RFT Reader Picks

1998 Slammies Music Awards
Best Band
There's something truly exciting in watching a band rise from the local level to national prominence. St. Louis has seen this before, of course, but often these bands have not risen to the occasion when they found themselves on more prominent display. That hasn't been the case with the Urge, who seem to have finally come into their own at exactly the right time. Not that they haven't been a great band for several years, keeping the punk/funk/ska/hard-core fires burning until the scenes in other cities grew and the nation at large finally caught on, but with Master of Styles the group made a truly great album while the whole country was watching. They're our best band, for sure, but they don't belong to just us any more.

1. Urge (3)
2. Celery
3. Stir (8T)
4. Reggae at Will (2)
5. Vargas Swing
6. Sugardaddy (1)
7. Son Volt
8. Gravity Kills
9. Fragile Porcelain Mice (Tie)
9. Skalars (Tie) (8T)
11. UTI
12. New Patrons
13. Johnny Magnet (11T)
14. Chia Band (Tie)
14. Fairchild (Tie) (7)
14. Full on Venus (Tie)
14. MU330 (Tie) (4)
14. Sarah Cloud (Tie)
19. Bottle Rockets (18T)
20. Five Deadly Venoms

Best New Band
What's up with the funk in St. Louis? At every turn, and seemingly at every club that caters to local music, the sneaky rhythmic groove is creeping in and propelling the music. Jive Turkey are down with the funk and toss in rhymes, a smidgen of rock and a whole bunch of soul to create their dance music. No, they don't play dance music where beats-per-minutes matter as much as quality; Jive Turkey play music you can, and should, dance to, forgoing any sort of electronic flavor for the organic sounds of heartfelt hip-hop/funk. Last year's Best New Band -- Vargas Swing -- is this year's hottest band in town; here's hoping that Jive Turkey (great name, too) can take it to that next level as well.

1. Jive Turkey
2. Honeyvox
3. Trip El Ecks
4. Ashtray
5. Phono-Captors
6. Spud
7. Rabies
8. T-Bo
9. Neem
10. Simple Mary's Diary

Best Recording
It shouldn't be any surprise that this year's best band also made, in your estimation, the year's best album -- the Urge's Master of Styles (Sony). And a fine album it is, giving props to old-school masters the Bad Brains with a paint-peeling cover of "Gene Machine" while contributing several originals that can proudly stand alongside that band's trailblazing work. But the most impressive thing is the Urge's ability to seamlessly meld genres, going from a furious metal tirade to a chilled-out reggae riddim or a punkish snarl, often in the space of a single song. From the cautionary "Jump Right In" and the grinding "If I Were You" to the funked-up "Straight to Hell," Master of Styles is a great album, period, not just St. Louis' best. "The future's wide open," Steve Ewing sings on the shimmering "Closer" -- and, as far as the Urge is concerned, you just have to believe him.

1. Urge, Master of Styles
2. Celery, The Valsalva Maneuver
3. Sugardaddy, Faster
4. Gravity Kills, Perversion
5. Son Volt, Wide Swing Tremolo
6. Johnny Magnet, Still Life with Strap On
7. Soulard Blues Band, Live at the Great Grizzly Bear
8. Fragile Porcelain Mice, All This Baggage
9. Vargas Swing, Fire
10. New Patrons, New Patrons

Best Male Vocalist
In the ongoing battle between crooning and screaming, it seems that St. Louisans prefer the former. Ralph Butler always wins this award, and though he had some stiff competition from the Urge's Steve Ewing (who skillfully walks the tightrope between crooning and screaming), it wasn't enough to dethrone the original master of styles. Butler's been honing his craft in St. Louis for decades; at this point he can move on a moment's notice from soul-stirring balladry to raucous party rant. If you've never seen him perform, it's not that hard to catch him, because in any given week he's probably gigging somewhere in your neighborhood.

1. Ralph Butler (1)
2. Steve Ewing (Urge) (5)
3. Andy Schmidt (Stir)
4. Scott Randall (Fragile Porcelain Mice) (7T)
5. Donald Williams (Sugardaddy)
6. Mark Stephens (Highway Matrons) (3)
7. Brian Henneman (Bottle Rockets) (10)
8. Marcell Strong (4)
9. Pete Bold (Vargas Swing) (Tie)
9. Hudson Harkins (Hudson & the Hoo
Doo Cats) (Tie)

Best Female Vocalist
Sarah Cloud makes it look easy. She'll stand up there onstage and close her eyes, and this deep, magical tone appears as if out of nowhere. She's got it, whatever it is, that mysterious knack for standing in front of a crowd and seeming to speak to every single individual in the place concurrently. And with Heidi Dean providing sturdy harmonies behind her, the result is an aural feast. One of the most surprising things in this year's vocalist poll is the turnover: None of the top vocalists was in the top five last year. Congrats to all.

1. Sarah Cloud
2. Jessica Butler (Skalars) (4)
3. Ellen Bledsoe (Radio Iodine) (7)
4. Jill Posey (Johnny Magnet) (10)
5. Robynn Ragland (8T)
6. Fontella Bass (Tie) (2)
6. Connie Fairchild (Tie) (3)
8. Jennifer Stuckenschneider (New Patrons)
9. Cheryl Stryker (One Fell Swoop) (5)
10. Lisa Campbell (Uncle Albert) (6)

Best Folk Artist
Tom Wood has been among the top vote-getters for the past several years in the Folk Artist category, and this year he reaches the top. He's been through a lot of musical changes over his two-decade career as a performer -- moving from rock and country to reggae to folk. As a result, Wood's brand of folk music is eclectic, folding in elements from all these genres. Wood has also honed his songwriting skills (check his most recent CD, Serve Yourself and Save, for some prime examples) and has gone from absorbing different influences to finding his own unique style.

1. Tom Wood (2)
2. One Fell Swoop (Tie) (1)
2. Monica Casey (Tie) (3)
4. Joe Bidewell (5)
5. Marc Chechik (4)
6. Jobim Dreams
7. Geoff Seitz (6)

Best Songwriter
You won't find a more versatile songwriter in town than the New World Spirits' J. Chambers; he can move from soft ballad to roaring mallet seemingly at will. His songs bounce along, meandering just enough to make them interesting while remaining true to a solid structure. The result is enough to steal the hearts of our readers, who seem to prefer a layer of distortion inside their favorite songs, judging from the first- and second-place winners. The list in its entirety is a testament to the versatility of our songsters, a snapshot of a scene in which a folk singer can be sandwiched between two freaky song-stylists and not look out of place.

1. J. Chambers (New World Spirits)
2. Andy Schmidt (Stir)
3. Donald Williams (Sugardaddy)
4. Sarah Cloud
5. Jill Posey (Johnny Magnet) (Tie) (2)
5. Tom Wood (Tie) (5)
7. Mark Stephens (Highway Matrons) (6)
8. Bob Reuter (Kamikaze Cowboy) (9)
9. Pat Oldani (Starnineteen)
10. Hudson Harkins (Hudson & the Hoo
Doo Cats)

Best Jazz Artist
Guitarist Rob Block takes the honors as this year's Best Jazz Artist, and it's certainly a well-deserved win. Block has been a strong presence on the local music scene for the past decade -- leading his own groups, working on a regular basis with musicians like Willie Akins and Peanuts Whalum, teaching jazz as a member of the Webster University Jazz Studies faculty. In addition to being one of the best guitarists in the St. Louis area, Block is a fine keyboard player. And with an eclectic taste in music that encompasses everything from hard bop to Latin jazz, Block makes his presence felt across the jazz spectrum in our town.

1. Rob Block
2. Dave Black
3. C. Felton & Fast4Word (2)
4. Bosman Twins (1)
5. Ptah Williams (3)
6. Keith Ellis' Sessions Jazz Band (5T)
7. Willie Akins Quintet (4)
8. David Stone
9. Ray Kennedy (7)
10. T.C. Jazz Quintet (Tie) (8T)
10. Peanuts Whalum Trio (Tie)

Best Hip-Hop Artist
In the last few years, hip-hop in St. Louis has moved from the basements and home studios to slowly becoming a contender for national prominence. A whole network of producers, DJs and rappers are working together to get their message out, without a smidgen of help from the rest of the music community. The Midwest Avengers have been cutting it in area clubs for a while now, and they finally have a CD to back the club work up: Their hot-off-the-platter debut, Avengers Assemble, is a solid hip-hop party record -- or, in their words, "hip-hop love from the land in between."

1. Midwest Avengers (2)
2. Rukus Crew
3. Fat Trash (4)
4. St. Lunatics (6)
5. In Limbo (1)
6. Buddah Headz
7. Domino
8. MODU Crew
9. Bits N Pieces (10)
10. Mike Cheka

Best R&B Artist
Once again the one-two punch of the old and new schools tops the list, as the recently disbanded Sugardaddy win out over the legendary Oliver Sain. The combination of old and new bodes well for the vibrancy of the St. Louis rhythm & blues scene; in most of the other musical categories, the seasoned is often tossed off the list by the new and "improved," and in the process we forget whence we came. In this category, though, the two coexist, and as a result bridges are built and legacies passed on. Let's hope that the legacy of Sugardaddy is passed on, either in the form of offshoot bands or simply as a collective appreciation of such a remarkable soul band.

1. Sugardaddy (1)
2. Oliver Sain (2)
3. Mighty Big Band
4. Layd Bak
5. Ol Skool (8)
6. Tiorah (3)
7. Mystic Voyage (4)
8. Erma Whiteside (6)
9. Mazani
10. Master's Touch

Best Ska Band
St. Louis musicians and scenesters could learn a thing or two from the local ska contingent. The bands work together, support each other and throw massive celebrations a few times a year to boost the music -- and as a result, all the bands gain exposure that would have been impossible without the union. That said, each band has its own distinct sound -- some leaning closer to a ska/punk amalgam, some, like winners the Skalars, staying more true to the Jamaican roots of the music. This is the first year that ska and funk have had their own categories, and the voting turnout in the ska category was high, yet another reflection on the intensity of St. Louis ska fans' passion.

1. Skalars
2. MU330
3. Kinetics
4. Orange Tree
5. Fat Cactus
6. Suspenders
7. Secretaries
8. Big Boss Man
9. Red Stripe All Stars
10. Smooth Jimmy Apollo

Best Funk Band
The key to the funk is in the rhythm -- in the bass and in the drums -- and in its ability to magically get the juices in your booty flowing. Without that rhythm -- not necessarily slow, not necessarily quick -- the funk drops dead on arrival and the crowd wanders to the nearest dance club. Sky Bop Fly are masters of the rhythm, managing to stretch the sound without resorting to the dangerous and increasingly tired funk/punk amalgam. In fact, the top three in this category all stay away from the loud-guitar end of the evolved genre, preferring instead to concentrate on the groove.

1. Sky Bop Fly
2. Jive Turkey
3. Sugardaddy
4. Fat Monkey
5. UTI
6. Ghetto Blasters
7. Dangerous Kitchen

Best Blues Artist
And the winner is ... the Soulard Blues Band. No, this is not a recording from previous editions of the Slammy Awards. The Soulard Blues Band maintain their place at the top of the St. Louis blues scene by winning the Best Blues Artist designation for the fifth straight year -- and, judging by the voting, SBB aren't likely to lose their No. 1 ranking anytime soon. And there are plenty of good reasons. Some of the members of the Soulard Blues Band have been playing music together since the late 1970s, and the core of the band has been working together for at least the past decade. The result is a band that's about as tight as possible -- and that can be as loose and swinging as it wants as well.

1. Soulard Blues Band (1)
2. Oliver Sain (2)
3. Tom "Papa" Ray (5T)
4. Uncle Albert (7)
5. Tom Hall (Tie) (8T)
5. Hudson & the Hoo Doo Cats (Tie)
7. Rondo's Blues Deluxe (4)
8. Pennsylvania Slim Blues Band (3)
9. Tommy Bankhead
10. Bennie Smith

Best Country Artist
What once seemed like the easiest music genre to define, or know what to expect from, country now ranges from polite Nashville conformity to reverent liberty-taking, a la the No Depression sect. In the best possible way, this year's winner for Best Country Band, Belle Starr, falls somewhere in the middle. Kip Loui has been on the St. Louis scene as long as just about anyone (save Bob Reuter of the wonderful Kamikaze Cowboy, who rode in at second) and his growth from starry-eyed popster to urban cowboy has been as beautifully gradual as that of a yellow rose. The St. Louis area has established itself as the holy land of the new alt-country, and Belle Starr proudly take the torch -- but they run with it in a brand-new direction.

1. Belle Starr (1)
2. Kamikaze Cowboy
3. New Patrons
4. One Fell Swoop (Tie)
4. Orbits (Tie) (2)
6. Flying Mules (3)
7. Deathrow Bodine
8. Wildhorse Creek
9. Michael Christopher (5)

Best Pop Artist
Sarah Cloud's music may not be the very cutting edge; she seems to prefer concentrating on the song itself rather than diverting attention away from it and into murkier waters. But the esteem in which she holds her songs is obvious when you hear her perform: each part intricately designed to carry an equal amount of the overall weight, each hook constructed to veer the song off in a slightly different direction, each instrument providing just enough momentum to keep the melody moving forward. The results are smooth and easy pop songs, sturdily built to withstand pressure.

1. Sarah Cloud
2. Slapdash
3. Ninekiller
4. Bunnygrunt (Tie) (3)
4. Robynn Ragland (Tie)
6. Sun Sawed in 1/2 (2)
7. Colony (7T)
8. Starnineteen (9)

Best Reggae/World-Beat Artist
As St. Louis evolves into a more ethnically diverse community, music arrives along with the immigrants, and as soon as the boxes are unpacked the music starts up, washing the area with new sounds. But one thing remains constant: Reggae at Will wins this category. They're a landmark outfit in St. Louis, constantly packing them in and getting the positive vibe flowing. They're a mainstay at Blueberry Hill -- you can find them in the Elvis Room every Saturday night -- and provide seamless reggae at every turn. The rest of the list is heavy on the Latin-based sounds, again reflecting the flavor of the city.

1. Reggae at Will (1)
2. El Caribe Tropical (2)
3. Goza (7)
4. Joia (4)
5. Yard Squad (5)
6. Dubtronics (6)
7. Solucione Latina (8)
8. Dangerous Kitchen

Best Hard-Rock Band
OK, rock & roll may not be dead, but hard rock sure is. Just try finding a true practitioner on the radio in this era of plastic-surgical remixing and EstroGenX grrrl folk. Therefore the genre must be redefined -- or, at least, more loosely defined. "Hard rock" fits this year's winner in the category, Celery, descriptively, if not classically. With jabbing funk-by-way-of-punk riffs and an undercurrent -- sometimes it's on top -- of pure satire, the slowly rising Celery has grown to a stalkable level, weathering personnel changes and a lull in momentum. It's the DIY ethic: punk energy planted with bare, working-class hands (well, at least pizza-making ones) and cultivated into a sound that crunches with aggression.

1. Celery (5)
2. Gravity Kills
3. Colourspace
4. Fragile Porcelain Mice (2)
5. Johnny Magnet (3)
6. T-Bo
7. Clearglass Religion
8. Dogfight (7)
9. Circadian Rhythm
10. Full on Venus

Best Rock & Roll Artist
For the third year running, Stir snatches the honors in this category, a testament both to their massive popularity and to their ability to bang home their musical point. And, actually, the already blurry line that separates Best Rock & Roll and Best Hard Rock gets even foggier when it comes to Stir; they're hard, but a rollicking energy inside necessitates the extra signifier at the end. Elsewhere on the list is a more discernible twang, be it the psycho-twang of new comers the Trip Daddies or the punky twang of Stillwater. Most important, though, Stir has beaten some tough competition; St. Louis is awash in fantastic rock & roll bands these days.

1. Stir (1)
2. Trip Daddies
3. Bottle Rockets (2)
4. Full on Venus
5. Stillwater (9)
6. Belle Starr
7. Highway Matrons (4T)
8. Kamikaze Cowboy (4T)
9. Free Dirt (3)
10. Prisonshake (Tie)
10. Tinhorn (Tie) (8)

Best Alternative Artist
You won't find a band that's more eclectic -- and offers more of a musical alternative -- than Autumn's Child. The group's sound is centered on Mark Holland's Native American cedar flute but also includes eclectic instrumentation such as cello and a host of Third World percussion mixed with guitar and bass. Over the past two years, Autumn's Child has built a solid following through concert appearances and the release of two CDs, A New Awakening and Born Out of Silence. Listening to the music of Autumn's Child, you'll hear some interesting new sonic combinations -- and after all, isn't that what alternative music is really supposed to be about?

1. Autumn's Child (4)
2. Screamin' Mee Mees (8)
3. You Fantastic! (10)
4. Nuclear Percussion Ensemble (7)
5. Tory Z. Starbuck
6. Mark Deutsch (Tie)
6. Tiger Mountain (Tie) (9)
8. Synchronia (5)
9. Panicsville

Best Solo Artist
Tom Wood scores a double Slammy win in 1998, picking up the awards for Best Solo Artist and Best Folk Artist. Given the caliber of musical competition that finished in second and third place (Dave Black and Tom Hall, respectively), the win in this category is even more impressive for Wood. Perhaps Wood's appeal as a solo artist is a result of working in and leading bands over the years. As a solo artist, he's managed to create a sound and stage presence that seem bigger than something just one person can create.

1. Tom Wood (1)
2. Dave Black (3)
3. Tom Hall (5)
4. Monica Casey (2)
5. One Fell Swoop
6. Dave Loeb (8)
7. Andrew John (Tie) (4)
7. Beth Tuttle (Tie) (6)
9. Joe Bidewell
10. Marc Chechik

Best Band to Dance To
Besides having perhaps the greatest name for a cover band ever, Dr. Zhivegas is slowly becoming a St. Louis institution, hammering the tired disco tunes and somehow making them feel brand new -- no small feat. The most glorious thing about Zhivegas, though, is its varied repertoire, one that encompasses music of the past three decades and gussies it up for the dancing audience. You can do the Hustle till you're blue to the sounds of Zhivegas, but this year's winners also invite you to do the Lindy Stomp (Vargas Swing) and some serious skankin' (MU330 and the Skalars).

1. Dr. Zhivegas (1)
2. Vargas Swing (8)
3. MU330 (4)
4. Skalars (7)
5. Sky Bop Fly (9)
6. Sugardaddy (2)
7. Chia Band
8. Marcell Strong & the Apostles (10)
9. Orbits
10. Boogie Chyld

Best Cover Band
Cover bands rarely get the amount of attention devoted to originals bands, perhaps because most people consider composing something fresh to be the hardest part of making music. But musicianship counts just as much when you're attempting to replicate the classics of a bygone era (and not sound like a bumbling idiot). With the list below, though, you can pretty much run through the history of the last 50 years of America popular music: From old-time hillbilly music through classic R&B, the Beatles and the Dead, disco and the more recent hard-rock stuff, you've got a nice sampler pack.

1. Dr. Zhivegas (1)
2. Honeyvox
3. Jake's Leg (2)
4. Gargoyle Lounge
5. Paint the Earth
6. Pepperland (5)
7. Schwag (4)
8. UltraViolets
9. Marcell Strong & the Apostles (7)
10. Boogie Chyld

Best Club DJ
In the past few years, the role of the DJ has been transformed from the faceless guy over in the corner to being one of the sole reasons for heading to a club; each DJ has a reputation (none bigger and more impressive than Charlie Chan's), a following and a general vibe that separates him from the others (and if you've got a problem with the masculine pronoun's being used, find us a female DJ anywhere in town -- please). "Last night the DJ saved my life" is no longer just the lyric to a tired tune -- it's the mantra of a new generation of club kids. And Charlie Chan has been at both ends of the recognition spectrum; he was starting in the mid-'80s, when hip-hop was rap and the DJ was an integral part of the tag team. He was around during the faceless years of the late '80s and early '90s and is still here cutting the grooves as the DJ-as-musician phenomenon reaches its fever pitch. Check him out -- he's amazing (as are the rest).

1. Charlie Chan (5T)
2. Darren Snow (8)
3. B Money (2)
4. JB (3)
5. C Note (Tie) (9)
6. DJ Alejan (Tie) (10)
7. DJ Chioke
8. Matt Hunt (5T)
9. Viva La Vixen
10. DJ Kut

Best Classical Ensemble (Large)
Really, what did you expect? Sure, we should cherish the high quality of the symphony St. Louis has -- when you're over in Europe or Japan, mention St. Louis, and chances are we'll be known as the city with the symphony (either that or that shiny arch thingy by the river) -- but it's not as though there's much competition in the area. Again, that says nothing about the quality of the winners; they'd hold their own in a city twice as large anywhere in the world. You do, however, now have a chance to check out Vonk and SLSO in the friendly confines of your home (though you'd be well-advised to grab some tickets and see them in person): The debut recordings on their vanity label, Arch Media, are available at www.slso.com.

1. St. Louis Symphony Orchestra (1)
2. St. Louis Philharmonic Orchestra (3)
3. Webster Symphony (2)
4. St. Ambrose Chamber Orchestra (4)

Best Classical Ensemble (Small)
With members of the list including a classical percussion ensemble, a brass ensemble, a couple of string quartets and an Indian classical musician, comparing any of these winners to any of the others is like saying Glenn Gould is a better pianist than Jascha Heifetz is a violinist, who's better than Ravi Shankar is at the sitar. What's the point? Congrats to the varied classical ensembles; each of them should consider themselves the best in their individual areas of expertise.

1. St. Louis Brass Quintet (1)
2. Nuclear Percussion Ensemble (2)
3. Laclede Quartet (4)
4. Imrat Khan (Tie) (3)
4. Londolfi String Quartet (Tie)

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