Bill Conway

Bill Conway

Bill Conway is a humble man.

For instance, when it comes to music, he doesn’t hesitate to admit his four sons have more talent than he does. Seriously.

He also has praise for his older brother, Peter, who he says had a more successful recording career than Bill himself has had.

For his part, one of Bill’s claims to fame is a brief appearance in “The Smart Story,” a 2016 film documentary about Madison’s storied music studio that launched the career of co-founder Butch Vig’s band, Garbage.

But there is more to Conway than that. In addition to sending his sons down a musical path, he has also influenced many young minds as a longtime teacher at Parker High School in Janesville.

After graduating from Edgerton High School in 1982, Conway went on to obtain his master’s degree in Asian languages and culture from UW-Madison and a teaching license from UW-Whitewater. Professionally, his accolades include being named Wisconsin PTA Teacher of the Year in 2009-10, and a Studer Group National Hero Teacher in 2011.

Away from work and the stage, Conway is married to his wife, Mika, with whom he shares a talented family of sons Yo (28), Richie (25), Lee (21) and Henry (20).

To learn more about Conway, his albums or his band, visit https://billconway1.bandcamp.com/album/songs-from-the-storm or youtube.com/channel/UCyWsCFxyYV _-MCnXoHajk6Q.

1. How did you first discover your love for music? Mom bought a drum set at a church auction when I was in second grade. Beginning of story. My best friend, Tommy Nicks, had mono the same year, and his cousin gave him a guitar to kill time at home. By middle school, we were gigging out in his cousin Shane Decker’s band with Shane’s buddy, Tom Prater.

2. You and your four sons form the Conway Family Band. How old were the boys when you first got started, and whose idea was it? My two oldest joined me on stage opening for a band I was in in Madison when they were 12 and 8. Just a 30-minute set at first, but it grew. The two younger sons gradually joined us when they hit 4. We did it because they were good enough and could do it. Not just a novelty thing. It rocked, and it was fun.

3. Before the pandemic hit, your family would have traveled to Japan as it does every other summer. Why Japan? We have a house there. (The boys) all were born there and went to school both there and here every year. We play a lot of shows over there every year, as well.

4. In addition to playing music, you are a world history teacher at Parker High School. What led you down the path toward that profession? I was working on a Ph.D. at UW-Madison, ran out of cash, won a grant to get into teacher school, so ... kids gotta eat.

5. You play several different genres of music. Do you have a personal favorite? Why or why not? I was a punk, so I prefer fast and powerful. But country was where the money was in Japan, so I have settled somewhere in that Americana/grunge area. Cash meets The Clash.

6. Who comes up with the ideas for the music videos the family band has on YouTube.com? Henry (Son No. 4) made a video for his original tune first. Then the boys made a video for a tune off of Richie’s latest album, and it was really good—really fun. We just built off that energy and made some for the family band, and then for my latest album.

7. If you could learn to do anything, what would it be? Fly. You have any idea how much we have spent on tickets back and forth? It’s a crime, really.

8. People would be surprised to know that I: Eat. A lot. I’m a skinny dude, but I put it away. Trust me.

9. Is the music you perform with the Conway Family Band all original? If so, who is the primary songwriter of the group, or do you share honors? What we play is situational. Our goal is to entertain, so we do a lot of covers when we play bars or festivals, but we also do a fair amount of improvisation live. Someone starts a groove, and we just kinda jump in. Originals are becoming a bigger part of our live set lately; usually my stuff, because I’m up front. Richie and Yo are in another band (Sugar and the Milkman) that does their originals.

10. If you could collaborate on music with a well-known performer, who would that be and why? Any Beatle (preferably John, but yeah, even Ringo). Why? Really?

11. Aside from guitar, what other instruments can you play? Do you think it is important for musicians to be well-rounded instrumentally? I’m a drummer, but more instruments equals more gigs. We all play them all. A deep bench like that gives us options. A typical conversation for us is, “Here is the song ... who is drumming?”

12. Name the one item you own that you could not live without? My guitar. First thing I grab in the morning, last thing I put down.

13. What is your favorite food, and where is your favorite place to get it? Pizza, and my favorite place to get it would be Italy. Anywhere in Italy. No, really ... Italy.

14. Name a historical figure you would most like to meet given the chance. Hands down, Gandhi. Can’t ask for a better role model. Nonviolent resistance. Peaceful protest. Love, equality, strength, sacrifice, justice.

15. Aside from music, do you have any other artistic interests? I teach art history, so I am a museum and gallery rat. We hit museums every chance we get.

16. When you perform shows in Japan, what do music fans there seem to request most? In Japan, I play in country bars a lot, so people want classic country. Hank Sr., Merle, Cash, etc. They don’t want to hear me sing in Japanese.

17. When I think about it, the single coolest thing that has ever happened to me is: Cool is subjective. I have cool things to me, but for others, it is probably when Destiny’s Child stood in a circle around me and sang the Star-Spangled Banner, twice, and then asked which version I liked better. That was when I worked for the NBA as a sound guy.

18. Share the best piece of advice anyone has ever given you. My dad: “Make today better than yesterday.”

19. Name one song that, if you never heard it again, that would be just fine with you. “Layla” by Derek and the Dominoes. Eric Clapton’s solo is fingernails on chalk to me. Seriously, people dig that? Cat wailings.

20. What are your personal goals as they pertain to performing music? Every gig, recording session, video edit, is an absolute gift. My goal is more, please. I want to keep making memories. That and maybe tour with my boys, but whatever. The van is kinda iffy right now.

Editor’s note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area’s arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person’s artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.