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Michael Remembered through the Music of Gary Indiana

By Sienna Miller



I was recently privileged to visit the hometown of the late Michael Jackson. Speaking up close and personal to family and admirers of Jackson, residents of this town did not hesitate to say what they thought of this musical legend!{{more}} It’s no secret, that over the past decades, Michael has changed the world of pop music and the way we looked at other genres. Michael was born on August 29, 1958 in the city of Gary Indiana to his parents both Joseph and Katherine Jackson. Michael’s recent death was on June 25, 2009. Several Saturday’s ago he would have celebrated his 51st birthday. I have received word that some Gary’s residents held a block party in honor of his birthday. Michael Jackson led a life that was full of purpose when it came to both music, dance and even songwriting and producing. He taught us to dance, like nobody’s watching. In the unfortunate event of his recent death, many are still in shock. Gone too soon. For those who have been able to face his death, they have also mustered up the courage to use this as an opportunity to make sure that he is remembered. From family, to friends and fans…each person had their own way of keeping Michael alive in Gary. While he has and will always live on in our hearts through his music, he will undoubtedly live on through the musical expression of others. Upon my arrival to his hometown, I first stopped by Michael Jackson’s childhood home. People of all races and from all walks of life were present there. I met a couple that traveled from Colorado, and another from Florida. They were there in order to pay their respects to someone whose music and life impacted them that much. There were many street vendors posted outside of Michael’s childhood home selling everything from posters, to CD/DVD’s, pictures, buttons and items of clothing. While some may have had mixed feelings about what they viewed as capitalizing off of Michael’s death, others did not feel this way. Nevertheless, the people kept on showing up in order to purchase memories of Michael. I met some kind vendors like Mavis Johnson and relatives Collie and Stanley Henderson. Another one of those vendors was ten year old, Arnell Robinson who has lived in Gary for three years now. When asked what did he think about Michael’s death he said, “As soon as I heard it on the radio, I just started being sad.” Arnell also told me that while Jackson was living, he had a chance to visit “Michael’s house” as he referred to the Neverland Ranch. Arnell shared that he often imitates Michael’s Moves whenever he gets an opportunity to perform. While the world no longer has Michael here on earth it is apparent that he still lives on in our hearts through his music and memories. So it was no surprise to me, to find that he is living through the music makers and producers of Gary Indiana. One of those music producers and lyricists is William Hogan. He is known as Lil Menace, but goes by Menace. Menace was born and raised in Gary Indiana. With the exception of two years that he spent in Milwaukee, this is home and where he plans to stay. He has no reservations about that and contends that his purpose for still being in Gary is that he has always wanted people to come there. “Just like everywhere else you go, you know, you’ve got your stars in every other city and state. I wanna be one of those stars that’s right here.” Says Menace. He continues with this, “See I just never wanted to leave my home to blow-up! I felt like if anything, Imma just bring everybody here.” William Hogan “Menace” is the CEO of Bottom Side Studios there in Gary and has been making music for 12 years now. His passion and love for music has lead to him constructing his own studio, where he has and still does collaborate with many artists and musicians. William Hogan is 31 years old and like many of us, he also grew up listening to Michael Jackson’s music. As a musically inclined child, Menace says that he played the violin from grades 4-9. That has carried on to his ability and enjoyment of creating beats and instrumental tracks whenever he gets a chance. He played some tracks for me on my visit and even let me sing behind some of his music. A great time was had with Bottom Side Studios and with the Professional Grade of its Quality I would highly recommend Bottom Side Studios. Menace’s musical career has been greatly influenced by Michael Jackson. His own love for music and impact of Michael led him to Gordon Keith. In 2002 he met with and acquired from the CEO of Steel Town Records, Gordon Keith, one of Michael’s never released songs. This was out of a selection of five or six of Michael’s previously recorded songs shares Menace. Gordon Keith still owns Steel Town Records and also resides in Gary Indiana. I did not get the original title of the song but it has been named by Menace, Big Boi. Michael and the Jackson 5 were still signed with Steel Town Records in Gary at the time of this songs recording. This was right before they signed with Motown Records and moved away. In this song Michael and the Jackson 5 were singing about being ready for love in the original track. Many of Michael’s tracks were singing about that, especially as a young child.While the original track plays, Menace has a rap/flow that he does before the bridge/chorus of the song. While present in Menace’s studio I got a chance to hear it and it is pieced together nicely! “So everything was about being a Big Boi in the song! I was just talking about riding big cars, enjoying life…just going places and doing big things…like Michael!’ Says Menace.When asked about a release date, William Hogan is uncertain. He has however promised to keep us posted when the time does come. Not very many people have heard the track at this time. However, there have been a couple of venues for exposure. “ I had it played a couple of times here in Gary, when I first did it in 2003.” Says Menace. Production Partner to Menace, and Musician, Joseph C. Holt has also had the Big Boi Song played in some of the clubs, several times out in Los Angeles, where Holt presently resides. The two met over 10 years ago in Gary where Holt has lived for some time. At that time they both happened to be working on a collaboration with the Mo’ Thug Family from Bones Thugs and Harmony. Right before Michael’s untimely death, Joseph had the song played in California directly after the L.A. Lakers 2009 Championship Game. In addition he says, “I let people like Brandy and Ray Jay Norwood of California, along with Willie Norwood hear it, and they were like…Man, this is good!” Says Holt. According to both Joseph and Menace, the response from those who’ve heard it thus far, has been nice!The talent does not stop here for Menace, “I’m producing tracks, spinnin 16’s, yeah I rap. “ Menace adds. But Menace is not your average rapper. “I’m engineering, I’m recording, I’m mixing. I’m doin it all right now.” Says Menace. When asked whether or not he was putting that Texas Flavor “Choppin’ and Screwin’” on it, he says, “I’m all around, down town!” Partner Joseph Holt adds this, about Gary’s music “I think we got our own sound…something totally different!” Menace goes on to say, “When I first started out in rap it was a whole different era than right now.” , Says Menace. He shares that in the beginning; he listened to artist like Scarface, 2 Pac, Easy E, Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg, Big Mike and many others. The main influence that rappers like these had on him was the storytelling that accompanied their lyrics. “I address everything, just the streets.” Says Menace. In his music he speaks about life’s issues like money, politics, love and sex. Menace says that in his lyrics, he speaks from a 1st, 2nd and 3rd hand point of view! He’s done admirable things in the community of Gary Indiana, one of which has been bringing his music to a nearby park and using it to encourage community involvement amongst African Americans. Menace has held several picnic type events firing up the grille and lighting a fire inside of the people’s hearts. He’s all about unity and enjoys working with people! While in Gary, I got a chance to speak and mingle with the local musicians, one whom happened to be Michael Jackson’s first cousin, Keith Jackson. “My father and Joe Jackson are brothers.” Says Keith. Menace and Joseph facilitated the visit as they work closely with him on projects and performances. Keith Jackson is five years younger than his late cousin Michael. As I anticipated his arrival, I knew immediately who he was at first glance. Between him and Michael…there is a striking resemblance! He too is originally from Gary Indiana and presently lives there. Like his cousin Michael, he is also a musician. Noticeably walking in with his acoustic guitar hanging over his shoulder. “I travel. I’ve been on tour with Tito Jackson. I’ve opened up for various artists.” Says Keith. He was excited as Joseph and Menace, to be a part of this interview and share his musical talents with the Tribune. “I come to ya’ll with my music because I’m a musician as well.” Stated Jackson. The Band that he’s a part of has been around for around ten years. Keith is the leader of The Triple Dose Band whom I got a chance to watch perform later that evening at one of Hammond Indiana’s own clubs called, La Rosa’s. “This is a place where the “Jammers” get together “, Jackson told me. All of the musicians go there for what’s called a Jam Night. “You have people coming from all over!” shares Keith. When describing his band Jackson says, “We work and have fun and pretty much enjoy playing music!” Like Michael, Keith’s music expands over several genres. The Triple Dose Band plays every style of music from Reggae to R&B; Funk to Jazz/Blues and even Country. They have opened up for The Ohio Players, Coco Taylor and the list goes on. He is glad that his band’s going strong and is well known in surrounding areas of Indiana such as South Bend, La Porte, St. John as well as in Chicago Illinois. When asked how he was dealing with Michael’s recent death Keith says, “I’m still in shock. It’s hard to believe that he’s gone.” He said that he knows the circumstances and the lifestyle and believes that the people that surrounded Michael had a lot to do with his untimely death. “I really feel that in my heart.” says Jackson. I asked Keith how the Immediate Jackson Family was dealing with his death, he said, “Everyone is still grieving…when you loose a family member it’s just hard. But right now they’re just trying to get things back in order and take care of the kids.” Here Keith is referring to Michael Jackson’s three children . Keith was providentially hindered from attending Michael’s memorial service held and televised at the Los Angles Staples Center. However, he was able to attend a Tribute in honor of Michael’s life and contribution to the world of music, held in Gary later that week. It was held at Bennigan’s. When asked what he thought of it, he shared, “That was really nice, Joseph and all the family was invited there and we were just able to really appreciate all of the people that came out to support Mike and remember him…for all the great music that he recorded.” Says Keith. It made Jackson feel good to see the amount of people that came out from Gary and elsewhere. “ I was surprised to see that. People showed a lot of love. That was really great.” Keith stated. This city and these people were certainly living on through the music and memory of Michael. You could just sense it in the air. Since this interview the Los Angeles coroner’s office has ruled Michael Jackson’s death a homicide. Michael was recently laid to rest this past Thursday, Sept. 3, at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale California. Present were 200 of Michael Jackson’s closest friends, and family. When asked what he’s like to say on behalf of the Jackson family, Keith says, “The public needs to give them a chance to grieve…and deal with the fact that Mike is gone. So that they can continue on with their lives and be successful in the music.” Here he refers to Michael’s brothers and mentions them by name. Keith says that they still have a lot to offer in the world of Music. It’s important for readers to keep in mind that this talented family is still human and grieve just like all of us do. I wanted to reflect a little on the good times that Keith’s immediate and extended family shared with Michael. I asked what family reunions were like growing up with Michael “Always had a great time!” states Keith. When asked about which personal qualities of Michael’s stood out to Keith as they grew up he says, “Michael he was always, always the guy that would joke and do pranks…Keep everybody laughing and he was just a fun person to be around!” He then goes on to share that they are in this year’s July 2009 Edition of People Magazine. “Matter of fact, there’s an article in the People Tribute Magazine and there is a picture of my family and all of the first cousins; so we’re all in that magazine.” Keith continues. Growing up, Jackson shares that even though he was much younger, he remembers watching Michael and the Jackson 5, stating that they all had a great time! “ We would go to their house and watch rehearsals and they’d come to our house.” After hearing Keith perform later that evening there was no doubt in my mind that this indeed was a family thing! “And my Dad is a musician. My Dad is the one who taught Tito and Jermaine how to play bass and lead guitar.” Mentions Jackson with a smile on his face. Keith’s father is named Martin Luther Jackson and is the brother to Joe Jackson as well as the Uncle to Michael. Keith refers to his father as “a blues man” and states that his father still plays till this day. Martin Luther Jackson resides in Arizona where he has his own band. Growing up in a family with such vast musical talent, Keith mentions that he and his siblings were always cautious of not trying to overshadow the light of Michael and The Jackson 5. They were respectful in that manner. When asked what he personally is doing to keep Michael’s music and the passion for it alive, Keith shares some insight about how he’s doing that. Keith plays all instruments keyboards, bass, guitar, drums/percussions as well as vocals. So what’s next for Keith? He says that he’s taking some time off to go into the studio and work on some of his own material. “The music I do now I take the music and I do my own arrangement with it and people really enjoy it.” Adds Keith. He shares that even his grandparent were musicians. “It’s been in my family.” Says Keith. Reflecting back on the first time and place that Keith performed, he tells that it was at the age of eleven in a place called the Zodiac. “There’s a lot of musicians in my family so we have a love for music!” Keith shares. On a personal note Jackson shares that he wrote a song specifically for Michael while he was living. “I was hoping one day that I could introduce that song to him but unfortunately that will never happen.” Keith tells. He does however have plans to release this song one day. It was made with the acoustic guitar and he feels that it will touch a lot of people. When asked what Michael would want, he shares this, “Basically, we love music and I think Mike would want us to keep doing what we’re doing.” Keith has a lot of hope for his cousins/Michael’s siblings, to continue to release projects and use all of their musical talents and abilities. Jackson mentions Jermaine’s talent as being very close to Michael’s. Keith then asks the question “What would the world be without music?” Stating this, “We keep the music alive!” Jackson feels that his musical expression is a gift from God, and that it is then his gift to the world. To say the least, the city of Gary Indiana is small in size, but so big in heart when it comes to musical talent! Is it any surprise that The King of Pop, and one of the world’s Greatest Musical Legends has come from a city such as this? The one thing that Keith Jackson leaves with us and wants for us to know about Michael…if we didn’t know it already, “I just want people to know that Michael loved everyone and he gave his heart.” Says Jackson. And in the form of music, it appears that the city of Gary Indiana is giving their hearts right back to him!

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