Riverfront Times Music Awards '04

From a 78-year-old member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to a twenty-something turntablist, the nominees for the 2004 Riverfront Times Music Awards span age and style -- the one thing they have in common is that they're all from this old city by the river. Everything else is up for grabs. In fact, some people would argue that some of these artists don't even make music. Those people are wrong. If you're one of those people who thinks that rap isn't music, or discordant art rock isn't music, or anything else on this list isn't music, then do yourself a favor. When you go to the Awards Showcase this Sunday (and you are going), don't just go see your favorite band. That's safe. Don't be safe on Sunday. Check out some metal, some reggae, some jazz -- whatever it is that you've been avoiding for the last 364 days. The showcase is more than the sum of its bands -- it's a chance to see (and hear) that despite the patchwork nature of the city, despite the geographic and cultural lines that separate us, St. Louis has a great (singular) music scene. For one day, it's all good. -- Jordan Harper

Contributors: Mike Appelstein, Erik Alan Carlson, Paul Friswold, John Goddard, Guy Gray, Jordan Harper, Roy Kasten, Dean C. Minderman, Jess Minnen, Travis Petersen, Steve Pick, Christian Schaeffer, Jason Toon, Taylor Upchurch

Best Blues

Johnnie Johnson

Living a comeback story that's the stuff of a Hollywood film (or at least a TV movie-of-the-week), Johnnie Johnson has become one of St. Louis' most beloved musical icons. As the piano player on many of Chuck Berry's hits, Johnson played a pivotal role in early rock history, and his blues-drenched riffs helped serve as musical inspiration for Berry's songwriting. Rediscovered late in his career, the soft-spoken piano man has released several noteworthy albums of his own, backed by such luminaries as Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Bob Weir on record and in concert, and he's earned a place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Rondo's Blues Deluxe

A compelling vocalist and masterful showman, Rondo Leewright first earned the attention of St. Louis blues fans as a member of the Soulard Blues Band. The subsequent formation of Rondo's Blues Deluxe solidified his reputation as a soulful singer who could work just about any crowd into a frenzy. During the '80s and '90s his band became one of the most popular acts in local blues clubs, with its third album, Shack Pappy's, earning favorable attention from blues fans around the world. After taking a break from music for a while, Rondo recently returned with a new model of Blues Deluxe, and listeners have warmly welcomed the big-voiced blues belter back into action. 9 p.m., Delmar Lounge

Bennie Smith

Let's say it's 1944, you're in Chicago, and Muddy Waters has a nightly gig in a little club downtown. You'd be there, even if you had to sell your soul for the cab fare. But the fact is you're in St. Louis, it's 2004, and the blues pouring out of Soulard mostly sounds like a I-IV-V exercise so futile you can't even call it nostalgia. And then there's Bennie Smith. Two or three nights a week, and most notably at his Wednesday night sessions at the Venice Café, Smith and his band somehow manage to make the blues sound alive, exhilarating, even a little dangerous. Whether covering Howlin' Wolf or Elmore James, "Stand By Me" or "Mystery Train," the speed and muscle of Smith's guitar playing -- his strangely chosen but beautifully harmonizing chord strums, his mischievous, acrobatic leads -- has no peer in this city, or anywhere else for that matter. 9:40 p.m., 609

Soulard Blues Band

A longtime favorite of RFT Music Awards voters, the Soulard Blues Band is also one of St. Louis' longest-lived musical acts. Led by bassist Art Dwyer, the SBB helped to revive the local blues-club scene in the late '70s and early '80s and has remained a popular attraction for more than 25 years, recording eight albums and touring the United States and Europe. Though the band's personnel has changed frequently over the years -- with alumni going on to form many bands of their own -- the SBB's heady brew of blues, soul, funk and swing now seems as integral to St. Louis as the neighborhood that gave it its name. 7 p.m., 609

Henry Townsend

The most important living pre-war bluesman, Henry Townsend casts a formidable shadow over the history of the blues, but outside of a few manic collectors his music remains underappreciated, even rarely heard. Jay Farrar may be savvy enough to cover one of his signature songs, "Cairo Blues" (which Townsend learned from early mentor Henry Spaulding), but don't expect Jack White and the new blues revivalists to give the man his props. Townsend is most often remembered as a fellow traveler of Robert Johnson, Robert Nighthawk, Roosevelt Sykes and Sonny Boy Williamson; he should also be remembered as one of the blues' most gifted and original improvisers: The snap and bite of his country-blues guitar, the rugged bounce of his piano and the eerie sweetness of his voice are his and his alone. At 94 years old, Townsend may be well past his performing and recording prime, but his mark on St. Louis blues endures.

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