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.

Eager to reclaim a bit of their past glory, the band has been rehearsing diligently for three months. For Bourne, the time spent prepping for the show has been a crash course in Punk Drumming 101.

"There's something about this kind of music. It's not very difficult, but it's unique. And Jeff's had to change his whole style of playing," notes Shelton.

Bourne regards his turns with the Heroes and with the equally trash/punk-oriented Beat Angels as welcome challenges. "It's like having to unlearn a bunch of stuff in terms of my own style, so there is a work ethic involved, but the bottom line is it's a lot of fun."

For Davis, a onetime bassist for legendary psychobilly combo Hellfire, the problem wasn't having to unlearn any one style, but rather to relearn his instrument from scratch. "After the Heroes broke up, I basically retired. I mean, I kept all my equipment, but I literally didn't touch my bass for four years," he says.

The rehearsals have produced some new material, but Jackson insists that the New Year's Eve set will stick mostly to Heroes chestnuts such as "Get Out Alive," "King of the Day" and "Long Hot Summer."

"We had originally planned to learn about 14 songs, but Steve has been kicking my ass to get us to learn like 25 songs, so we'll have them all ready to go." Fittingly, the band's set will also include a pair of covers -- the Saints' "(I'm) Stranded" and Chelsea's "I'm on Fire."

Noting the subtleties in the evolution of the band's style, Jackson says, "The way we sound now, it's more like the Clash or street rock. It's not Oi! so much, because I m not a huge Oi! fan -- unless it's like Cock Sparrer. Our stuff leans more toward Chelsea, the Professionals and, um . . ."

"REO Speedwagon," Shelton jokes.

There's genuine camaraderie between the four men. It's apparent that the niggling "band" bullshit that hastened the Heroes' dissolution the first time around has subsided. And, yes, the group finally has its own rehearsal place.

"We have a spot in 'Metal Alley' -- Palm Lane and I-17," says Shelton, referring to the west Valley practice space that serves as a home to a seeming army of retro metal bands of the Dokken/Iron Maiden variety.

It took only one rehearsal for the Heroes to realize that their Pistols/Professionals skronk made them seem like pilgrims in an unholy land.

"The first time we rehearsed, we played a couple songs, and when we were done, it was complete silence and everyone had their head out the door," says Jackson, laughing.

"I didn't know if they were pissed off 'cause it was too loud or if they didn't know what to think 'cause we've invaded their territory," adds Shelton.

For Davis, the Metal Alley experience has been a weird nostalgia trip. "It's like you've stepped into a 1980s time warp. I see the girls hanging around there, and they've got on zebra pants and big hair. And you hear all this screaming banshee music."

It's an ironic comment considering the Heroes' own retro appearance. But even the most challenged arbiters would agree that both musically and stylistically, London '77 beats Glendale '87 hands down. More important, the dichotomy underscores Jackson's point about why the Heroes formed in the first place -- to preserve and prove the timeless nature of the early Brit punk that fuels the band's sound.

"The '77 punk thing comes and goes, but it never really goes away. And for me, my Detroit roots -- the MC5, Stooges -- that stuff is always there, but there's a huge English influence on me that is hard to get rid of," says Jackson, who spent his youth being weaned on BBC music programming broadcast on Canadian television that eventually filtered onto Detroit airwaves.

And while few would argue that the Heroes are breaking any new ground, too much of the band's own identity and spirit are invested in the music to simply dismiss it as mimicry.

"I've always felt you can sound anachronistic but still be progressive in a way," says Shelton. "In this band, or even in the [Van Buren] Wheels, what we're doing is going back through rock 'n' roll history and picking things up. But you're reinventing it in the process and bringing your own experiences into it as well."

The band members are tightlipped about the possibility of further gigs. "It's a reunion. For how long it lasts, who knows?" says Jackson. "I've worked with so many people in so many bands, and the relationship between the three of us especially, and with Jeff fitting in also, is really amazing. In all the time we've been together, we've never had any problems, arguments, strife -- nothing. Having been in bands my whole life, I can tell you that's pretty rare."

Shelton agrees, adding: "It's not really about any career goals. It's been so much fun so far just getting together and doing something. The process of the work and the enjoyment that we get playing with each other is the only thing I want out of this."

Despite their wait-and-see approach to playing live, the group is entertaining the idea of making another record, a follow-up to 1994's Liars, Cheats and Thieves.

"There's a lot of original music that we wrote but never got to record, so we would like to go into a studio with some of those songs," Jackson says. "No big dreams of grandeur or anything like that. We're not even talking about touring or anything -- we just want to put it out."

The group is already in the process of negotiating with True Villain, an imprint of Florida-based punk/indie label Hello Records, about releasing the prospective album. Jackson says he's also talked to his old Michigan acquaintance and Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton about handling production duties.

But before any of that happens, the band will have to prove itself on New Year's Eve. While most of the focus on December 31 is being reserved for another local music reunion, Jackson says the Heroes' show is the ideal place for the Mohawk-and-safety-pin set to ring in the year 2000.

And for the rest of us?

"If you don't want to deal with the glitz and glamour of downtown, you can come out and hang with the leather crowd," Jackson says.

The Glass Heroes are scheduled to perform on Friday, December 31, at the Mason Jar, with the Mob 40s, and the Impossibles. Showtime is 9 p.m.

Anti-Socialites:One of our favorite local pop progenies, Sugar High, is marking the new year with the release of its first CD, a four-track EP titled Ice Cream Anti-Social.

Taking cues from Tommy Keene, Greenberry Woods and the Velvet Crush, the album is a stellar piece of power pop. Cuts like "One Hundred Years" perfectly mix the shimmering croon of front man Adrian Evans and the mod-inspired crunch of guitarist Jason Garcia with the rhythmic punch of drummer Sean Gens and bassist Patrick Singleton.

The disc also includes the cut "Turbo Teen," a song that was prominently featured in the opening of the Melissa Joan Hart acne-crowd pleaser Drive Me Crazy.

Sugar High will be celebrating the release with a Saturday, January 1, performance at Hollywood Alley in Mesa. Evans is urging New Year's Eve revelers to "bring us their hangovers" and make it out to see the bill, which also includes performances by Haggis and Brickyard, among others.

Sugar High is scheduled to perform on Saturday, January 1, at Hollywood Alley in Mesa, with Haggis, the Pennydrops, and Brickyard. Showtime is 9 p.m.

This Could Be the Night: If you're like us and are just "Working for the Weekend," then your New Year's Eve plans should definitely include a stop at the Fort McDowell Casino to see Loverboy.

But what if you're not working for the weekend? Say you're just a fan of clichéd classic rock performed by red-bandanna-wearing Canadians (and, after all, who isn't?). Then you won't want to miss the group as it drops the proverbial ball on the new century with a set that will include timeless classics like "Destination Heartbreak," "Passion Pit," "Hot Girls in Love" and "The Kid Is Hot Tonight."

If you aren't already scurrying to change your party plans, admission to the Loverboy show is free. If that still isn't enough to get you to take a walk on the "Wildside," consider this: Loverboy, Millennium Bingo and . . . free hors d'oeuvres. C'est si bon!

Loverboy is scheduled to perform on Friday, December 31, at the Fort McDowell Casino, with Jed's a Millionaire. Showtime is 8:30 p.m.

Contact Bob Mehr at his online address: bob.mehr@newtimes.com

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