what I'm talking about. If you haven't -- that's your loss. You're missing the chance to see the Specials in 1978, albeit a brown-and-white version of two-tone rather than a black-and-white one. -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: Chango Jackson (Rock en Español); Rozz Zamorano (Best Bassist)

Best Conjunto (Four-Piece Group with Accordion)

Los Hermanos Cortez

The Hermanos Cortez conjunto is now on its third generation of hermanos. Tony Cortez (bajo sexto) started the group more than 25 years ago. After his death in 1983, sons Monico Cortez (vocals, bass) and Ray Cortez (drums) took over, and now Monico Jr. is also singing with the group.

Like most local groups playing traditional Mexican music, Los Hermanos Cortez isn't waiting for fame and fortune. Band members have day jobs, and gigs are weekend affairs. "We do this out of our hearts; we love to see a crowd. We love to play, to perform for the people," says Tony Cortez.

Cortez sent a message to everyone who voted for the group: "I do want to thank our fans and our family, all the people who voted for us. On behalf of Los Hermanos Cortez, we'd like to thank you from the bottom of our hearts. My dad would be very proud." -- Olivia Flores Alvarez

Critic's pick: Tina y los Gallitos

Best Bluegrass

Lonestar Bluegrass

As Bill Monroe once said, "There's no room for vulgarity in bluegrass." So give the LSB band credit for some of the best ad-lib acceptance remarks of the evening. They admitted that their previous win in this category "got them a lot of good gigs this past year." They also noted that "God is good all the time, God is good." Then this candid admission: "Thanks, Mom, for making me learn the fiddle." Forget or forgive their unscripted remarks, and just know that the folks in Lone Star Bluegrass can flat play their asses off. They deserve more attention than they get. -- William Michael Smith

Critic's pick: Lonestar Bluegrass

Best Tejano/Orchestra (Five or More with Keyboards)

Houston's Powerhouse a.k.a. AVIZO

The group's multiple names give you some indication of their sound. Sounds, actually. Houston's Powerhouse is a party band playing pop, R&B and rock tunes; AVIZO plays traditional Tejano and Mexican music with some salsa thrown in. The group also acts as the no-name backup band for Latin music pioneers such as Augustine Ramirez and Sonny Ozuna. Same guys, different sounds. Founder-trumpeter Robert Dorantes says, "I don't like the Tejano label because we basically do everything. Not that I'm ashamed of the label, because that's where we started, but we work hard at other types of music, too. We try to be an all-around group."

Powerhouse/AVIZO is putting together a CD called 20, to celebrate their 20th anniversary together. Longtime friends and Tejano stars Little Joe and Jay Perez joined the group for the recording. -- Olivia Flores Alvarez

Critic's pick: Houston's Powerhouse a.k.a. AVIZO

Best Lounge DJ

DJ Sun

You'd think that winning for the umpteenth time at something would make it easier. That the butterflies would fade away in successive contests. Not so, says DJ Sun, honored recipient -- yet again -- of the Best Lounge DJ award.

"I get nervous every time," says the sultan of soul, "and I'm very appreciative every time." This probably won't help Sun shake the reputation that hails him as a top-notch spinner of downtempo (see "The Sun King," page 69). These things take time. MJ, after all, was still considered a basketball god, even when he was taking BP in the minor leagues. If Sun's command of all things Soular on KPFT is any indication, we think he'll make it to "the big show" -- Best Dance Club DJ -- in no time at all. -- Michael Serazio

Critic's pick: DJ Sun

Best Blues

Tony Vega Band

I didn't even recognize Tony Vega without his trademark flashy cowboy shirt and felt Western fedora, but whether he's tricked out in his gig duds or looking like a nerdy urban professional in his Buddy Holly glasses, Vega is one of the hottest live acts in town. His Music Awards showcase performance was the most impressive show I saw all day: The three-piece ensemble blasted through standards and originals with the cocksureness of a band that tours hard and plays harder. No SRV imitator stuck in the past, Vega's got chops that are choice but innovative. And he rocks. -- William Michael Smith

Critic's pick: Little Joe Washington

Best Horn/Horn Section

Grady Gaines and the Texas Upsetters

No contest here. The former Little Richard sideman continues to be one of the most popular and revered acts in town. Like the blue-collar segment of the population that he represents so well, Gaines just keeps getting up and going to work because blowing that horn and makin' people happy is what he does, who he is, what his very being is about. Despite worldwide fame, respect and recognition, Gaines maintains a humble persona, giving credit for his win to his fans and to his band. Ever the self-effacing gentleman, Gaines said, "Winning this award means everything to me and the group." -- William Michael Smith

Critic's pick: Grady Gaines and the Texas Upsetters

Best Cover Band

Molly & the Ringwalds

Like VH1, Houston loves the '80s. Mike Snow, spinner of '80s records, wins year after year in the DJ category, and this band of Reagan-era revivalists won by one of the widest margins on the ballot, and picked up more votes than almost anyone on the page. Despite the somewhat controversial and bitter departure of their founding bassist in the past year, the Ringwalds just roll on and on, and they seem likely to continue doing so until the Point becomes the oldies station. Meanwhile, a steady, packed-out Friday happy hour gig at the Continental is the best place to catch 'em. -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: The El Orbits

Best Alternative Rock


They're the new Blue October. New October, if you will. And you will! This four-piece is primed and ready for 94.5 gallons of Buzz, and they've now got a trophy to prove it. The band graciously shared its award with a few of the others in its category: Paris Green and Pilot Radio. Those who thought Silverleaf was light and poppy were learned their lesson when they played an intense song off The Show (the runner-up for Local Album of the Year), one that, uh, showed us why they so richly deserved their first ever award. -- Brian McManus

Critic's pick: Silverleaf

Best Indie Rock

Kiss Kiss
Kill Kill

They may have named themselves after a Bollywood B-movie, but tonight the band graded out at an A-plus. Together just under two years, this fashionable foursome crafts polished, catchy songs -- which is why they're constantly compared to Interpol and the Strokes. A strong Internet presence and frequent local shows ensure the band will make hay in this category for years to come. -- Brian McManus

Critic's pick: UME

Best Tejano/Grupo

Sangre Latina

Former rock guitarist Erikk Castillon and singer Bianca Morales launched the six-piece group Sangre Latina in 1997. With a style they call Tejano-pop, the group counts Kid Rock, Jay Perez, Pink, Santana and Lil' Kim as its musical influences. While the group's management team (Gordy "The Boogieman" Rodriguez and Jesse "Jumpin' Jess" Rodriguez) hasn't been able to land the group a recording contract yet, Sangre Latina has been getting lots of both industry and audience attention. Morales was nominated for the Tejano Music Awards' 2002 Female Rising Star, and Castillon was nominated in the Best Guitarist category that same year. -- Olivia Flores Alvarez

Critic's pick: Grupo Animo

Best Metal/Industrial


Hailing from the chemical wastelands between Pasadena and Texas City, this quintet wins this award year after year, and when they're all on stage, their energy threatens to blow the roof off the joint. They've played dates on the Warped Tour and are sponsored by everyone's favorite cough syrup, Jägermeister. The HPMA crowd was treated to two fast, rhythmically upbeat songs of their melodic, rap-rock style, and as is the norm, Bryan Broussard conducted the audience's reaction with hand-written cardboard placards. Even with the disadvantage of playing for industry types and not their own enthusiastic crowd, Faceplant turned the sucka out! -- Brian McManus

Critic's pick: Faceplant

Best Salsa/Merengue/Latin Pop


Once again, the Diaz Music Institute's student orchestra edged out some of Houston's most popular Latin bands. Walter Suhr & Mango Punch! and Accent both have more than a dozen years as regulars on the local circuit, and Norma Zenteno has more than two dozen. But it was a group of kids who took home the prize. Don't think that just because these kids are beginners, they aren't professional. Jose Diaz, the group's director, insists on a conservatory-style training program. And while any student can join the workshop, only the most talented and most dedicated are accepted into Caliente. Latin music greats Pete Escovedo, Eddie Palmieri, David Sanchez and Ndugu Chancler have all taught master classes or performed with the group, and each has praised the mini-musicians as among the most talented in the country.

Since all of them are underage, none of the kids could attend the awards ceremony. -- Olivia Flores Alvarez

Critic's pick: Norma Zenteno/Mango Punch!

Best Hardcore

Machine Gun Romantics

Mikey, Alex and Ryan tried playing shows after a fourth band member left, to less-than-satisfactory results. "It sounded totally weak," the band admits. Not to worry -- they've just added a new member, Houston's preeminent shredder Beau of Calculus and Coffin Grinder Fame. This adds so much more fury to an already vicious lineup that it's almost not fair. The band received its first-ever Houston Press Music Award. Visitors to their Web site can learn that, contrary to popular belief, they're not a straight-edge or screamo band. What they are is Houston's best hardcore act -- the people have spoken. -- Brian McManus

Critic's pick: Machine Gun Romantics

Best Zydeco

The Zydeco Dots

After last year's major upset victory by Lady D and the Zydeco Tornadoes, Houston voters returned to the Dots, who have won this competition more than any other band in any genre. Guitarist Tom Potter graciously sent out props to the Diva of Zydeco from the stage, though you can bet the two bands will go at their friendly rivalry this year with renewed vigor. -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: Step Rideau

Best Reggae


D.R.U.M. is to the Houston reggae community as Lil' Jon and the Eastside Boys are to crunk music. They're the undisputed kings. They combine history in the scene with a distinct reverence for their music and a worldly vision, and are as much a part of Houston as the Astros, Rockets and Oilers -- I mean Texans. Combining roots sensibilities with dub-ish rhythms and even a little hip-hop, D.R.U.M. has been the local reggae band of choice for years. At this year's ceremony, where they received their 5,027th HPMA, band leader Alafia Gaidi and percussionist Robert Smalls accepted the honor humbly, and with a raise of a fist in the air, they were gone. Probably to a gig. -- Matt Sonzala

Critic's pick: Dubtex

Best Jazz, Best Funk/Soul/R&B

Drop Trio

The instrumental jazz funksters took home multiple awards for the second year running, though this year's tally was down by one from last year. (Scene stalwart Ezra Charles beat out relative newcomer Ian Varley for Best Keyboardist.) Still, not a bad start for a band that has been together for less than three years. The band's upcoming album, which will be culled from lengthy all-improvised sessions, will showcase what's both funky and jazzy about this trio. -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: Drop Trio

Best Mariachi

Mariachi Imperial

Mariachi groups have it tough. Every drunk thinks he's the next Vicente Fernandez and wants to hog up the mike. (Not that drunk mariachi wannabes need mikes.) Even world-class groups like Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan have to contend with concert halls full of spotlight-stealing "I can do that, too!" fans. So, how does the 17-year-old Mariachi Imperial manage to stand out? By loving the music. Fans like Elsa Rodriguez flock to Imperial performances because they "sing like their heart is going to break on every sad song. They can make you cry, they can make you dance, they can make you feel like you're back in Mexico." -- Olivia Flores Alvarez

Critic's pick: Mariachi MECA

Best Guitarist

Carolyn Wonderland

"Jailbait can play some mean guitar." So said Little Screamin' Kenny many years ago, when he first heard the teenage Wonderland pick. While that was true then, it's much more so today. Some Tuesday, if you aren't already in the habit, you should head on up to the Last Concert Cafe and watch her make her co-lead guitarist Scott Daniels earn his keep. Wonderland more than holds her own -- in fact, their two-headed guitar attack reminds me of Los Lobos, with Daniels in the sophisticated David Hidalgo role and Wonderland as the bluesier, grittier Cesar Rosas. -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: Carolyn Wonderland

Best CD/Record Store

Cactus Music and Video

Year after year, this lively institution at the corner of West Alabama and Shepherd takes this award. Why? Is it the many in-stores with free refreshments? The killer CD jukebox? The excellent selection, particularly of roots music? Or is it the big local music section, or cool music-related clothing? General manager Quinn Bishop has another answer: "It's my staff," he says. "They rock. I love them." -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: Cactus Music and Video

Best Punk

Vatos Locos

Google this band's name, and approximately the first 50,000 hits are of gangbangers taunting each other on message boards. First-time winners Vatos Locos fit right in with that image, if not that lifestyle. Their Dickies, flannel shirts and bandannas are the classic uniform of the East L.A. barrio warrior, and the fact that they clawed their way to the top of the punk pack in Houston shows that they know a thing or two about how to fight and win. "It's wonderful," says Vato Loco Ed Reyes. "I've been on the scene for 27 years, and this is the first recognition of any kind I've ever gotten. It's really cool." And it will be even more so when Fortune and Fun, their long-awaited CD, comes out in a couple of weeks. -- John Nova Lomax

Critic's pick: Fatal Flying Guilloteens

Best Rap/Hip-hop

Mike Jones

Last week Mike Jones was dissed mercilessly by another local rapper, Chamillionaire, on his Mixtape Messiah three-CD set. In fact, Cham spent about 85 percent of disc one railing against the man, calling him "Dyke Jones" throughout. This week he takes home the HPMA for Best Rap/Hip-hop artist. You could say the man and his lazy, infectious flow are hated by few but loved by many. Neither Jones, nor any members of his camp, the Swishahouse, were in attendance to receive the award, but if they had been, they would've felt the crowd's silent reaction to his victory. It was as if they all thought quietly to themselves, "Who? Mike Jones? Who?" in unison. Regardless of what Chamillionaire and the Houston rock, blues, country and DJ communities think, Mike Jones is poised to be Houston's next shining star. Just watch. -- Matt Sonzala

Critic's pick: Mike Jones

Other Winners

Best Folk Venue: McGonigel's Mucky Duck

Best Jazz Venue: Sambuca

Best Rock Venue: The Engine Room

Best Country Venue: Blanco's

Best Blues Venue: The Big Easy

Best Regional Mexican Act: Alazaan

Best National Act from Houston: ZZ Top

Best Latin National Act from Houston: La Mafia

Best Drummer: Brian Davis (30footFALL, Middlefinger)

Best Dance Club DJ: Mike Snow

Best Female Vocalist: Norma Zenteno (see introduction)

Best Producer: Darren Roberts

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