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Think of the conventional rock 'n' roll ne'er-do-well of recent generations: the angry greaser, the macho rocker, the sneering punk. Mix their DNAs and saddle the results with a guitar.
You'll get something that looks a lot like Keith Jackson.
That's him leaning against a wall in the parking lot at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe. He's the one striking up a cigarette, his six-foot-six-inch frame bedecked in black, from his shiny, flat-topped hair to his shin-high Doc Marten boots. Add the tattoos gracing his gunboat arms, and Jackson looks for all the world like trouble with a burly "T".
Except that Keith Jackson's a nice guy. Indeed, he borders on teddy-bear status. Watch him when he talks about music. His eyes light up and a huge grin takes over his face. The big, mean-looking guy becomes a big, goofy-looking kid, laughing out loud and bellowing his approval of favorite bands and songs.
Invariably, the music that gets Jackson the goofiest is punk. Not the newfangled kind that has kids hopping at high schools and neo-coffee shops. Jackson is a devotee of original, first-wave punk, the kind the Ramones, Iggy and the Dolls seeded in the States before it took root in England with the Sex Pistols, the Clash and mobs of others across the pond.
Jackson's infatuation with all things punk carries over to almost every aspect of his life. He plays in two punk-influenced bands. He's helping coordinate a local punk-flavored record company. And he hosts a cable video show that runs nothing but punk and new-wave clips from the late Seventies.
"I've always been the same," Jackson says as cars pull in and out of Nita's parking lot. "I've lived this way since I was 16. I love this kind of music and I've followed it since I was a kid."
Jackson spent his formative punk years in Michigan, where he remembers watching Top of the Pops and other BBC music shows on Canadian TV. Those programs, along with audio cassettes sent from relatives in England, helped shape a punk ethos that became Jackson's career when he met up with a like-minded guy named Greg McCormick.
"I met him in high school," Jackson says of McCormick, who moved to Detroit from Ireland. "He was the only person I knew at the time who listened to the Boomtown Rats and some of the earlier punk stuff I liked."
Jackson and McCormick (who dubbed himself "Itchy") formed Shock Therapy, a band that went on to record 11 albums for German-based Dossier Records. After years of releasing records and touring Europe with the likes of Jesus and Mary Chain and Gene Loves Jezebel, Jackson wound up leaving Shock Therapy "amid much strife." It happened not long after he decided to get married and move to Phoenix. Jackson tried to hang on long-distance to his old band, but he left Shock Therapy for good after a six-month European tour in 1991. He eventually was replaced by former Plasmatics guitarist Wes Beach.
"Me and Itchy, we still keep in contact," says Jackson. "And since we co-wrote all the songs, I did okay financially. I mean, I got a nice car out of it." Jackson shrugs. "But I still miss those days. Especially being on the road."
Jackson settled in Phoenix, and his marriage almost immediately broke up.
"My suggestion to any starting musician with a foothold in reality is to not get married," he says, shaking his head. The suddenly single Jackson started hanging out at local music stops, especially the Sun Club, where he began sharing beers with other music fans and musicians. A lasting friendship was made when Jackson met lanky guitarist Steve Shelton and mighty-mite bassist Steve Davies. For Jackson, it was camaraderie at first sight.
"Everyone looks like a punk rocker now, but at the time, they were the only ones I saw like that in town," Jackson says. "They looked like me, like street-rock kids."
Jackson and his new pals got together and formed Glass Heroes, a pure-punk band of the Pistols/Professionals persuasion circa 1978. Indeed, a recent Glass Heroes show at Nita's was like discovering a black-leathered glitch in time. There was Jackson, in the middle of the stage, spitting out lead vocals and cranking molar-rattling power chords on his pedal-powered Les Paul. To his right was Shelton, hopping and bouncing like a tall Sid Vicious with a toy guitar. On the other side of the stage, Davies was playing hard, posing with bullish bravado, and in the back was drummer Bob Stubbs, a recent addition who earned a few paychecks playing with Social Distortion. The songs, highlighted by "Get Out Alive," and the Doug Hopkins-inspired "King of the Day," were low, loud rumbles of straight-ahead punk steam.
"When Glass Heroes first started," says Jackson, "we were the only street-rock punk band in town--if you're talking punk roots with credibility. There was no one else. There wasn't even anyone to play for. That's what made us so close. It just so happens that now people are starting to understand what we've been doing all along. Which is fantastic."
Fantastic, but somewhat bittersweet for Jackson, who finds himself unconvinced by all the new punks on the block.