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Professors who Rock: Bill Reader

By ELIZABETH SCHAFER, Associate Editor

When you’re sitting in class listening to your teachers, it’s often normal to wonder what they do on the “outside.”  What kind of person are they?  Do they have a family? What were they like in college?  By the middle of the semester, you may have a pretty good feel for what they are like. But, you never really know …

English is his bag now, but even in first grade Bill Reader knew he wanted to be a musician.  After acquiring a set of drum sticks, his obsession only grew.

Growing up in Beaverton,  he played the drums until 5th grade, when he moved on to the tenor sax.  He stuck with the sax over the next several years — concert band, marching band, and jazz band.

Then in 9th grade, a boy named Matt turned Reader on to the bass guitar.  Self-taught at 14, Reader remembers reading Hit Parader and listening to the Scorpions.

“I would play along with the radio. I remember this one station at the time would play whole albums,” Reader said.  “I would record the album off the radio, and then play along with it later.”  Iron Maiden proved to be a large inspiration at the time as well.

He acquired his first bass guitar at the age 14, out of the Sears & Roebuck catalog.  As he spoke about it, you could see the affection he had for that guitar in his wide eyes and expression.

When he turned 17, Reader was turned on to the punk scene. Now the Sex Pistols and Black Flag ruled his world.  “It totally freaked my parents out,” Reader recalled.

Hoping to acquire a better bass guitar, Reader knew a boy who was selling one.  His parents gave him the choice of either going on his senior trip or using the money to buy the guitar.  He picked the guitar — a Fender Precision bass with an original pick-up cover and an amp.  It was then that Matt and Reader created a band called The End.

After graduating high school, Reader attended MMCC for a short time, which didn’t work the first go round.

Still playing after graduation, Matt went on to attend Central Michigan University and formed a new band.   He gave Reader a tape of a recording of the band, which only reminded him of his band days with Matt.  At the time, Reader was listening to Jane’s Addiction and really dug Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  All Matt had to do was ask, and off they were again.  Pan the Sirens was born.

Bill Reader (back) played bass for Pan the Sirens in the late 1980's. Courtesy photo.

Packing his bags and moving to Mt. Pleasant, Reader said Pan the Sirens turned out to be quite the musical journey, playing in local venues like the Wayside and the Foolery (now Rubbles).  The band got a gig at Mayfest in 1990 playing to a crowd of 3,000 plus.

“It was a big deal to be on the Mayfest line-up,” Reader recalled.  The band had a huge following in Mt. Pleasant.  He remembers getting to play the Capital Theatre in Flint, thinking to himself, “I’m going to be on the same stage as Primus.”  Upon the band’s arrival, they received notice that they were, in fact, playing in the lobby.  Keeping them grounded, the experience was humbling, he said.

Pan the Sirens broke up later because of creative differences.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2-I_H_ASU1s

Pan the Siren on stage in 1989. Courtesy photo.

In 1994, Reader returned to school.  While in college he overheard some students, Derrick & Tony, discussing their need for a bass player for a band.  Reader, then being inspired by The Minutemen’s bassist,  Mike Watt, stepped up to the plate, and The Nothing Heads was formed.  They mainly played at the Bird (yes, the Bird used to have live music). Later, after Tony left, Derrick and Reader formed the PICTS.

The PICTS had two bass guitarists, and a chick singer, and they played covers like 99 Luft Balloons. The second bassist was Scott McClintock, now of the Great Lakes Myth Society.

“The best time I ever had playing was with Scott,” Reader remembered. “He would play the bass lines, so I had more freedom and creativity.”

Reader then proceeded to tell how he used to play the bass, above the pickup, with a metal Zippo lighter, creating a distortion like nothing I have ever personally seen or heard of.  Imagine something to a slide effect, but louder because of the weight of the lighter.

The fall of 1995 was the greatest.  “We had so much fun in a band that was so different; no one else was doing it,” he said.

Derrick soon moved away to join Big Angry Fish.  The time Reader spent in the years between then and now were concentrated on his schooling and his career.  Now he is an Associate Professor of English at MMCC and is also a doctoral student at MSU.

Bill Reader (left) with Pan the Siren in 2009. Courtesy photo.

While at MMCC, Reader actually had a faculty band, called Faculty Lounge, with Eric Sander, a drafting instructor at MMCC, and Matt McCarter, who has since moved away.  This time Reader went back to his first-grade roots and played the drums.  The band played the MMCC barbeques in 2006 and 2007.

I usually ask the teacher I am interviewing if they relate their music to their teaching.  Reader really pondered that one.  His love for teaching is visible, but Reader also felt like he lost something without the constant guitar playing.

“Not playing music left me with a feeling of withdrawal and depression,” he said. With teaching, however, he said he found a new form of expression.

“There are some overlaps but they are mainly separate,” he said. “Where it is similar, teaching serves a lot like improvising.  Being connected with the students is like one big improvisation. There are times when the students lead, and times when we share the lead.”

(“Professors who Rock” is an ongoing series about MMCC professors, adjunct faculty and staff who spend their free time as a part of the local music scene.)

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