The Back Of Beyond
A Rose In The Fire Music)


Guitarist Bill Mize is well known among fans of classic instrumental acoustic guitar music. Bill describes his latest CD, 2014’s 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. Bill’s 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, “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 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. presents an interview with

: Can you tell us where you’re 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: I’m from Sevierville Tennesee, which was once known for being a speed trap between Knoxville and Gatlinburg. It’s also the home of Dolly Parton and dobro pioneer Bashful Brother Oswald. Since the mid 1970’s, 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.

I’m 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 Elvis’s 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?

Bill Mize: 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 didn’t 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 County.

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?

Bill Mize: I think all my recordings take up where the previous one left off. There really isn’t 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 me—obviously. I usually put my own spin on them, but always out of respect. I try to keep the essence of the song intact.

mwe3: You’re 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 I’ve 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. I’ve recently been using a Strymon Blue Sky Reverb and I’m 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? I’m thinking of track 3 “Every Dog Has His Day”, which is so perfectly recorded.

Bill Mize: 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 can’t 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 there’s 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 great!

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: I’ve 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.

mwe3: 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 haven’t performed with him. Yes, I agree with you, Bill is a fine songwriter. I don’t really have plans to record with anyone. Not to say I wouldn’t. Recording and writing is such a personal thing with me, like meditation…


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