With his genre-smashing band, Southern Train, Colliers International executive Bill Reeves is living his rock 'n' roll fantasy.
Executive: Bill Reeves, 51. Reeves is the executive managing director of Colliers International’s office services division in Tampa. Prior to joining Colliers in 2015, he spent 15 years with Cushman & Wakefield, where he completed more than 250 commercial real estate transactions.
'The great thing about music these days is you can learn almost anything on YouTube.' Bill Reeves, Southern Train
Diversion: Playing guitar in a rock band. Reeves is a founding member of Southern Train, a band made up of other area commercial real estate executives plus Jamie Inman, a singer they recruited after she jumped up on stage to play with them at MacDinton’s pub in South Tampa. Other core members include bassist Kyle Burd, guitarist Matt Watson and keyboardist Royce Reed.
Un-idle hands: The economic downturn and subsequent real estate crash of the late 2000s left Reeves and his colleagues with plenty of free time. “There weren't a lot of transactions to work on,” he says. “And a bunch of us in the industry realized that we played music but not all the same instrument. We thought it could be an opportunity to start a little band and play broker events and other networking events. We weren’t doing it for the money. We really did it to network within our industry.”
Self taught: Reeves didn’t play guitar in school and never learned to formally read music. He’s had a few private lessons over the years but is mostly self-taught, learning his licks and riffs via YouTube. And prior to co-founding Southern Train in 2008, he hadn’t played regularly in 20 years. “When the other guys said, ‘Let’s start a band,’ I said: ‘Oh crap, I’d better learn. I’d better start practicing again.’ But the great thing about music these days is you can learn almost anything on YouTube. So I spent a lot of time searching YouTube for instructional videos on certain songs. And the more you learn, the easier it is to pick up the next one.”
Genre mash-up: The name Southern Train smacks of a country band, but Reeves says the moniker was instead inspired by a lyric from “Interstate Love Song” — a massive hit for the alt-rock band Stone Temple Pilots in the mid-1990s. That backstory is indicative of the band’s genre-bending approach to its music. Its set list includes a wide variety of songs by artists ranging from classic rock acts like Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin to more modern fare by Carrie Underwood and Alabama Shakes.
Not just covers: Southern Train also plays a few originals and even released a six-song EP, "Platt Street Bridge," in 2014 that sold around 500 copies. Reeves isn’t sure when, or if, the band will re-enter the studio. “It's a lot of work and a lot of money to only sell 500,” he says with a laugh.
Crowd favorites: Southern Train is better known as a live act, Reeves says, playing 15 to 20 local shows per year. “We started out where we were just playing for maybe a couple hundred people at an industry event,” he says. “Since then we've had the opportunity to play in front of 8,000, 10,000 people.” The band has played on the same bill as big acts like Blues Traveler and The Wallflowers. “We don't play a lot of bars,” Reeves adds. “Festivals and charity events are kind of our sweet spot.”
Don’t quit your day job: Because the members of Southern Train all have successful nonmusic careers, they aren’t in the band to make a living. And split six ways, among all band members, a $1,200 paycheck — their average take-home pay for a three-hour gig — doesn’t go very far. “The old joke in all bands is that we get paid to bring our equipment and set it up, and we play for free,” Reeves says. “It's an expensive hobby. We certainly get paid, but it's more a labor of love. We’re not doing it for the money. And if a gig is for a good charity, we are very receptive.”
Never too old to rock: Despite the thrill of being on stage in front of thousands of fans, Reeves says he’s never considered a change of career. “I don't think they could afford me,” he says, “and I don't think I'm good enough to support myself and my three kids [with a music career].” Besides, he adds, rock 'n’ roll, as a lifestyle and a business, is a young man’s game. “It’s for teenagers and 20-year-olds,” he says. “I’m 50 years old. It’s a hard business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun doing it sometimes.”