Bill Mize is well known among fans of classic instrumental
acoustic guitar music. Bill describes his latest CD, 2014s The
Back Of Beyond as A return to my Appalachian roots
and a reconnection with people and events that have shaped me and
my music. Bill is recognized as a U.S. national fingerstyle
champion and a Grammy winning guitarist. His work has appeared in
the Ken Burns documentary Our National Parks and his
work has also appeared on a Windham Hill Records guitar sampler and
in Mel Bay Productions. Bills ten track CD, The Back Of Beyond
sounds amazing as it was quite well recorded. The album features
Bill performing on guitar, lap steel and ebow with some assistance
on a track from Beth Bramhall (accordion). All the tracks were
composed by Bill except a cover by Bill of famed accordion master
Astor Piazzolla. Speaking about his frame of mind while writing and
recording The Back Of Beyond in the following interview, Bill
Mize tells mwe3.com, I was in Montana most of that time and
often became nostalgic and immersed myself in memories. A few of the
tunes on The Back of Beyond were inspired by specific feelings.
My musical roots go many directions and deep. The song The Back
Of Beyond is a song of gratitude to all the natural places away
from man-made influences where one can seek solitude and find their
direction and sense of place. Brought to the attention of mwe3.com
by acclaimed Americana singer-songwriter Bill Price, Bill Mize is
clearly a master of the acoustic instrumental guitar medium and his
album will sit nicely alongside guitar classics by the finest players
recording today. www.BillMize.com
mwe3.com presents an
Can you tell us where youre from originally and where you live
now and what you like best about it? What are you favorite cities
and towns to visit?
Bill Mize: Im from Sevierville Tennesee, which was once
known for being a speed trap between Knoxville and Gatlinburg. Its
also the home of Dolly Parton and dobro pioneer Bashful Brother Oswald.
Since the mid 1970s, I have lived in an old cabin my Grandfather
built in the 1930s, which is a stones throw from the Great Smoky Mountains
National Park. For the last 15 years or so my wife Beth and I have
split our time between Tennessee and Montana but recently have relocated
back to Tennessee. A list of my favorite towns and places would be
quite long. But I like music towns such as Nashville and Memphis.
mwe3: What was it like growing up in Tennessee and what were
some of the early artists and albums that had a big impact on you?
Are you old enough to remember the great artists from the 1960s?
Bill Mize: Sevierville was a great place to grow up. My great
aunt owned the local theater so I got to see all the great monster
movies and Westerns of the 50s and early 60s for free.
I also watched religiously on TV, the Flatt and Scruggs Show, Porter
Wagoner and the Wilburn Brothers shows on Saturday. Plus the Arthur
(Guitar Boogie) Smith show.
My musical education was a cheap Zenith transistor radio which I fell
asleep to listening to stations to the great R&B station WLAC
in Nashville , WNOX and WGN and many others.
Im plenty old enough to remember the greats from the 1950s and
the 60s and being close to Knoxville, I saw many of them perform
in concert. My first and greatest epiphany came when I was 3 or 4
years old and saw one of Elviss first TV appearances. I remember
Mom and Dad debating whether or not they should let me watch it since
even at that early age I was already showing juvenile delinquent tendencies.
But they let me watch it and I knew right then what my life would
be about. The power of music cast its spell on me.
mwe3: You appeared on several compilations on Windham Hill
and Narada. What albums were those and which tracks of yours are featured
on those albums? Looking back on the rise of Windham Hill during the
late 1980s, what do you remember most about working with both Windham
Hill and Narada?
The Windham Hill Guitar Sampler used my version of the Trapazoid song
The Silverplume Waltz. Narada used my song The Road
Scholar for their Masters of the Acoustic Guitar album. Getting
on the Windham Hill sampler was very exciting and probably my biggest
break ever since it sold well over half a million copies and gave
me worldwide exposure. The Narada Sampler was very sweet also.
mwe3: Did you have a specific goal in mind when you wrote the
music for The Back Of Beyond? Some music critics say you returned
to your Smoky Mountain roots for The Back Of Beyond. Tell us
about how your musical roots impacted the writing and musical style
on The Back Of Beyond. I like that quote on the inside of the
CD by Horace Kephart of Our Southern Highlanders. I didnt even
know he existed but I see he was born during the Civil War years of
the early 1860s. What influence did Kephart have on you?
Bill Mize: I was in Montana most of that time and often became
nostalgic and immersed myself in memories. A few of the tunes on The
Back of Beyond were inspired by specific feelings. My musical
roots go many directions and deep. The song The Back Of Beyond
is a song of gratitude to all the natural places away from man-made
influences where one can seek solitude and find their direction and
sense of place. I found mine in the Smoky Mountains long ago at a
time when I was really needing direction. The song Every Dog
has His Day is inspired by the feeling of bliss and peace by
spending quality time in a cold mountain stream on a hot Summer day.
Joe Pye Jig is an attempt to musically reveal the mysteries
of a very flamboyant weed that grows throughout the Appalachians.
A Child of God is inspired by one of my favorite novels
written by Cormac McCarthy. It was also set in my home county Sevier
Horace Kephart was a writer from St. Louis who relocated to the Smokies
in search of a new beginning. He found the call to write about the
area, its people and culture. His book Our Southern Highlanders
made the world aware of the Smokies and advocated the formation of
the National Park.
mwe3: How would you compare your latest album The Back Of
Beyond with your earlier CD releases? Is there a constant thread
on all your solo albums?
I think all my recordings take up where the previous one left off.
There really isnt a common thread. I just follow the inspiration
the guitar is an endless well that is full of possibilities.
mwe3: What made you want feature a cover of Milonga del
Angel by Astor Piazzolla on The Back Of Beyond? What
kind of influence did Piazzolla have on you? Have you done other covers
and what do you look for in a cover?
Bill Mize: My wife Beth Bramhall introduced me to Piazzolla
and Milonga Del Angel. Beth is a wonderfully talented
musician and sometimes accompanies me in concert. And this song is
my favorite that we perform together. I love to do covers but they
have to be songs that really move meobviously. I usually put
my own spin on them, but always out of respect. I try to keep the
essence of the song intact.
mwe3: Youre playing all the guitars, lap steel and ebow
as well on The Back Of Beyond. What brand of guitars, lap steel
guitars and ebow are you playing on the album? The credits list McElroy
guitars, LR Baggs and Millenia pre-amps and AER amps on the album.
Are those your favorites and what other guitars do you enjoy playing
and recording with?
Bill Mize: My main guitar is a 1963 Martin D28 that I acquired
in 1986. This year marks our 30th anniversary. Years ago I had the
fingerboard widened and the string spacing at the bridge as well to
make it more conducive for fingerstyle. That guitar is my excalibur
and for years my only acoustic until a few years ago I acquired a
guitar built by luthier Brent McElroy from Seattle. I have become
extremely fond of that guitar. It plays and sound like honey butter.
I like it better than any hand built guitar Ive ever played.
For years my setup has been an LR Baggs Dual Source System opting
for the ribbon transducer for the under the saddle PU and a Joe Mills
internal mic. My preamp has been a Rane AP13 stereo with a Lexicon
MPX500 Reverb. Ive recently been using a Strymon Blue Sky Reverb
and Im very impressed with it.
My lap steel is an old Gibson BR49 that was given to me 13 years ago
for my 50th birthday present by my great friend Michael Coulon. I
think he sensed that someday I would need it. Michael passed in 2007
so the lap steel is very special to me.
mwe3: Do you like to layer guitars on different tracks? Im
thinking of track 3 Every Dog Has His Day, which is so
I used 2 Km84 Neumann mics and overdubbed one lap steel track direct
to the recorder through a Sans Amp plug in. I like to keep it simple,
no acoustic guitar overdubs. The Millenia Mic Pre and the Lexicon
PCM 90 were also used. Neal Merrick is a gifted engineer who helped
me mix and master it at his studio in Black Mountain, North Carolina.
mwe3: What else can you tell us about your fingerstyle guitar
techniques? Do you use picks or mainly right hand picking techniques?
Do you use classical techniques or other guitar techniques on different
tracks and how do you stay in shape as a guitarist and composer?
Bill Mize: I just use my nails but try to keep them in shape
by using a real fine grit sandpaper such as Tri Mite 400. My technique
is whatever the music calls for. No set rules. I stay in shape by
just playing a lot. I cant think of a better way to go.
mwe3: To who do you credit the album having such a great sound?
The Back Of Beyond is very clean and open sounding yet theres
plenty of dynamics and ambience. Can you shed some insights into your
approach in the studio? What ever you and Neal did, the CD sure sounds
Bill Mize: No, I pretty much set up the studio and was my own
engineer. I found out that Aurelex can work wonders for acoustically
imperfect spaces. Moving the mics around searching for the sweet spots
is time well spent. Also, I think becoming aware of how the dynamics
of the guitar fit the sound of the room is important. For instance,
if there is a boomy note, such as the low A, back off of it a bit
when you are playing or use more nail than flesh.
mwe3: What other activities are you involved with? Are you
planning any other Mel Bay on the tab books?
Bill Mize: Ive been wanting to write out more tabs, but
quite honestly, I have too much work to do on the guitar and not enough
time in the day it seems.
Do you like to record with collaborators? I saw your name on a poster
featuring a concert with you and Bill Price, another underrated American
recording artist! What other artists would you like to record with
in the future?
Bill Mize: Usually, the only person I perform with is my wife
Beth who I met in the late 90s while touring in Montana. And
I met Bill Price while sharing a gig in Ohio, but havent performed
with him. Yes, I agree with you, Bill is a fine songwriter. I dont
really have plans to record with anyone. Not to say I wouldnt.
Recording and writing is such a personal thing with me, like meditation