Vote the rock

Just call these the Old 97's Observer Music Awards

For some Dallas Observer Music Award winners, the accolade means a great deal; it signifies some recognition of hard work, of nights spent playing to bartenders for pocket change, of hours spent recording an album that only dozens would hear. For others, well, the award makes a nifty doorstop or paperweight; those folks do not need a translucent trophy to validate a life decision. Which is the way it ought to be: Nobody in the world ever picked up a guitar or started writing songs to win an award, and if you did, well, that's why you'll never get one.

By now, with four more Music Awards to their credit, Rhett Miller and the Old 97's surely must have passed Sara Hickman, New Bohemians, Tripping Daisy, and Reverend Horton Heat on the list of those who have won the most Observer Music Awards in the past decade-plus (damn, if only someone kept count). Two years ago, the 97's were named Best Act Overall--the same year, incidentally, the band was also named Most Improved Act, which is an odd way of saying thank you--a nod that went this year to the Toadies, who haven't released a new album, in, oh, four years. This year, Miller collects the awards for best Songwriter and Male Singer; the 97's, one more time, are honored as the best Country & Western band in Dallas, an accolade we wouldn't dare argue with, having heard Waylon Jennings and the band roar through "The Other Shoe" on a forthcoming single.

But Miller also takes home the honor for which he is most deserving: Local Musician of the Year, an award he has been due for nearly a decade. When everyone in Dallas music can be famous for a month, Miller's a long way into a career, having produced one solo album (Mythologies), a handful of cassettes and discs with Rhett's Exploding and Sleepy Heroes and whatever else he's done, and now three records with the 97's. Miller has grown up in public like few other local performers and survived the ordeal; his was a tiny spotlight, but an intense one nonetheless. Nothing worse than being judged by your next-door neighbors, nothing worse than having your friends listen to you as your voice cracks on stage.

He is no transient star in a town filled with bands who think cozying up to Redbeard means instant fame; he's paid his dues and come up broke more often than he cares to remember, having been a local hero when he was a teenager only to achieve that major-label deal almost a decade later. Unlike so many of the bands on this year's Music Awards ballot, Rhett Miller has a history that extends beyond yesterday--he's no Ronnie Dawson, but he's also no Shara. No one should be honored simply for surviving, especially when he's not even 30 yet, but Miller could have given up or burned out a long time ago; that he didn't is our reward.

The same could be said for Course of Empire, who are now nearing a decade in existence their own selves; in 1990, former Observer music editor Clay McNear picked the band as "one to watch in 1990," claiming their U2-on-a-Bauhaus-kick sound was gonna make them huge. Having suffered through their own travails, including the death of a record label, Course rebounded nicely to collect the awards for Single Release (1997) for "The Information," best Rock band, and best Industrial/Dance band--the latter two being odd bedfellows, but such is rock. Chad Lovell's nod as best producer is also well-earned, proof that the drummer keeps more than the beat.

Finally, after two years of being "new," the tomorrowpeople take home the award for being, well, the best New Act--good timing, too, since the band is one record into a career and already working on its second disc, the band's first for Geffen Records. And Buck Jones is honored as the Most Improved Act in town, which is difficult to dispute--here's a band with more promise than a Saturday night and a wallet loaded with twenties.

A complete list of winners is offered below, and the popularity contest rolls on for one more year. If your favorites didn't win, if you think the best wasn't honored, hey, don't sweat the small stuff--more than 4,500 people voted in this year's awards, and this is what they had to say about it. We congratulate all the winners and mention only that the Kadane brothers and Marchel Ivery and Ronnie Dawson and Will Johnson and all the rest don't need a trophy to remind them that the best reward is a collection of songs they can be proud of and, if we're lucky, we can appreciate. In the words of ASKA, whose performance during last Sunday's Music Awards showcase in Deep Ellum was a bizarro time-warp highlight, "We don't need anyone to tell us we're the best! We already fuckin' know we are!" Y'damn right.

Best Act Overall: Toadies. Rubberneck was released in 1994, and the second record may be released this year. (Who makes up the rules for these awards, anyway?) The undisputed champs, besting Course of Empire and the Old 97's by a few hundred votes. King of the world, ma.

Local Musician of the Year: Rhett Miller (Old 97's). Second place honors go to Will Johnson of Centro-matic, who, just two years ago, won a piece of the Album Release award with Funland. Which one do you think means more?

New Act: the tomorrowpeople. They will not be eligible for this award next year.

Most Improved Act: Buck Jones. Besting Radish by more than 200 votes, Buck Jones ran away with this nod--which is, yes, better than it sounds. It doesn't mean you used to stink; it just means we like you better today than we did yesterday, and back then, well, we used to think the world of you.

Alternative Rock/Pop: Bobgoblin. Separated from the rest of the pack (especially TOOMuchTV, Grand Street Cryers, and the tomorrowpeople, all clumped closely together) by more than 140 votes, the 'Goblin proved you can put out a record on MCA and still have people remember your name.

Rock: Course of Empire. Crushing the nearest competitor (Buck Jones, who came in a distant second), Course of Empire bears out the old theory that veterans win championships.

Country & Western: Old 97's. Cowboys & Indians, Brian Houser, and even Jack Ingram are closer to the real deal, but Murry Hammond's strum and Rhett Miller's twang make 'em wet every time. And Slobberbone? Well, they're too good to care.

Male Vocalist: Rhett Miller (Old 97's). He sings as pretty as he looks, which is why Miller took home the award over second-place finisher Vaughn Stevenson, Tim Locke, and the rest of the lot.

Female Vocalist: Meredith Miller. It's true: If your last name ain't Miller, you don't win this award, which really hampered the chances of Spyche and Shara, who don't even have last names.

Blues: Andy Timmons & the Pawn Kings. A frequent winner in the Local Musician of the Year category, Timmons and his blues side project--one of many--crushes all comers, from the veterans (Bugs Henderson) to the cross-trainers (Jim Suhler, Josh Alan). Maylee Thomas came in second, which makes me think we should split this category in two.

Jazz: (Tie) Cafe Noir and Earl Harvin Trio. In a perfect world, this whole category would have been a tie; how can you not give an accolade to Marchel Ivery, a veteran of four-plus decades, or the great Big Al Dupree, who can turn a standard into something special? But Cafe Noir and Harvin deserve the nod and then some: They represent the best this town has to have in any category, and no one feels the need to split the difference.

Funk/R&B: Erykah Badu. Oh, yeah. Like this will go next to the two Grammys or the Soul Train Awards; doubtful Universal Records will send out a press release announcing this laurel. But, hey, Badu still lives here, and the overwhelming margin of victory in this category--more than 300 votes separate Badu from second-place finishers Hellafied Funk Crew--proves this award comes from the, um, heart.

Rap/Hip-Hop: Pimpadelic. We'd like to take this opportunity to say how much we enjoy the work of Pimpadelic. Forgive and forget any harsh words offered in the past; they were ill-advised, ill-conceived, full of brash, impetuous arrogance with no thought behind them. We just didn't get the joke, didn't see the knowing smiles behind the blackface paint. Really, sincerely, we take it all back.

Folk/Acoustic: Meredith Miller. Miller went rock, hiring Reed Easterwood and Bryan Wakeland and Dave Monsey, because she got tired of being drowned out by the fratboys more interested in their words than hers. Here's proof some people still paid attention, enough to garner her this award one more time.

Metal: Slow Roosevelt. Almost 300 votes separated Slow Roosevelt and Pantera, whose metal is platinum. But Pantera still owns the strip clubs and has the deal with Elektra. Pete Thomas will, for now, have to content himself with being better-looking than Phil Anselmo. ASKA comes in a distant fourth, proving once more there is no God.

Reggae: Ska Walkers. Once more, a ska band takes the reggae award, which must leave a real Jamaican like Leroy Shakespeare wondering what the hell he's doing wrong. The answer: Absolutely nothing.

Rockabilly/Swing: Reverend Horton Heat. No, really. The surprise would have been if the Rev hadn't won this award. We love Cowboys and Indians, Johnny Reno, Mr. Pink, Kim Lenz, and Ronnie Dawson--for whom the award should be named--but not as much as readers love Horton Heat, giving them almost 400 more votes than the nearest competitor.

Industrial/Dance: Course of Empire. Never been able to dance to COE; then again, never been much good at walking. No surprise here, either, except that Ethic came in a strong second with 746 votes--like, have they sold that many records? They will now.

Avant-Garde/Experimental: Dooms U.K. If your idea of experimental is Night Ranger, then you probably voted for the Dooms this year too; but the Dark Messiah can't be caged, and one year, John Freeman will bust out of this ghetto and take over the world. Or, barring that, Q102. Little Jack Melody and His Young Turks came in a very, very close second--so close you can smell them gaining.

Cover Band: Emerald City. Hard as it is to believe, the Beatles, Stones, and Grateful Dead cover bands all came in way behind Dallas' rave-fave party band. Gives new meaning to the phrase Dead Thing, perhaps?

Songwriter: Rhett Miller (Old 97's). "My name's Stewart Ransom Miller/I'm a serial lady killer." Second-place finisher Bruce Dickinson didn't even come close.

Spoken Word: cottonmouth, texas. When Jeff Liles became Chate became cottonmouth, you knew the boy had a future in front of him; his deadpan drawls are like Dennis Rodman rebounds, feisty and unforgiving. That he won this category by some, oh, 600 votes is hardly surprising; that he's not a celebrity outside these awards is.

Album Release (1997): Steady on Shaky Ground, Grand Street Cryers. "Angie Wood" got them radio play when they were still Dead City Radio; now, it got them the best-album award--surprisingly, besting the Old 97's Too Far to Care by some 70 votes and Buck Jones' Shimmer by almost 100. The trick is to see how many people are still playing this record a year from now.

Single Release (1997): "The Information," Course of Empire. The best thing you haven't heard on radio, it whooped up on the 97's and the Grand Street Cryers, who may have the best record, but not the best single. Like any of this makes sense.

Producer: Chad Lovell. For the second year in a row, Course of Empire's Chad Lovell takes home the award for best knob-tweedler, outpacing David Castell, Matt Pence, Dave Willingham, and Sam McCall by a good couple of hundred votes. Interesting note: Included among the write-ins were Mark Elliott on the jazz tip and Ty Macklin on the hip-hop side of things. It ain't all about the rock.

Local Record Label: One Ton. It was a close one, but not close enough to make Aden Holt nervous: Eighty votes, which wasn't a lot in this cat-fight category, separate One Ton from Last Beat, with another couple of dozen between Last Beat and RainMaker. Two years and running, this is starting to become a habit.

Live Music Venue: Curtain Club. We'll never hear the end of it, and no, we didn't stuff the ballot boxes or rig the voting, but the Curtain Club did indeed crush the competition--Trees finished 107 votes behind, while everyone else might as well have stayed home. Hey, it's love at first sight--or first listen.

Radio Program/Local Music: "The Adventure Club," KDGE-FM (94.5). What a surprise that Josh Venable got more votes in his category than anyone else in theirs; no one else has the forum to beg like he does, trolling for votes between Smiths songs. But God love him, Venable's li'l rock and roll alternative does offer a safe haven for those of us who like to listen to new music-- homegrown or otherwise. Even if we do miss the Josh and Keven bitch-slapping show.

Club DJ: DJ Karl Fought. Karl mixed it up with EZ Eddie D, the second-place finisher, and was the last man dancing when the final votes were tallied, way ahead of the rest of the pack. Put the needle on the record, and dance, dance, dance all the way to the podium to collect your award.

Mazinga Whatever
Wanz Dover phoned last week to inform us that our Music Awards capsule on Mazinga Phaser wasn't entirely accurate: Dover says he was not kicked out of the band and that, contrary to statements made in this paper by MP singer Jessica Nelson, he will not be using the name Mazinga Phaser for his own band as well. Rather, Dover says his new project--or what he refers to as an "offshoot"--will be called Mazinga Zeta, which is still close enough for government work, but, we guess, not for legal action. (Mazinga Phaser, fresh off the success that was Abandinallhope, is in the studio finishing its third disc.)

Dover also takes issue with Nelson's assertions that Dover's departure was not an amicable one: "I've also been their biggest cheerleader, and I get along with them," Dover says. "I haven't talked to Jessica in months, but I'm on pretty good terms with the rest of them. I think she might have been talking before she knew what was going on...I was misquoted in The Met a couple of weeks ago saying there was going to be two Mazinga Phasers. I gave up the name peacefully. What's more important--friendships or bands? Friendships. I mean, no sense in making it into Melrose Place, which it's becoming, and it's silly. It was embarrassing. It makes us look like children instead of adult, grown musicians."

Now that that's settled--or isn't, let's move on: Dover actually has some less than thrilling news for those rock fans who've come to look upon the annual Melodica Festival as a vital addition to the Denton-Dallas-Fort Worth music community. (Indeed, bands such as Tortoise and Experimental Audio Research played the debut fest in 1996.) The annual psych-fest will take place May 14-17, with tickets going on sale this week--but, Dover says, it will not happen in its birthplace of Denton. Instead, the four-day event will move southward this year, to Austin's Electric Lounge.

Dover says the relocation was a necessary one having to do, first and foremost, with the demise of the Argo, where Dover worked as booking agent since moving to Denton. But, he adds, the area's more avant acts, such as Sub Oslo and Light Bright Highway, also have found more compassionate booking agents in Austin, where the town's clubs aren't controlled by a handful of people betting the future on the sounds of the past.

"Where we gonna throw it up here?" Dover asks. "Everything in Austin has been giving me 20 million times more support than I got up here. People down there are more in tune than people here, and they've always accepted us with open arms. The Melodica Festival promotes brotherhood between Texas bands, and most of the booking agents around here haven't heard many of the bands here, except for the ones that are huge here. I couldn't even think of a venue open to doing this...In Dallas, there's just too many politics to deal with."

To that end, the lineup this year is particularly Austin-centric, featuring such acts as And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead and Paul Newman (both on Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey's Trance Syndicate label), Pirate Ships (featuring members of Stars of the Lid), 7% Solution, and the Primadonnas. Among the local bands performing at this year's Melodica are Captain Audio, Vas Deferens Organization, Transona Five, Roshanda Red Quartet, Sub Oslo, and Mazinga Zeta.

Interestingly, Austin's credited with the birth of the "new Texas psych" scene in the latest issue of Option magazine, which boasts a story titled "Austin Outer Limits." The piece, which attempts to link the drug-crazed psychedelia of Roky Erickson to the pop of Sixteen Deluxe, celebrates the likes of American Analog Set (Austinites by way of Fort Worth) and 7% Solution, while giving only a slight nod toward the Denton-Dallas rock scene. Meaning: Author Richard Martin, music editor at the weekly Willamette Week in Portland, interviews Dover. Period. But the story does heavily plug Melodica '98, which was, after all, the point.

Six to seven bands will perform each night, and a DJ will spin discs in between sets. Tickets will run $8 per night, and Dover says the proceeds will go toward the release of a double-disc compilation that documents the, er, history of the modern Texas psychedelic scene, from Carrier Wave to American Analog Set. (Man, that takes me back.) "The past three years have been awesome," Dover says. "It seems the scene is going through a real metamorphosis. There has been a sense of closure and a new beginning, so it seems like it would be a good idea to try to document it so people don't forget that it ever happened--even though most people don't know it happened in the first place."

Scene, heard
We're a stickler for facts here at Street Beat--no, seriously--and it turns out we made a tiny mistake concerning Joe Butcher's employment as the new bassist in Radish. Though Butcher was indeed trying out for the position, as reported here a few weeks ago, he has instead been hired on as Ben Kweller's second guitarist. Turns out the new bassist is Deborah Williams, formerly with Juno Specter, and that the new quartet is currently in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, recording its second album, which Mercury Records execs say is due out early in 1999...

Also, Jay Singleton sent us a missive informing us his band Kid Chaos is not a ska band and took offense at the comparisons to Less Than Jake: "We have no ska influence at all," writes the band's trombonist. "We play what we feel like playing, and we just like to think of ourselves as some kind of punk band with horns." Sorry, Jay, but you can see how we might have been confused. We don't think Less Than Jake's a ska band either...

On May 9, Tommy Shaw's kid brother Corn Mo will celebrate the release of his debut seven-inch I Can Tell by Your Pants That You're an Entertainer with a party at the X in Denton (on the corner of Oak and Welch). The three-song record, which Hot Link Records is pressing on gold vinyl ("because if anyone deserves a gold record, it's Corn Mo," reads the invite), features the classic "Shine On, Golden Warrior" and two other sure-fire hits. Free weenies for everyone who attends, but of course.

Send Street Beat tips, gripes, pipe bombs, and love letters to rwilonsky@dallasobserver.com

1998

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