THE GLASSMAN COMETHKEITH JACKSON PREACHES THE PUNK GOSPEL FROM STAGE AND SCREEN
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.
"It's all a little adulterated," he says. "It seems like everybody jumps on what's popular. A year and a half ago, there was nothing but a bunch of hippies walking up and down Mill Avenue. Now everyone's wearing dog collars and has their hair pulled back, which is wonderful. But I want to say, 'Hey dude, do you know where this stuff comes from? Do you know what it's really about?'"
To that end, Jackson's decided to give history lessons to the growing legions of Johnny Rotten-come-latelys. Jackson's classroom is Buzz Clips, a locally produced cable-TV show that runs videos of old-time punk acts. Jackson hosts the show. As such, he comes off as a kind of Casey Kasem of punk. It's a well-produced program by cable-access standards. Jackson, looking like he means business, introduces each video with a short, no-nonsense bio of the bands and a brief explanation of why they're so cool. He then gives way to clips from the usual suspects--the Clash, Blondie, the Buzzcocks--along with underrated acts like the Stranglers, the Undertones and Jackson's personal fave, Chelsea. Occasionally, a clunker will slip through (Toy Dolls come nauseatingly to mind), and the punk tension is sometimes broken by a brief, inexplicable but quite noticeable transition shot of local exotic dancers posing poolside. But the focus of the show is the videos, most of which are from Jackson's personal collection.
"It's been on for a couple of months and we haven't had one negative reaction yet," Jackson says of the half-hour broadcast, which airs Friday mornings at 1:30. "We got 26 phone calls the last time it was on. And that's even though it's on so late at night."
Jackson co-produces Buzz Clips with Peter Tessensohn, a longtime local presence who once played in town with the increasingly legendary X-Streams back in the early Eighties. Tessensohn knows his way around TV control rooms. He also knows about recording studios; he's got a financial interest in the locally popular ABC Studios, through which he and Jackson are trying to build up Skintone Records, a fledgling local label concentrating on new sounds of old punk.
Tessensohn and Jackson have big plans for Skintone. And Jackson's talking about trying to syndicate Buzz Clips nationally. Jackson figures the audience is there for both projects, what with punk's recent resurgence.
That revived interest in the more adventurous sounds of the Seventies is also helping push the Beat Angels, another of Jackson's endeavors. The Angels, led by prancing, energetic front man Brian Smith, play a mix of trash, punk and glam that's more poppy and showy than Glass Heroes' fare. Jackson became a Beat Angel not long after the original lineup began playing out.
"I met 'em at the Mason Jar," Jackson says of the Angels. "I'd seen 'em at Heroes shows many times, and they looked like the kids I knew back East. They approached me because they were looking for a guitarist who had the 'glory rock' sound, as I call it."
Jackson's input with the Angels is obvious. You can hear it when he lets loose with an "oi, oi, oi" background vocal chant, and it's especially evident every time his "glory rock" guitar chords punctuate a chorus.
"At first they wanted me to turn the distortion off," Jackson says with a smile. "It didn't match and mix. But we kept playing, and I started putting different Chelsea licks in there and it came around."
The Beat Angels' sound has come around enough to merit a couple of showcase gigs in L.A., including one two weeks ago at the Coconut Teaser. And the Glass Heroes are on a roll, too. They're getting worldwide attention by way of a European compilation, High Voltage: Punk and Oi!, that features the Heroes along with retro-punk bands from Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and Spain. The CD came out three months ago, and Jackson says the response has been tremendous.
"It's just amazing what that compilation's done for us," he says. "The mail's just pouring in from all over Europe. We've got labels calling from over there, fanzines calling. I wish a lot of bands in town could get on a European compilation. Especially one with worldwide distribution, which is so important."
"It changes you," he says. "It makes you aware that there's so much more out there. So many people to reach. I miss being on the road. I'm not very good at sitting in one spot and doing what I'm doing right now. I'm not made for this. I get fat and lazy."
Jackson thinks the local music "scene" is in danger of putting on similar flab. He figures things are relatively healthy for now. He notes that it's cheap for struggling bands to live here, and he also points out that there's live music in local clubs every night of the week. "That's unheard of in a lot of places in the U.S.," he says. "The venues here are less than adequate at times, but it's still a place where you can play live."
Still, Jackson's wary of some of the things he sees in local clubs. He's especially impatient of introspective, groggy neo-hippie bands that seemed to follow in the wake of Dead Hot Workshop's success.
"I don't like shoe-gazers," he says. "I like people who make things move. I hate pot-smokers. I hate marijuana with a passion. I loathe it. I always have." He pauses. "I've had my dealings with drugs, and I'm not crazy about it. It gave me a heart condition which I'm not very fond of. But I've seen the damage it's done to people in the late Seventies/early Eighties. I hung around [ex-Stooges] Ron Asheton and Scott Asheton in Ann Arbor. I idolized them, so I glorified what they were doing. It wasn't until I got older that I realized I was destroying myself."
Indeed, Jackson says his regeneration started when he relocated to Phoenix. He says he's changed in a lot of ways since learning to chill-out in the desert.
"When I moved here, I was really on edge," he says. "Living in downtown Detroit didn't do much for my personality. But living out here, I talk to people now, I crack jokes. It's nice out here where you don't have to always watch your back. You can really get things done without having to cop some poser image of having to be tough.
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