The 2004 RFT Music Awards

With the latest CD, Matter of Time, Mendoza and his band are once again laying themselves on the line. Recorded in bassist David Karns' studio, the band didn't have to worry about paying for studio time, so they were able to make sure that everything sounded just right, just the way they wanted it. This is what they think is their best record yet, and their audience agrees. Mendoza has a relentless touring schedule to promote the album, sometimes playing with the full band, sometimes doing solo acoustic shows, always out there trying to reach his fans and make new ones. Whether or not this record and tour make him the superstar his fans think he's destined to be is anyone's guess, but one thing is certain: It's just a matter of time before he wins another one of these awards. -- Erik Alan Carlson

Best Punk

Top: Bottle Rockets: (left to right) Mark Ortmann, Robert 
Kearns, Brian Henneman and John Horton  Middle: Jay Farrar  
Bottom: Murder City Players
Ryan Hudson
Top: Bottle Rockets: (left to right) Mark Ortmann, Robert Kearns, Brian Henneman and John Horton
Middle: Jay Farrar
Bottom: Murder City Players

The Dead Celebrities

The first thing one might think about these perennial Best Punk winners as they take the stage could be that they sure don't look like a punk band. Made up of four average Joes who wouldn't seem out of place on a beer-league softball field, the Dead Celebrities have taken the crown for the third year in a row, edging out those in the category who might look a little more the part. What's important is sounding the part, though, and the Dead Celebrities do, to a T.

Made up of the infamous Sid Sinatra on vocals, guitarist Elvis Kennedy, bassist Kurt Capone and drummer John Paul Nixon, the Celebrities can be caught around town as frequently as any other local band, bringing their overgrown adolescent pop-punk sound to the masses as they headline shows and open for premier touring acts such as the Gaza Strippers and Tsunami Bomb. As soon as the music starts, the four guys transform, with Sinatra pogoing at the front of the stage like a giddy little kid as he rants out lyrics about girls and, what else, dead celebrities. Kennedy is one of the best showmen on guitar around these parts, bounding and jump-kicking without missing a single Ramones-like chord. The songs are quick, catchy singalongs equally appropriate for driving around, skateboarding, instigating a bar fight or just jumping up and down while listening in the comforts of one's home.

Since their last win, the Celebrities have followed up the success of their 2002 album Cleanup on Aisle 3 by releasing a live split CD with the Trip Daddys that combines three of the best things about St. Louis' local music scene: the best punk band, the best rockabilly band and the best place to see either one, the sweaty confines of the Way Out Club. If you haven't seen the Dead Celebrities, put this one in the player, chase a Jäger shot with a cheap beer, and you'll get the idea. -- Travis Petersen

Best R&B

Fontella Bass

The nominees in the Best R&B category of the 2004 RFT Music Awards represented something of a dichotomy -- call it "old school" and "new school," or "youth" and "maturity," if you prefer. Youth was embodied in last year's category-winner Coultrain and the group Soul Tyde, while the old school was well represented by soulful divas Renee Smith, Kim Massie and Fontella Bass. Collectively, there was enough vocal power among the nominees to move mountains, providing a welcome affirmation that St. Louis' great tradition of gospel-influenced soul singing is alive and thriving.

One would hope that none of the other nominees would feel too bad about Ms. Bass' victory in this year's poll, given her distinguished history, worldwide reputation and instantly recognizable hit record, "Rescue Me." A St. Louis native and daughter of gospel great Martha Bass, she was immersed in gospel music at home and in church while growing up and learned the blues in her late teens as a pianist with Little Milton and Oliver Sain. Bass lived in Chicago during her hit-making days of the '60s, later moving to Europe with her husband, the late jazz-trumpeter Lester Bowie (another St. Louisan and a member of the famed avant-jazz group, the Art Ensemble of Chicago). Eventually she returned to St. Louis to raise her children, retiring from the music scene for a spell. Bass began performing and recording again during the late '80s, at first sticking to gospel -- the Grammy-nominated 1995 release No Ways Tired is a fine example -- and later adding jazz, soul and other forms of secular music back into the mix, as on 2001's Travellin' (also nominated for a Grammy).

Bass' current project, the Voices of St. Louis, is something of a family affair, as it includes brother David Peaston on vocals, son-in-law Tracy Mitchell on guitar and son Bonhamous Bowie on keyboards, as well as several other first-rate musicians from the Gateway City. It's an ambitious ensemble that aims to showcase Bass' vision of many diverse styles -- including soul, jazz, blues and gospel -- in one versatile group. Though her St. Louis concert appearances have been infrequent, Bass and the Voices have found plenty of interest and touring work in France, Italy, Turkey and other exotic locales.

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