Lookin' for a Hero

Local punk preservationists pogo back into the spotlight after a four-year absence

Someone once noted that if there was a local Punk Preservation Society charter, Keith Jackson would be its Chairman of the Bored. Few things, it seems, can excite the musician like the subject of his favorite rock revolutionaries. Perhaps the only thing that can generate that type of boyish exuberance for Jackson these days is the impending reunion of the Glass Heroes, the Valley combo he fronted for nearly five years.

Crammed into a booth at the downtown pub he manages, the burly Jackson is a dead ringer for punk-rock royalty. With a tuft of well-pomped black hair and a barroom complexion, the erstwhile Beat Angels guitarist could pass for Joe Strummer on creatine.

To his left sits longtime Heroes partner, guitarist Steve Shelton. Shelton cuts the sort of figure that would stand out in any room -- his 6-foot-6 frame extended another half-foot by a pad of spiky hair. Shelton is a local music fixture, currently performing '60s-styled organ-grinding R&B with the underrated Van Buren Wheels. Before forming the Heroes, Shelton played in a variety of hard-core bands in the early '80s, opening up for JFA and the like. By '82 he left for L.A. to study art, eventually landing in New York. He returned home to the Valley in 1990, when he met Jackson, recently relocated from Detroit, where he had been a member of Motor City bangers like Shock Therapy and the Rogues.

The Glass Heroes: From left to right, Jeff Bourne, Steve Shelton, Keith Jackson and Steve Davis.
The Glass Heroes: From left to right, Jeff Bourne, Steve Shelton, Keith Jackson and Steve Davis.
21st century men: Sugar High greets Y2K with a CD release party.
21st century men: Sugar High greets Y2K with a CD release party.

Across from Jackson and Shelton sits bassist Steve Davis, a 20-year Valley veteran whose graying hair is cropped closely. The most soft-spoken of the three, the very model of un-punk decorum, Davis owns a reputation for playing with bullish bravado both onstage and off.

The trio has gathered to discuss the Heroes' New Year's Eve reunion and what will be the band's first performance since 1995.

The Heroes' five-year run in the early '90s is a minor local legend. Relying heavily on the "tradition of 16th-note knuckle merchants" like the Dead Boys, Sham 69, Saints, and the Heartbreakers, the group trafficked a brand of rock that was equal parts melody and force.

"It was somewhere between street rock and punk," claims Jackson.

Jackson's preferred description for the Heroes' sound is "glory rock," a term that could apply equally to the anthemic tenor of the band's three-chord barrage as well as the motivation for starting the group in the first place.

"The Heroes started because the three of us, we love the music we grew up on and we couldn't stand any of the shit we had to go out and hear in bars, and so we started playing for ourselves," recalls Jackson.

While never wildly successful on a commercial level, the group did make its mark with an exciting live act, a string of singles, a pair of full-length screeds and a boot to the head of local music, helping to rejuvenate a punk scene that had become stagnant in the wake of the prevailing grunge and pop styles.

The Heroes' reputation as unpredictable performers had as much to do with a propensity for missing gigs as their onstage mettle. While the band members assure us that they will all be present and accounted for at the reunion show, they're the first to admit that their attendance record was spotty at best.

"I think we're the only band ever to appear in a New Timesad with the words 'And They're Really Playing,'" says Shelton.

"That's right. We were supposed to play this club, and they took a quarter-page ad out and it said, 'The Glass Heroes -- And They're Really Playing,'" recalls Jackson, pausing to grin, "and, of course, we didn't."

The end came in 1995 after a performance at Nita's Hideaway.

"It was the kind of thing where you play your last gig but you don't know it's your last gig," remembers Shelton.

While the Heroes' core lineup -- Jackson, Shelton and Davis -- had remained intact, the group went through drummers with the frequency of Spinal Tap. The group played with five different timekeepers during its tenure, among them Bob Stubbs, who also played with Social Distortion and was with the Heroes for the longest stretch.

"When you have to keep training all these drummers, it starts exhausting the morale of the band. That was a big part of the reason we broke up, as well as the fact that in a way we were never really together -- we didn't even have a rehearsal space," says Shelton.

For the current reunion, the band was able to solve its backbeat dilemma by enlisting Jeff Bourne, a trapsman who logged time with Mill Avenue janglers the Bedspins before recently reinventing himself and his playing style as a member of the Beat Angels.

The germ for the reunion sprouted in the fall when the group was asked to open a show for the Buzzcocks. Not ready to play out just then, the band declined but decided to accept an offer to play New Year's Eve at the Mason Jar, headlining a bill that also includes the Mob 40s and the Impossibles.

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