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Heavenly Sources Confirm Joe Jackson Already Screaming At Michael*

Sure, that headline that appeared on The Onion* satirical website - - after Joe Jackson's recent death was meant as a joke.

The truth, though, is that millions of words will be written by people vilifying Joe Jackson because of what they've heard or read about him.

Few of those people writing mean things about Joe's parenting style and business practices know him personally, though.

Gordon Keith does.

Is Keith angry at Joe, nursing a grudge that will follow Joe into the grave?

Yes, but when you learn about one of the great

double-crosses in music history, you'll marvel only that

he isn't angrier.

Keith is a retired Gary, Indiana businessman who, next to Joe and Michael, is most responsible for the success of the Jackson 5. Don't believe me?

Just look in Michael's autobiography "Moonwalk," where he says that without Gordon Keith, there'd be no Michael Jackson.

When Joe was having a hard time getting his sons gigs - "Club owners in Chicago kept telling him child performers were out of style," Keith told me - he "bought them clothes and instruments, took them to shows, did whatever it took" with his U.S. Steel pay check to keep the dream alive.

Joe was on the verge of throwing their instruments into Lake Michigan "and just going back into the steel mill," Keith told me.

The Jackson 5 recorded their first song - "Big Boy" -

on Keith's Steeltown label, and he was certain he

had shepherded them to success' front door.

He had - but he wouldn't be allowed to enter with them.

Just before the group hit it big, Joe Jackson pulled the

okey-doke on Keith and signed with Motown Records.

The family group, discarding Keith like a wet food

stamp, went on to become icons and earn hundreds of

millions of dollars for others and themselves.

But not for Keith, whom I got to know while working as a reporter and columnist in Gary. He struggled, putting together other groups but never catching the transcendent talent of another Michael Jackson. He told me of having to buy a ticket to see the boys, as he called them, perform in Chicago, and of encountering Joe in the back of the venue they'd just played.

What did you say to him? I asked.

Nothing, he said. "He ran away."

What did you do?

"I ran after him."

Although Michael was generous with praise for Keith, he wasn't generous with money. Keith never received a penny, he said, from Michael or Joe after they signed with Motown, never even recouped his investment that kept the group afloat.

Gordon Keith's nephew, Elvie Woodard, was a security guard at the newspaper at which I worked in Gary, but he was also a childhood friend of the Jacksons and a fellow performer. He said he auditioned for the group but Joe ultimately decided to "keep it all in the family."

Woodard was 13, he said, when he first encountered Joe.

"We had just finished baseball practice and a friend of mine asked if I wanted to go hear these guys practice music... We went over and were looking through the window. I remember Michael was singing 'I Got the Feeling.' Their mother was changing Janet's diaper... Joe came over to the window and said 'The boys can't have anybody looking at them while they're practicing.'

"He wasn't mad or anything... Everybody is talking about how mean he was and how he beat them and made them practice. He didn't make them practice," said Woodard, who had his own brush with regional fame with his group, Ripples & Waves. "They liked practicing."

What about the beatings? which Joe acknowledged.

"In those days, everybody got whuppings," Woodard said.

Was Joe Jackson Ward Cleaver or Heathcliff Huxtable?

No, but Michael and Tito & the gang weren't the Beav and Wally, and Gary, Ind. wasn't Mayfield, either. It's a good bet that without Joe's strong, possibly over-bearing guidance, the boys would be fixing to retire from the steel mill right about now or wearing a paper hat and going "Would you like curly fries with that?"

So, vilify Joe Jackson if that makes you feel better, but realize that without him - and Gordon Keith - the world may have never had the pleasure of hearing his boys and daughters (yes, you too, Rebbie) perform.

Instead of Joe screaming at Michael when he gets to heaven, I'm betting Joe's first words will be "Hey, son. We showed 'em, didn't we?"




Meet Barry Saunders

For over 20 years, Barry was a columnist for The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. He also wrote for other publications, such as the Atlanta Constitution and the Richmond County Daily Journal. Often described as powerfully honest and illustratively funny, Barry's writing is both loved and hated by readers- sometimes simultaneously.  


Want more? Get your own copy of one of Barry's published books featuring reader favorites (and not so favorites) from his years writing columns for The News & Observer. Titled "Do Unto Others...And then Run" and "...And The Horse You Rode In On Saunders!", they're full of guaranteed entertainment. 


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