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Winner's circle

It's at times like these--after all the tabulation, assignments, editing, and production that go into the magnificent beast that is the Dallas Observer Music Awards--that I'm reminded of the last words of my late favorite uncle: "what truck?"

No, the results this year weren't as unforeseen as an 18-wheeler with a full load of motorcycle batteries rounding a blind curve--hardly--but there is that same sense of unearthly quiet afterwards. All of us here at the Observer thank you for participating, because it is you who ultimately ratify our efforts. Like the bands who appear in these pages, we would be nothing without an audience. That means you, and this means "thank you." Without any more brouhaha, the envelopes, please.

Best Act Overall: The Toadies
Undeniable dominance, with roughly 2.5 times the votes of (each of) the second-place trio: the Old 97's, Slow Roosevelt, and Cowboys and Indians. Grand Street Cryers followed.

New Act: Radish
Leading another cluster of three contenders (GSC, Kim Lenz and her Jaguars, plus the Tomorrowpeople) by a good 100-150 votes, Greenville's finest--by now almost able to drive--finish big.

Most Improved Act: Quickserv Johnny
The guys who learned to spell in the "self-serv" line at the gas station bested UFOFU by less than two dozen votes. Keeping close--but not that close--company were GSC and Buck Jones.

Rock: Slow Roosevelt
Almost twice the votes of a follow-up triad (there's a statistics paper in this next-best trio thing somewhere) led by Pimpadelic, American Fuse, and Strap.

Alternative-Rock/Pop:UFOFU
Saving UFOFU's payoff for a category to which they're probably better suited, fans awarded the band the crown in this race, with hot pursuit given by pop poppins, Bobgoblin, GSC, and Tablet.

Country & Western: Old 97's
No surprise here, but a surprisingly good showing by No. 2 mainstream comer LeAnn Rimes, followed by swingsters Cowboys and Indians. Donny Ray Ford can lay claim to No. 3 and "beloved," with almost 20 times the votes of Denton's own No. 4, Slobberbone.

Metal: Slow Roosevelt
Followed several lengths behind by REO Speedealer, then (a few more lengths each, respectively) by Brutal Juice and Stink!#bug.

Cover Band: Hard Night's Day
If they can keep from gutting themselves, HND has loyalty to spare, with over 1.5 times the votes of No. 2, popular cocktail captain Johnny Reno.

Folk/Acoustic: Colin Boyd
How to win this category? Play, play, play. El Segundo Meredith Miller probably dug her 80-some-vote trailing position by moving to Austin for a while, and Deep Ellum mainstay Spyche came in a respectable third with slightly over 200 votes.

Funk/R&B: Elvis T. Busboy
The clown prince to the cape and crown of James Brown, the people's choice, with 250 percent more votes than runners-up both funky (Afton Shack) and soulful (Bobby Patterson), Elvis T. proves that folks can tell: Sincerity pays off.

Reggae: Watusi
Watusi's run for the roses makes sense; Ooga Booga's follow-up 100 votes behind less so. Ras Tumba's position at third--and with approximately a third of Ooga's votes--is unfortunate, but--in light of No. 2--certainly no surprise.

Avant-Garde/Experimental: Cafe Noir
As it should be. Cafe Noir's gypsy jazz led similarly dedicated efforts by, in order of finish, the Enablers, Corn Mo, and Mazinga Phaser, with an honorable mention ribbon to Light Bright Highway. After that, single digits.

Rap/Hip-Hop: Pimpadelic
Welcome to a race built on misconception. Overwhelming fave Pimpadelic deserves mention--although probably not under this heading. And including No. 2 Professor D and the Play School requires a degree of elasticity that even Stretch Armstrong couldn't muster. Better the prize go to No. 3 Mad Flava--with nearly a third of Pimpadelic's vote, or Shabazz 3, with less than a quarter.

Jazz: Earl Harvin
Another shoo-in, followed at the halfway mark by Kirk Whalum. Hunter Sullivan's showing at third--a few votes ahead of Marchel Ivery and Shelley Carrol--is a puzzling bit of not-exactly-reassuring news.

Blues: Elvis T. Busboy
Elvis and Andy T.--in the latter case, the T is for Timmons--are separated by a few votes only. Bugs Henderson has earned his spot at third, some 50 votes behind, and Cricket Taylor proves, at fourth, how impression can confound intention. But why does Henry Qualls--much more the real deal--languish at fourth and local devotee Hash Brown at fifth? Talk about the blues.

Single Release (1996): Toadies, "Paper Dress"
The fave rave grupo of '96 carries on with almost twice the votes accorded the Old 97's "Cryin' Drunk," and nearly 2.5 times the total of Grand Street Cryers' "Angie Wood."

Album Release (1996): REO Speedealer, REO Speedealer
REO edged out Pump'n Ethyl's Thank God I'm Living in the USA by about the same amount that Living passed rubberbullet's open. Bedhead took fourth with Beheaded. Mess drew up the rear with Pretty Ugly, and, Funland, still, got 82 votes--and fourth place--from old fans no doubt still mourning.  

Male Vocalist: Todd Lewis
The Toadies' roaring frontman rages ahead of alt-country fave Rhett Miller (half again as many votes) and GSC's Tim Locke, who trailed by well over a factor of two. Next: Tablet's Steven Holt and Pump'n Ethyl's Turner Scott Van Blarcum.

Female Vocalist: Kim Lenz
Catfight! The difference between Lenz and Meredith Miller was a mere 37 votes. Spyche and Buck Jones' Gabrielle Douglas--third and fourth respectively--had 13 votes separating their tallies.

Local Musician of the Year: Andy Timmons
With 25 percent more votes than Rhett Miller, three-time winner Timmons should probably watch out for Miller, third-place Casey Hess (Doosu), and Earl Harvin--and any other aspirants to this award--in combination with a darkened alley and several sacks of doorknobs.

Songwriter(s): Todd Lewis
Nude Mayonnaise Wrestling Face-Off, This Category, would have to be between Lewis and No. 2 Miller, separated by less than a dozen votes. The idea of the fracas being joined by third-placer Donny Ray Ford (with about half of Miller's votes) would be metaphorically correct but no less easy on the imagination.

Album Producer: Chad Lovell
The fact that this category also included a vote for a club (Trees, no doubt cast by the same citizen fond of nominating "Joe Momma" for various slots) does nothing to lessen the fact that Course of Empire's Chad Lovell gathered almost twice the votes of runner-up David Castell. The follow-up field--Carl Finch, Sam McCall, Patrick Keel, and Keith Rust--all got almost as many votes as Castell, a surprising show of attention that bespeaks either an informed electorate or a lot of guessing. See next week's section for descriptions of nominees.

Live Music Venue: Trees
Over 450 voters thought the club Dallas' premier live music venue, more than twice those who voted for Deep Ellum Live or fellow travelers Sons of Hermann Hall and Club Dada. Naomi's claimed fourth with 79 votes.

Radio Program That Features Local Music: "the Adventure Club," KDGE 94.5 FM
Crying in the wake of the "Adventure Club" are "Texas Tapes" (KTXQ 102.1 FM) and "the Local Show" (KEGL 97.1 FM), each separated by less than two dozen votes. Although KNON 89.3 FM was nominated the most times (four different shows), even their cumulative total placed them in fourth. See next week's section for a description of the nominated shows.

Local Record Label: One Ton Records
Given the success of Slow Roosevelt, are One Ton and Co. local sleepers or balloting masters worthy of our proud Texas tradition? Only time--two or three more polls--will tell. Crystal Clear and Last Beat nipped at their heels from 50 ballots back, and Irv Karwellis' Idol Records captured fourth purely on the basis of love (his) and trust (ours).

The little club that could
For years now, Dallas--despite its flourishing music scene--has been missing a venue for truly underground music. Most clubs cater primarily to established names and cookie-cutter local bands imitating the trend of the moment. Experimental, avant-garde, or plainly different bands are as welcome as stale beer.

No wonder, then, that many Dallasites will drive 40 miles north to Denton to get an earful of experimental, Kraut, cosmic, psychedelic, or whatever they like to call their rock. The place is the Argo, for almost two years the mecca of North Texas' independent music. Acoustically excellent and located two blocks from the University of North Texas, the Argo has become a music haven for locals and farther-flung lovers of adventurous music alike.

Wanz Dover--the club's booking agent and member of Mazinga Phaser--answers with an emphatic "no" when asked if something like the Argo could exist in Dallas. "It mostly has to do with the fact that this is a college town, and there are a lot of musicians here," he says. "I don't think there's enough people in Dallas to support a club like the Argo. You have clubs in Dallas that [aren't] interested in good music, just who draws a lot of people. We ask bands who they want to play with. We only book creative music that supports the scene: One day punk rock, the next psychedelic, and the next day the Earl Harvin Trio. No venue in Dallas would have all these formats.

"We manage to get touring bands that would normally skip Dallas or Texas altogether. A lot of them may make no money at all, but they get treated with respect, so they keep coming back."

The Argo's eclecticism often fails to fill registers. The vast majority of patrons are students; most local shows are free. Often the donation jar is half-empty and beer sales slow, but owners Rob Peters and Chris Bryan are happy as long as the rent gets paid and employees get their meager wages. Dover works for free: Having a channel for local and national talent is as important as playing music. "Almost all Denton bands play for free," he says. "Dallas bands, we'll pay for their gas and that's it. Mazinga gets paid pretty well in Dallas and Austin, but will play for free in Denton. If we don't do it, we don't have a place, period."  

National bands get paid out of the limited proceeds from local shows and beer sales. Many times the club ends up in the red. "All-ages punk shows do really well," Dover says. "We had Propagandi, and 400 kids showed up at $7 a ticket! On the other hand, we had Wayne Horvitz [from John Zorn's Naked City] and we only had seven people. But at least people have a place to play." So far, bands like Cibo Matto, Godhead Silo, Railroad Jerk, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Peter Jeffries, and other lesser-known, worthwhile names have appeared at the club. In March, John Cale was scheduled, but pulled out at the last minute. "It's a shame that most people in the industry don't care about the music and only care about the money," Dover says.

The pinnacle of the Argo's calendar last year was the three-day Melodica festival, which attracted some luminaries of contemporary noise: Sonic Boom's E.A.R., from England, for their first-ever public performance; as well as Tortoise, Brad Laner's Electric Company, Sea and Cake, Lotus Crown, and about a dozen others. Melodica was a mini-Woodstock for the '90s. "The musicians checked their egos at the door," Dover recalls. "We broke even. Sonic Boom dug the vibe so much that he came back a couple of months later for another show."

This year, the Argo has put together a bigger Melodica--involving four days of sonic euphoria, induced by 21 bands. The line-up includes Roshonnda Red Quotet, Sixteen Deluxe, Light Bright Highway, Drain, Skip Tracer, the Silver Apples, Mazinga Phaser, Transona Five, Sugar Plant, Wiring Prank, and Ohm. "It's one of these things that should happen, and we make it happen," Dover says with pride.

--Philip Chrissopoulos

For ticket info call the Argo at (817) 383-3705 or check out the website www.win.net/spacerock.

Ship of Vibes sets sail again
Longtime local reggae act Leroy Shakespeare and his Ship of Vibes are working on a new album, having gotten a creative rush from advances in recording that have allowed the band to escape some of the studio pitfalls that have hindered them in the past. "We've been writing a bunch of new songs," keyboard man Arthur Riddles says, pointing to advances in digital technology as the spark. "And with this digital stuff, it's like a virtual studio; we can record straight onto disc--with effects and everything--ourselves, without having to book tons of studio time and without all the time and money pressures that we'd had before." Such pressures had in the past led the group to accept gambits designed to work economically that didn't make sense musically.

The band--vocalist and frontman Shakespeare, Riddles, and guitarist Dave Burris--first started working their way back into the local scene about a year ago after an extended hiatus during which they recovered from the excessive roadwear of their earlier heyday. They did some well-received gigs about town, but in November Riddles broke his shoulder, and plans had to be put on hold. Now, with Riddles healed, the band is ready to give it another go.

"We pretty much knew that to come back in force, we'd have to have this album out there," Riddles says. "We've been having some killer shows lately, and things are really going well, especially the songwriting. With this digital technology, we finally have all the freedom that we never had before, the ability to take our time and create something that we're really proud of."

Leroy Shakespeare and the Ship of Vibes plays at the Pound Saturday, May 17.

Scene, heard
Austin Accordeonista Ponty Bone has been playing the squeezebox since long before the current Americana-roots trend elevated it--and sister instruments like the fiddle and mandolin--to "cool" status. A fixture in the river city music scene since the '70s, Bone has accompanied scores of that town's brightest lights, most notably Joe Ely. Although he keeps busy playing festivals, parties, and clubs, he doesn't make it up thisaway very often. Go to Poor David's and see the guy who was zydeco--and norteno, and Acadian--long before it was the hip thing to be on Thursday, May 8, and shout out a request for "Beer Drinking Woman"...

Transona Five's release party for their melatonin bullet will be held at Last Beat Records on Saturday, May 3. The show is free, the band will perform, and things start at 7:30 p.m....Pump'n Ethyl is looking for a bassist...Dallas Observer Music Awards winner Earl Harvin (Best Jazz) has a new album, Strange Happy. The album, on the local Leaning House jazz label, features all new originals and a version of Charles Mingus' "Duke Ellington's Sound of Love," particularly appropriate since his stint with Ellington's Orchestra in the late '80s, at the end of his college career at UNT, is what brought him to the attention of many jazz mavens. Joining him on the disc are Dave Palmer on piano, Fred Hamilton on bass, and Chris Maguire on tenor sax and bass clarinet...  

Street Beat welcomes any and all input, abuse, tips, hints and questions at Matt_Weitz@dallasobserver.com.


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