Interview with a Pagan

Talking to John Hall

By Brian Hickey
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 35 | Posted Oct. 1, 2008

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Hall of mirrors: The former Pagan is full of contradictions.

Now living in central Pennsylvania, former Pagan Chief John Hall has spent the last decade honing his memories into a vivid account of life inside what the FBI once called "the most violent criminal organization in America." PW spoke with Hall last week about his new book Riding on the Edge: A Motorcycle Outlaw's Tale.

What motivated you to write Riding on the Edge?

"A while back I was talking to a friend who'd been at the Reading Eagle. I suggested to him, it was around Memorial Day of 1997, that it was the 30th anniversary of the Pagans' first run through Reading as a pack. He told me they'd been trying to keep the Pagans out of the papers but that we hadn't heard about them for a while. So I wrote an 800-word piece about it that night. Soon I got a letter from somebody who remembered it all and loved reliving it. Well, here I was, an outlaw who just happened to have the skills to put it all together."

If I were in your shoes, I'd be worried that some bad people would think I was a rat.

"Most of the people I wrote about are dead, and I'm not ratting anybody out. Besides, you don't get to be chapter president of a motorcycle gang by being afraid of anybody."

Is it unusual for a former motorcycle-gang chapter president to be able to write?

"I went to jail in 1969 and while I was in there they asked me if I wanted to go to college. So I went to Penn State and earned degrees in French and German comparative literature, a master's and almost got a PhD in history. While I was in grad school, I found out that I was a functional illiterate. You can't bullshit your way to a degree or, later, to an English-instructor's job. But yeah, I'm as amazed as anybody else at what I've been able to pull off."

In the excerpt we're using, you reference swastikas and use other ethnic slurs. Were the Pagans white supremacists? Are you?

"No. Make that a resounding no. Near the end of the book, you'll see how the Pagans actually teamed up with black inmates in prison to take on the white supremacists that the warden had been worried about. I think the question becomes irrelevant after reading about that. Plus, in 1968, the Reading club allowed a black/Puerto Rican member to join, and this was a time where a black or a Puerto Rican couldn't get into a country club. Look at the posters for Roger Korman's Wild Angels; he dotted the "i" in "Wild" with a swastika. I'm not really sure about the root of why the gangs used those symbols, but I think it was more of a shock thing."

Have you ever seen what you consider to be an accurate portrayal of the motorcycle gang life?

"No. In 1966, '67, '68, we'd go to the movies and I remember seeing Jack Nicholson [advertised in Easy Rider]. Everybody was all excited, but I walked away saying, 'That wasn't real.' It was on the West Coast, not in Pennsylvania. And Pennsylvania was not a sunshine state. I mean, look around today: You have college kids running around in raccoon coats these days. It's like we're the last cowboys on the ranch. I'm amazed by how much the times have changed. You can't even go out and wreck a bar anymore!"

What's changed?

"Society is much more complex. There's more law enforcement. The way it used to be, you'd go to wedding or a bar, and two men would get in argument, go outside in the parking lot and settle it. If you knock your opponent down, you let him stand up, and if he can't stand up, he's had enough. Guys would be punching each other in the face for 10, 15 minutes and that would be that. But nowadays the police would be pulling up with the whole SWAT team. I guess I still have that old Western cowboy, or steel mill-town mentality. Or maybe I'm just being nostalgic."

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 35 of 35
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1. CHUCK said... on Oct 2, 2008 at 04:14PM

“GREAT BOOK!!!! I STARTED RIDING IN THE EARLY 70'S ON LONG ISLAND.IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES. I KNEW AND RODE WITH MANY PAGANS. I AM STILL RIDING AND STILL RUN INTO PAGANS WHEREVER I GO ON THE EAST COAST. PAGAN'S MC WILL ALWAYS BE LONG ISLAND LEGENDS.”

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2. Cale said... on Oct 7, 2008 at 04:01PM

“What is the attitude toward Gays?”

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3. dan rayel said... on Oct 9, 2008 at 06:02PM

“i' m dan rayel bob and janes youngest son just got your book i ride very fast i live in maple grove pa number in book give me a call love to talk to you”

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4. Jim Rayel said... on Oct 13, 2008 at 05:15AM

“Thanks for writting this book..learned alot about my Grandfather.E-mail me if you get a chance.Look forward to talking to you Thanks jimrayel@verizon.net”

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5. Tink said... on Jan 31, 2009 at 05:38PM

“Great Book! I ride frequently when I am not out on business. Really captivating to see how it was, and How depressing it is to see what some have molded it into today, would love to get in contact sometime. Prosepro02@aol.com”

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6. Randy Ashley said... on Apr 3, 2009 at 12:56PM

“Hey I am hoping That john hall gets my email address.Mr Hall I DO NOT BELIEVE you are snitching on anyone and the question astonishes me.You are writing about people you were obviously very fond of and connected to.As the President of a small club in upstate ny I found your book inspiring,I have been around many Pagans MC members and liked almost all of them and felt a kinship with again most,as aposed to the other big club here in ny who is mostly an associasion of motorcycle big buisness criminals (you know).I just wanted to say thanks for writing the book and beeing so passionate about the life there are questions I would love to ask you and If need be I would travel If you get this please email me at whitedevilrandy@yahoo.com”

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7. mark said... on Sep 29, 2009 at 01:32PM

“great book ,glad youve made something of yourself all the best”

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8. bigbobo said... on Oct 10, 2009 at 08:31AM

“rode with the warlocks for a long damn time .... battles with the PA pagans were not always so equitable ... books ? the old times ? all bull shit ....current pagan chapters/mother clubs have become a biusness venture first... the club activities second .... still blow in the wind.... but i'm out of that club buisness for good.... bobo”

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9. GI Jack said... on Feb 23, 2010 at 12:42PM

“I just got done reading your book and I was blown away. I've read several other accounts by one percenters and your book stands out as my fav.

I think its because the life is so many years behind you and you have nothing to prove by it, and since most of the people mentioned are long dead or forgotten no consequences will come of the book.

snitches and narcs are going to have a hard slant against clubs for personal reasons

current high ranking members are going to try and keep the heat off no matter what.

few unintrested parties seem to exist while others tend to gloss over the nitty gritty, john is unapologetic and tells it how it is. I like that”

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10. bigbobo said... on Apr 12, 2010 at 07:49PM

“so here we are 2010 ... any0ne puts a patch on there back thinks there a bad morya forya ! have ya seen some of the HA probates riding round baltimore latley??? the word's joke~punk~doper comes to mind...go figure... PAGANS turning on each other for a trumped up rap no one would get more then a cheap five year bit for ...loacal va. OUTLAWS older then my freaking grandfather i mean OLD!... and your writting a rag bout how tough the 1% clubs are ? maybe just maybe when your old ass was in the PAGANS you could carry yourself... but today ...it aint happening ... BETHESDA BOYS CLUB could take down any of these sissy club... long live the WARLOCKS !”

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11. Anonymous said... on Apr 24, 2010 at 06:31PM

“Anybody ever heard of Smiley from PA?

Robert Gilbert?”

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12. Trickbag said... on May 2, 2010 at 12:48PM

“It's all Bullshit.”

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13. Anonymous said... on Jun 20, 2010 at 06:11PM

“There is a mention of a member of the rat pack being hung out to dry .i was there i would like to know who were the three guys who gave there patches up to hippie steve”

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14. TRUTH said... on Jul 5, 2010 at 10:45PM

“The book is boring. Way off base. The author is just trying to cash in.Maybe he should write a script for Sons of Anarchy. Get real,”

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15. Anonymous said... on Jul 8, 2010 at 01:39AM

“warlock ken committee a,k,a, spic”

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16. Anonymous said... on Sep 17, 2010 at 11:47AM

“Yes I know "Smiley" personnaly....”

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17. Anonymous said... on Oct 11, 2010 at 09:51PM

“Somebody should write for SOA.Kurt sutter wouldn't know a real outlaw from a Wild Hog.I say if you can make a legal buck from years with knees in the breeze,do it.Lets fight the real enemy,the people who want to silence my engine and check my helmet.BTW,my DOT helmet worked,I'm still here typing.Bike is another story.”

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18. Anonymous said... on Oct 20, 2010 at 07:05AM

“fact or fiction? maybe a bit of both. it was still a good read.Life was easier back then
way too complicated now”

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19. JOHNO said... on Apr 3, 2011 at 07:43AM

“I just finished the book last night at work.............great job. The younger Guys will have a hard time understanding how important it is to "Pull the dead out of their Graves". I spend a lot of time thinking about my dead Brothers and I try to keep their memory alive.”

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20. Anonymous said... on May 18, 2011 at 04:22PM

“I see alot of folks ragging on a book about an era that most unless they were in it would know butkis about. Outlaws like the fellas talked about in the the aren't made or self created their Born and bred. You'll never understand what you don't know to be real. Todays mc members for the most part excluding a choice few aren't even from the same cloth sure you hear the old values upfront, but thats only at face value. Truth is the only ones that even care about the old code are either to old to care or are dead. Anyway Loved the book reminded me of the days as a kid going to meets when dad was alive in the 70's an early 80's”

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21. pagan pinto said... on Jul 13, 2011 at 09:28AM

“WOW!!! has the club sure changed, a 1%er, is just that all the way to the bone, first and formost...”

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22. Road Captain said... on Dec 15, 2011 at 11:19PM

“I read a lot of these books and ever since I wrote a book review about this book Motorbooks publishing keeps sending me more. I have to say John Hall's book is in a class by itself! This is not a self biography. This is a captivating story written by a talented and educated man. I don't know how much of the book is true and how much is embellishment... but it wouldn't be a good biker tale without the embellishment. We all owe John Hall thanks for putting out a class act book from a true biker that will entertain and also document the romance of the beginning of biker brotherhoods.”

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23. Linda said... on Jan 22, 2012 at 02:47AM

“Anyone know what happened to Shout who was President of the Delaware Co. Chapter around 1973-1974, he was an old friend and we lost touch when I moved to CA. Just wondering what happened to him.

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24. Anonymous said... on Feb 29, 2012 at 11:57PM

“Any one remember David taylor, aka "dirt", aka "dock" later. R.I.P.”

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25. Red the Head said... on Apr 12, 2012 at 10:55AM

“I was there. Reading's Pres. was Chuck Ginder. Bobby Rayels was the V.P.
Rayels had two boys Bob Bob and Dan Dan. Rayels died of a stroke or heart attack. Most of us went to prison after shooting up the bar in Oley, Pa
Any other Reading PMC still out there kickin?.”

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26. J.Rayel said... on Jun 4, 2012 at 08:16AM

“Hey red the head, my name is Jim rayel. Bobby rayel was my grandfather. Shoot me an email if you get this. jimrayel@verizon.net”

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27. chris said... on Jul 12, 2012 at 12:08AM

“John this book was great, I'm a lot younger but grew up around 1% club members my whole life bc of my father. Great book couldn't put it down”

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28. Anonymous said... on Oct 30, 2012 at 12:43AM

“Anyone remember Jim Carbaugh rode a 47 Knuckle,lived in the Reading area and in Philly in the late 60's and early 70's”

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29. bobby said... on Feb 25, 2013 at 09:54PM

“hey does any one no where lightning or any of the crazies from the nassau county chapter contact email bobby7912@hotmail.com”

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30. 1369er said... on Apr 17, 2013 at 07:45AM

“Bill Whiteknight was a legend in the Lehigh Valley....The story of him liftin a sportster into a truck was true...that happened at the Parkway in A Town..”

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31. Six said... on May 31, 2013 at 12:18PM

“I remember Dave Taylor, he was my best friend and husband. RIP Doc”

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32. Angela Taylor said... on Jun 5, 2013 at 11:36PM

“I will never forget the man whi taught me how to be a woman. @ comment 24 David Taylor "Dirt" Taylor was my father....Was proud of the man he was and became and proud to call him my daddy....”

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33. Anonymous said... on Aug 12, 2013 at 01:35PM

“Does anyone from Chester County know what happened to the rat Dickie Sexton?”

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34. Anonymous said... on Sep 5, 2013 at 05:15PM

“Nobody will probably read this since I've just stumbled across this article and its 9/5/13. On the off chance that John Hall ever reads this, Thanks for one of the best books on the Culture I've ever read. I've been riding since the 70's with & without various MC's. Still try to but my back is going south in a hurry. Thanks again for a great read.”

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35. freddy said... on Mar 25, 2014 at 09:47PM

“Shout died of a heart attack years ago. He retired from the club. Got into local politics in Clifton Heights. Became a committee man and did that for years. He was a good guy. People still talk about him saving the baby someone left at a gas station in SW philly”

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