2005-06 Austin Music Awards

Austin Music Hall

Wednesday, March 15

Like a wet, sloppy kiss from a fleeting, beery-breathed soul mate, this year's Austin Music Awards was a rough, rocking, and unabashedly romantic paean to the city's trademark resource. Although SXSW's draw is globe-girdling, the Awards remains a local affair. When emcee Paul Ray asked out-of-towners to raise their hands, few went up. No surprise there: Who wants to announce something like that on a night like this? Even if the Austin Music Hall was overwhelmingly packed with Austinites, awards ballots came from as far away as China, Poland, and APO addresses in Iraq.

Appropriately, the night began with forward-looking veneration in the form of 21st-century Red River blues from Chili Cold Blood. The trio's groove-heavy amalgam of blues, country, and Southern rock puts a new twist on a venerable genre while still respecting its essence. Ditto for Walter Daniels, whose beefy whiskey growl and harp-blowing garners inspiration both from Austin's live venue past at the One Knite and its present at Emo's. Young Black Joe Lewis sang like his lungs were on fire with the spirit of James Brown at the Apollo in 1962, even falling to his knees at one point. Then Texas Music Hall of Fame inductee Miss Lavelle White brought folks to their feet with a little bit o' her veteran soul. Tying with Gary Clark Jr. for best blues act, the magenta boa-clad Miss White said, "As I kiss this award, I kiss all of you."

One of the night's most emotional moments was ace Joe Ely Band guitarist Jesse Taylor's induction into the Hall of Fame. Taylor passed away last week from hepatitis C complications at age 55, but not before he found out he was inducted. "He was both touched and honored," said his sister Kathy Taylor, who accepted on her sibling's behalf. Also inducted were the Fireballs, the West Texas rockers, whose No. 1 smash, "Sugar Shack," was one of the lighter things to come out of Texas in 1963. Fireballs guitarist George Tomsco showed off some of his proto-surf prowess, as did L.A. session cat Jerry Cole, who played guitar for everyone from Frank Sinatra to the Champs, and here joined local trio 3 Balls of Fire for a rousing rendition of "Tequila." Cornell Hurd sax man Del Puschert and Johnny Cash's longtime pianist turned Austinite Earl Poole Ball filled out the sound while the Boom Chica Boom go-go girls kept the mashed potato booty fringe a-flyin'. Perennial best radio station winner KGSR meanwhile returned the favor by presenting the SIMS Foundation, a nonprofit that aids local musicians in all manner of health care, with a bigass check for $223,687 and change. That makes more than $1 million raised for SIMS from sales of the station's ever-popular Broadcasts CDs.

It was a Bonnie Raitt Nick of Time-type of year for Eliza Gilkyson, who won Best Songwriter, Best Female Vocals, and Best Folk Band in the Austin Music Poll, voted on by the River City faithful. For them, Gilkyson delivered the evening's most political moment with a fiery rendition of "Man of God," featuring backing vocals from Ray Wylie Hubbard and Austin musician of the year Jon Dee Graham, whose own "Big Sweet Life" was pretty good, too, even though he came dangerously close to being upstaged by his 6-year-old son Willie, who performed a raucous number called "Rock & Roll in the Street" to great acclaim from the crowd. Not surprisingly, Hall of Fame inductee Kinky Friedman turned his acceptance into a gubernatorial stump speech, calling for the elimination of toll roads and the naming of major highways after Buddy Holly and Bob Wills. Friedman garnered plenty of applause when he said musicians could run the government better than politicians. "We won't get a hell of a lot done in the morning," he quipped, "but we'll work late and be honest."

Rugged voiced Kris Kristofferson joined angelic voiced Jessi Colter for a run-through of classics like Colter's "Storms Never Last" and Kristofferson's "Help Me Make It Through the Night." As the evening wound down, retiring host Ray was honored for his 23 years of service with praise from Clifford Antone and a giant cake. Then it was time for Roky Erickson & the Explosives to pull a rabbit out of our souls. Kicking off strong with "Cold Night for Alligators" and an extra-fuzzy version of "Starry Eyes," it was further evidence of Erickson's return to musical prowess. Fellow psychedelic traveler Powell St. John joined the band on vocals for "I'm on the Right Track Now." Moments later, he added fire to "You're Gonna Miss Me" with a smoking harmonica solo in the bridge. As one of only a handful of Austin songs you really can't get tired of, it made the perfect ending to this charmingly mushy love note.

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