From: Bluegrass Canada Magazine May 2000
Ways That Are Dark CD
Elephant Rock, (888) 685-9665
by: George McKnight
"The Ways That Are Dark"
An Interview with Daniel Gore, Songwriter, Historian, Musician and Entertainer.
Horace Kephart (1862-1931) was the great-great-great grandson of a Swiss immigrant who settled in the Allegheny Mountain region of Pennsylvania wilderness in 1747. Kephart's family moved to different areas of the then settled west including Ohio and Iowa which helped shape his love of the frontier. Add to this his love of Defoe's book Robinson Crusoe and other great writers, the seed of adventure was sown in the young and fertile mind of Horace Kephart. Kephart attended Yale, and soon accompanied the great book collector W.Fisk to Italy, where he honed his skills as a librarian. This experience prepared him for directorship of the St.Louis Mercantile Library where his main interest developed in American frontier history. At the turn of the century he underwent a profound change of personality. This change led Kephart to abandon family and friends and to seek the solitude and isolation of remote regions he terms a "Back of Beyond".
Kephart's choice of a "Back of Beyond" was the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. In this region the people (Scottish, Irish and English) settled and built their meager existence. For over 100 years time stood still and this is what Kephart adopted as his new home. Before relocating, this historian-librarian decided to do some research on his newly chosen home but was disappointed to find little or no writing about the culture and people. Most of the outsiders or "outlanders" considered the area to be "tenanted by fierce and uncouth men"…the area reputation was little known and understood for it was isolated and considered very wild. Kephart went into the region, lived with and studied the people. In 1913 he published his first person account "Our Southern Highlanders" which is considered to be the most widely known and respected work on this region. This book is the inspiration for Daniel Gore's "Ways That Are Dark".
Daniel Gore has the distinction of writing songs about the people and culture of his home state area almost 100 years after the events happened. Through painstaking research and study Daniel re-creates the stories, legends and even reveals some of the soul of the mountain people of North Carolina during the early 1900's. How anyone can take a book (Our Southern Highlanders) of stories and tales almost 100 years old and be inspired to write music and song with such accuracy…defies understanding. All this comes together on a wonderful 14 song CD entitled " Ways That Are Dark." The title is taken from one of the chapter titles.
Dan, a "Tar-Heel" native of North Carolina, moved west to Spokane Washington with his wife Mary in 1986 to work as an engineer and nurse respectively. Finding ripe ground for bluegrass music Dan and Mary formed a bluegrass band the "Blue Road Rounders" and together they performed at many festivals, broadcasts and stage productions. Dan's current band, WhyteWater, works throughout the Northwest. Dan plays mandolin and banjo and teaches Bluegrass music at the community college. Dan has appeared in several productions of the Broadway hit bluegrass musical "The Robber Bridegroom" and is a contributing writer for Bluegrass Unlimited magazine.
BCM: How did you become interested in Kephart's book "Our Southern Highlanders"?
Daniel: As a kid I spent a lot of time roaming and camping the same hills as Kephart did so many years earlier. Yet, I had little knowledge of the history and lore of the Great Smokies. Kephart's book was full of photographs, stories, people and history. In 1983 after reading the book, I explored Hazel Creek in search of Kephart's ghost. As I walked the same areas described in the book, the spirit of the book became real to me.
BCM: Most folk/bluegrass music is written from personal experience and real life events within the author's terms of reference. How are you able to create such interesting and authentic sounding music from just reading a book?
Daniel: "Our Southern Highlanders" or 'That Book' as the mountain folks referred to it, totally captured my attention. Written from a first-person narrative style, the pages of the book seemed to be full of music…every story sounded like a song. The words, phrases and ideas of each chapter became the songs of my album. For many of the songs, the chapter title became the song title. The CDs is written in a song-cycle style and is closely based on the dialect, lore, language, ideas and action found in "that book".
BCM: Can you describe the process you went through to write these songs?
Daniel: I started by carefully reading and studying the text, then writing down my feelings and impressions. Then back to the book to glean ideas and impressions from Kephart's words that reinforced these impressions. Next came the technical aspects of the song; time signature, key, tempo, instrumentation and basic arrangement. Finding melody and cord progression was the easier part, for once the song's feeling had impressed me the rest came natural.
This is the process I used in writing the first song "The Pig Belial". Mary (my wife) and I were laying in a tent up on Hazel Creek near Kephart's cabin listening to a wild boar rooting around in the bush nearby. The song was based closely on the story as told by Kephart. Other themes for the songs came from chapters in Kephart's book featuring topics such as the wild raven, moonshine stills, bear hunts, prohibition agents, reckless love, prison escapes, logging, feudins', etc.
BCM: An interesting aspect of some of the songs is the use of the language of the region. Words like "gwine" for going or "pallet" for a makeshift bed. Why did you choose to use this local jargon in some of the songs?
Daniel: A good example of the local language is in the opening song "The Outlander Meets the Native"…a song that details the arrival of Horace Kephart in the mountains. The song is delivered in the 'voice' of Quill Rose, a native of the hills, using the actual language of the day which Kephart dutifully noted. The effect of this language is to give the song an authentic sound. Lyrically, the song debunks the belief that the mountain people are "a fierce uncouth mountain race" and shows the people to be kind and considerate. Listeners who are unfamiliar with the language will be pleased to find a lexicon in the album liner notes.
BCM: The events described in your songs seem almost unreal…the kind of stuff that fictional and sometimes absurd movies are based on. Are these stories authentic and real?
Daniel: Kephart was an historian and librarian and was very thorough in his research. He had written many articles for outdoor magazines and authored books on camping, woodcraft, and firearms. With this understanding he could live among people whose lives more resembled the pioneers of a century before. Kephart wrote from his first hand personal experience while recording his observations in a volume of some thirty journals. These are kept in the Hunter Library at Western Carolina University.
BCM: Are the areas described in Kephart's book still intact…could a person go there and walk the same trails and mountains?
Daniel: Kephart was also a naturalist and as the chain saw became a threat to this mountain 'Eden', he had a vision for a National Park. He volunteered much of his life in the mapping of the Appalachian Trail and lobbying for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. In his honor, a mountain in the Smokies bears his name. Today you can hike up the Hazel Creek drainage where Kephart's rude little cabin stood and search the dark laurel for his ghost.
BCM: The CD is full of wonderful songs that set Kephart's writing to music. Describe the recording process.
Daniel: To get a strong regional appeal, I chose to produce the CD in North Carolina, my home state. I contacted my old friend Jerry Brown, from Chapel Hill and together we laid down the demo tracks for the CD in his home studio affectionately nicknamed the "Rubber Room". We used Neumann mics and recorded straight to an ADAT multi track recording system. Jerry helped me to make good digital recordings of the song prototypes, around which the many other tracks would be layered and built. He deserves a lion's share of the credit for this project.
BCM: Your choice of musicians is interesting…how did you settle on your voices and pickers?
Daniel: Our concept was to select voices that represented different characters from Kephart's book. For example, the voice of Kephart was assigned to Peter Rowan. The voice of the "native" was given to Jim Watson and Scotty Huffman. This strategy added to the personalization of the project and gave life to the characters. For the core sound we settled on Jack Lawrence - guitar, Craig Smith - banjo, Robby Link - bass, Tony Williamson - mandolin and Rickie Simplins - fiddle. Guest musicians included; Mary Miller, (my wife) - lead and harmony vocals, Tim O'Brien - lead vocal and Milton Gore(my brother) - lead guitar.
BCM: Do you have a favorite song on the CD?
Daniel: One of my favorites is the song "A Dream of Bear". This one has a built-in joke which is set up by the chorus which echos the superstition that dreams foretell the hunt. The punch-line comes at the end when Kephart reveals his dream and spoils the hunt for himself. Lyrically, the song is very graphic: liars get blown out of Carolina, dogs upset the fire, moonshine is passed around, and songs are acted out to imaginary banjos. Scotty nails this one with his singing!
BCM: What's next and where do you go from here?
Daniel: I am currently working on producing a staged adaptation of "Our Southern Highlanders" for one of the play-houses in Western North Carolina. Kephart's grandchildren have expressed an interest in seeing more done with their grandfather's writings, and their ideas are being considered. I plan to include a live band as part of the show, performing a mix of traditional mountain music and selections from our CD. Last summer I completed a speaking tour of several libraries in the Smokies where we featured our show of live songs, stories and slides. This response suggests a strong desire for more regional material performed in and around the Smokies.
Next year I plan to get back to the "Rubber Room" to record a project that I had planned before "Ways That Are Dark" came about. This project will not be done in the song-cycle style but will be all original songs and tunes.
To order this wonderful musical history of the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina:
Elephant Rock Records
PO Box 20041 Spokane, WA 99204
Web site: www.elephantrock.com