Begun Wed 21 April 04 ...flooding into the mind of the concerned young adult
Q: When did you first do any home recording?
A: That would be approximately 1965 in Madison TN at age 13 on a small portable Claricon tape recorder with 3 inch reels at 1 7/8 ips. I grew up with my musician father having various tape machines in the house; in fact, the earliest surviving recording of my voice is from 5 January 1957 (a week before my 5th birthday) when Dad and Uncle Harry Palmer (age 14) recorded the kids talking and singing. That was taped on a large Crown mono professional model (which I would later utilize in tandem with other decks up until 1974).
Q: What was it?
A: My Claricon tapes were just typical teenage immaturity with friends. In about 1966 thru 1970, I gradually began teaching myself how to stack instruments & voices using additional tape recorders, usually only overdubbing with the microphone near a loud speaker to pick up the previous part as it played back! When stereo reel-to-reel decks appeared (usually Realistic/Radio Shack and then Sony), it was a natural progression to learn "line in" sound-on-sound overdubbing. At the same time all of this was developing, so too were my basic songwriting & arranging abilities slowly improving along with the technical craft.
Q: What did you do it with?
A: Naive overambition and hopeful determination. And maybe some inherited talent.
Q: And what did you do with it?
A: Had lotsa fun. Entertained my buddies. Unknowingly planted the seeds for what would eventually become my life's work. But naturally at that embryonic stage, it was never anything serious with which I could expect to impress important "career" contacts (like my father). But most importantly, I SAVED it.
Q: Why did your dad have tape recorders lying around?
A: As stated, he was a professional musician himself. Not a home recordist or songwriter; Bob Moore was the top rated studio bass fiddle player in town, playing on thousands of Nashville sessions by all the major country artists of the 50s & 60s. So it was only natural that he'd own a tape recorder, to be able to playback tape reels of various things at home. I don't recall that it was ever really used for mere entertainment purposes (we didn't have any pre-recorded popular albums on reel-to-reels for listening... although Dad did collect or compile certain favorite recordings on tape. He had lots of common pop and jazz LPs.).
Q: What music were you listening to when you grew up?
A: The usual fifties oldies, of course. I'd always hear what Dad was playing on, but oddly our family didn't have a particularly big listening habit of the C&W hit parade. Just took it for granted, I guess. This was Dad's occupation. Yet I was VERY much impressed at an early age by his affection of now-classic jazz records. Bethlehem, Savoy, Blue Note, Prestige, Pacific Jazz, Royal Roost, Contemporary... all the vintage bop labels and blowers. And vocal groups like the Four Freshmen and Hi-Los. He himself became a hot self-taught jazz bassist as well (although Nashville had very little to offer in this elite recording genre; he would often join his hillbilly sessionmates in wild afterhours jams and nightclubs).
Q: Can you remember the first song you ever wrote?
A: Not specifically, the actual timeline is hazy and undocumented; but it may be "Grease" (a wacky Mothers-influenced piano-based 'suite', available on the tape of the same name, from 1968). All of my first recorded guitar-written compositions (some as collaborations with friends) appear on my very first tape "Stevie Moore On Graycroft" [the street where we lived]). Mostly folky, and some bossanova sambas too (which were the rage circa mid-sixties). Not much hard rock or blues-based writing, though I was playing in Top 40 electric rock 'n roll combos all along. Biggest early influences were melodic pop like Roy Orbison (who my dad produced) and all the top groups like Beach Boys, Beatles, Four Seasons, the basic hit 45s of the day... and offbeat stuff like Zappa and The Fugs too. And always dug novelty & 'bad' records, back from when I was a preteen youngster. Which might explain my entire career's inescapable sense of humor.
Q: Do you remember any particular records that your father made?
A: You kidding? Nearly all of them, from the banal to the sublime. In most cases, though, the impact of the most important ones didn't truly affect me until much later, especially the hardcore country. As I said, as a youth I simply took it all for granted. And when I was 12, Beatlemania hit and hit hard! So throughout the sixties, I had virtually no interest in what was coming out of Nashville. But I was aware of it all, of course. Consider the startling fact that from 1958 through 1968, Bob Moore played bass on mostly ALL of Elvis Presley's best studio stuff... I now pinch myself and ask, what was it like for me back then?? What in the world could I have been thinking? Well, it didn't mean that much, can you believe it?! I was swept up in the new youth revolution, my impressionable teenage head was on another planet!
But in the past 25 years, I relish in the deep pride that my father was so important to so many classic records and vital artists. It took growing up and getting far away from it for me to appreciate vintage country music.
Q: What did he think about your recordings?
A: Our communication was always rather strained, so there was never any kind of shared bond when it came to my own odd music. For awhile, I began to step into Dad's shoes and was able to play bass on many small scale sessions. It was obvious I had the quick ear to be more than adequate for the job required, but I grew so intensely bored of that elementary musical style that it was clearly not my bag. And the manic home recordings I was making had no place to be heard in that environment. So, no, my father never understood my weird rock n' roll at all. And I didn't bother "auditioning" it for him or his fellow music business buds.
Q: What is the RSM Cassette Club and how did it start?
A: Jump ahead to New Jersey 1981. My uncle Harry Palmer was the opposite side of the coin than my father; he fully realized my talent potential in an underground rock mindset, and he nurtured it with genuine support for years until I finally moved away from Nashville in '78. And that's when we two released my first vinyl records on H.P. Music. Shortly thereafter, it just fell into place: make available all of my growing tape reel archive to sell on the rapidly popularized cassette format. We placed adverts, and got the buzz started mainly through word of mouth. I always enjoyed pretending I was running my own tiny label with a large roster of artists (me), and the catalog itself already had the advantage of a hefty quantity of titles. So, long before the internet, I slowly grasped the ideals of personally connecting with an audience via the mail. Fans around the world can belong to my special collectors club. The more titles customers buy, the more intimate attention they get, directly from the artist.
And so it's been growing ever since.
Q: Could you give a couple of examples of tracks your father played on? (that would help illustrate the answer to the earlier question).
A: Fifties: mainly the top country artists recording for Owen Bradley (Decca), Chet Atkins (RCA) and Don Law (Columbia), as well as other labels like MGM and Capitol. Red Foley, Little Jimmy Dickens, Webb Pierce, Marty Robbins, Eddy Arnold, Ernest Tubb, The Carter Family, Johnny Horton, Kitty Wells, Flatt and Scruggs... then it all exploded in the early sixties, when country crossed over into pop bigtime: Patsy Cline, Elvis, Jim Reeves, Brenda Lee, Johnny Cash, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers... and many many others. Not specific recognizable tracks as much as virtually all of their singles and album sides.
Bob's other major accomplishment was founding Monument Records in 1959, which went on to soar with Roy Orbison's global stardom. Dad even had an instrumental Top 10 smash single called "Mexico" (a mariachi-trumpets classic which curiously predated Herb Alpert & Tijuana Brass' massive success).
Q: I get the impression we skipped a bit when I asked you about the cassette club. I think I imagined that it started right back when you were first taping anything. But of course it couldn't have done as they didn't have cassettes in those days. So was "Phonography" the first example of RSM that you could go out and buy?
A: The H.P. records were miniscule pressings with no effective distribution, so, no, you could hardly find my albums in normal stores at that time. They were truly "cult" items.
Q: So what was the first music you made that it was possible for someone to buy in any form at all?
A: Though Phonography was originally a mere 100 pressing run (April '76, with cover slicks literally pasted on by hand at home), when I moved to NJ and H.P. was officially launched, that's when we had "product" (Phonography reissued, Stance EP, and 2nd album Delicate Tension)... and some copies got out there for purchase. So you could say that's precisely when there was first any sort of supply available. Somehow these early records even made it to UK and Europe, which helped to jumpstart a more international awareness than I was used to.
Q: Tell us a bit more about who Uncle Harry was?
A: Born and raised in Jersey (like his sister, my mother Betty). He was the leader of a great Boston psych-pop group called Ford Theatre in the late 60's on ABC Records. Then he went on the produce artists in the 70's. After that he moved into the business side of music, both retail and finally as executive positions with several major labels in NYC. Yet he was never able to get any serious interest in my homemade creations.
Q: Did Uncle Harry think there was a possibility that you could be more commercially successful?
A: I honestly believe he did, yes. It was consistently frustrating for us both, feeling so clueless regarding any positive marketing ploy. The lo-fi nature of my stuff was always instantly a mark against us getting this stuff heard and exploited. Only adventurous ears would fully get the magic beneath the murky noise, but nobody in power would dare touch it. And my somewhat reclusive lifestyle didn't help matters either.
Q: Can you give a description of the pre-Phonography recording process? What other people were involved? (You may name models of microphone etc? Trust me I'm a recording engineer, it'll be interesting.)
A: Well, let me think about this for just a second. It's rather basic information, geared to the early 70s. Almost always alone, yet friends or my girl could always appear on mike if I was in the middle of something. I simply used 2 reel-to-reel stereo tape recorders in tandem with each other; the main magic was created with MIC/LINE mixing, whereas I'd feed an already recorded basic track from one playback deck into the back line inputs of the 2nd deck, while my new overdubs would go into the front mic inputs. And the key was to keep the levels of the overdubs back in the balance as not to bury the early music bed. Very important, because since the entire process meant multiple generation copying, the quality of the earliest takes would naturally deteriorate. So I would follow this same method over and over until I felt finished with the song, sometimes as many as 8-10 generations of copying. In effect, the tune would self-evolve & mix itself as it went along, no way to fix the balances or mistakes later.
I principally used a Sony 640B 1/4 track machine, with another Teac 2340 1/2 track, both spinning at 7 1/2 ips. For those years I owned only one cheap Sony cardioid microphone (pictured on the back cover of the original pressing). And several little devices (brand names forgotten) for tape echo, phasing, distortion pedals and the like. That's it. Never any professional toys nor multitrack (til years later). I was writing and recording constantly, just wallowing in the embryonic joys of self-teaching as I moved thru the building-block process.
Q: Any live performances back then?
A: No, oddly there was absolutely no impetus at that point. I was too new at it. Loved my onemanband recording to death, but didn't think I could actually perform it. We'd play for pals in living rooms but that's about it. There were no venues in Nashville for any kind of experimentally creative rock; just merely organic hippie singer-songwriter showcases, which I had no interest in stooping down to. I wanted to be a glittery star in my fantasy head. And of course, I was... when my tapedecks were nearby.
Q: How did you and Harry decide to put something on vinyl for the first time?
A: Out of all the reels I was mailing to him in New Jersey, he simply spliced together his favorites into what he thought would make the consummate first album, including a variety of my "song songs" interspersed with snippets of spoken word vignettes and sound effects (a "radio show" concept which ultimately resembled my own original reel-tape "albums" format).
Q: And were there particular sessions designed for Phonography? Or was it a compilation of the best recording you'd been doing anyway?
A: No, nothing specifically devised for Phonography at all. And yes, it was all handpicked from numerous sources. The whole LP is Harry's edit.
Q: How did you wind up on the Recommended sampler LP? (That was the first time I ever heard of you.)
A: Now that's a story I'd love for you to hear. If I could only remember my name. Lotsa people say that same thing, that it was their 1st exposure to me. Y'know, just lately I've been extremely curious about how this initially came about. I need to ask Chris Cutler, he'll likely recall. Lemme get back to you on this. Can I put you on hold? (long pause, prerecorded corporate background music plays, some version of a George Michael hit.) Okay, I'm back, sorry. Just got the details from Chris himself: turns out it was the Residents who introduced him to my HP records when he visited them in San Francisco late '78, then he wrote me and took some small stock for distribution thru Recommended; several years later he asked for something for his samplers.
Q: So what was the original reaction to Phonography?
A: Mixed. Slow to gather any attention, but with help from Ira Robbins' Trouser Press magazine reviews, the word began to spread. I don't know about number of units sold. What happened, see, was a specific chain of events: the buzz around the elusive *first* (1976 homemade) issue of Phonography influenced my decision to move to NJ... then, right before I did, Harry pressed up the 4-song 7" E.P. "Four From Phonography", the very first H.P. Music record ever released (in quantity). We placed ads in underground zines, including New York Rocker. Then it wasn't too long before we decided to press up a hot 12" 45, featuring newer and more dynamic recordings than the earlier Phonography material. That e.p. disc was called "Stance", and then quickly followed the DELICATE TENSION album (spotlighting many brand new tapes from my first NJ sessions). It was *then* that Phonography was slated for a repressing. Kinda confusing, but all three H.P. records came out in a short timespan to try and capitalize on the emerging underground hype.
Q: Were there any differences in the way Delicate Tension was made? - either in the writing and recording process, or in the way it was put together and released?
A: Totally different circumstances. Mainly in the fact that Phonography included home recordings only from 1974 to 1976. My tapedeck techniques back then were as stated above: cheaply bouncing numerous instruments over and over until it was time to stop overdubbing before the quality deteriorated to unlistenability. The early method was usually to add the lead vocal last. I'd also record basic snare drum and hi-hat cymbal near the end.
By 1976-77, the tape machines improved, as well as access to better drum kits, microphones, effects and even graduating to 4-track. Therefore, the tunes chosen for Stance and DT were a huge sonic improvement, top to bottom. Finally, I reversed the old method by now recording drums *first*, giving the eventually completed production much more power and tighter rhythmic feel. More like a full band than a one-man experiment. "Dance Man" and "Manufacturers" on Stance were the first examples put on vinyl.
As regards to the compilation of Delicate Tension, that was now done by me. By this time, I had resumed home recording in my new northern location. And the big musical change came in getting a Nashville friend to mail me his high quality drum tracks, which I completed as brand new songs, and which ultimately became most of the first side of DT.
Q: How do you think those two albums compare to each other?
A: Hard to be objective about that. They're so different, I think. Apples and oranges, I certainly don't rank one over the other. There's no mistaking the immediate impression of the obvious progress between early and late seventies audio fidelity. And perhaps the music-style changes of that decade are quite noticable too. Phonography is more psychedelicized by late 60s influences, and Delicate Tension mirrors the glam, prog and punk of the years following.
Q: Let's return to the RSM cassette club and ask you: did you make absolutely everything you recorded available? What, you never recorded anything you didn't like afterwards?
A: I think I might have imposed an unfair rule upon myself early on... that I had absolutely nothing to hide, no reason whatsoever to trash a recording effort, just because I may have deemed it as a failure. It's all simply evidence of my creative attempts, win or lose. You could say that I take myself and my every waking moment far too seriously, eh? How do I put this? There is no true best of R. Stevie Moore, because the essence of my long career has been everything inclusive, as a whole. Sure, there have been countless recordings, aborted or completed, which I was not at all satisfied with. So what? My modus operandi doesn't dictate that I should automatically withhold them from view. I'm not embarrassed by anything I put to tape. Total freedom of choice. All or nothing. I truly believe I am *that* good, so that my missteps fall right into place with my successes. This is the story of my life, warts and all. There exist many fans who cherish the very same things others may despise. So why bother editing my skewed viewpoint? I can't tell what's right or wrong anymore. But I do know that this suits me just fine. No regrets.
Q: ...and the other vinyl record of yours I listened to a lot back then was the double album which came out on a French label, the name of which escapes me for the moment. How did that one come about? (I think that was the one with Holocaust Parade on it wasn't it?)
A: Another long and deeply involved saga. Perhaps one of the most important events in my entire life. You're referring to EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT R. STEVIE MOORE, BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK. New Rose Records 1984. What happened was: Patrick Mathe, the head of that label, first contacted me and Harry in 1978, and wished to issue a French single of the most well-known song from Phonography, "Goodbye Piano" on his label Flamingo. Which we were elated about. A true collector's international rarity. Of course, nothing ever happened with that seven-incher, saleswise. I've no idea how Patrick found us. And he was virtually forgotten.
Fast forward five years later, and he resumed communication. He was having much success with his next label, New Rose, and requested RSM material for possible release. By 1983, my New Jersey pal Irwin Chusid was helping to figure out new ways to market my growing tape catalog, and he had assembled four sixty minute cassette compilations, COMPS 1 through 4. Like most of my collections, they ran the gamut of the best of my many musical styles. I mailed these 4 tapes to Patrick, and he was so impressed that he whittled them down for a full length double album, with deluxe shiny gatefold sleeve printed in striking green and red colours. Could my good fortune have been any grander!
Thus began an amazing stint throughout the 80s of 4 major RSM New Rose albums. And yet again, we never had any sales to speak of. The global exposure, however, was priceless.
Q: The thing about the Residents that Chris Cutler mentioned is interesting - you don't happen to know how they knew about you?
A: Rewind back to 1978. Ira Robbins' Trouser Press magazine January issue featured the first ever published review of Phonography (before it was even pressed as being officially available). Also reviewed (and advertised) in that same rag was The Residents' latest "Duck Stab" e.p. Naturally, Harry and I immediately wrote to them, and we traded our records. They became fast fans, gushing about the bizarre "Goodbye Piano". For a short time after that, I tried to interest their label Ralph in releasing some RSM, but it never materialized.
Q: What else is interesting about this period that I don't know about? (Ha. Bet you didn't think the questions would be this incisive).
A: Sheesh, as if that's not enough? Always leave them wanting moore. When I think of something, I'll ring you.
Q: I asked Terry Burrows to suggest a couple of interview questions, and he said I should ask you about a band you were in called Eros Ethos. So, my question is, what was this band you were in called Eros Ethos?
A: Victor Lovera. where do i begin?
Eros Ethos was a tape, not a band. Victor and I wrote & recorded much incredible music together during the early-mid '70s, and we naturally made up band names for our projects (you guys certainly know about that concept!), but there really never were any proper performing collectives. In chronological order, our fantasy "groups" were called JONES, EENQUE, GOODS, ETHOS, ETHOS OF AMERICA, TUNX, NASHVILLE SMASHERS. None of these bands really played any quality gigs of note.
So now I've slowly been sending my friend in Scotland Yukio Yung many CDs of choice Loveramoore tunes. We plan to record many new cover versions, and bring him back to life. Hopefully you too get to experience the obscure wonder of VL as well, asap. Stewart Mason has begun to enter and review these same groovy discs at All Music Guide.
Vic passed away May 1998 in NYC, age 48. Here's my website for him. Please use it for your data research.
Q: Terry also wanted me to ask you how you maintained your fine beard, and, if you were on "queer eye for the straight guy" what are the top 5 things they would change? (Now I would never have thought of that.)
A: My fine beard. Stop makin fun o' me! Fess up, it makes this kid look older, more distinguished. I'm 10,000 years old, man. Seriously, I can't really maintain it that well. Grows wild like white weeds, too lazy to shave every morning (though I did actually dare to trim it last week). I feel like an alien by my choice to keep a beard in 2004. Fucking kids yell out at me on the streets, "Hey Santa Claus!" Why, I'm just a filthy mountain man, a grand ole philosopher from the hills, the elderly bitter recluse composer. Why mere facial hair has become so completely out of style in the new millenium escapes this author. Let me just hide away in my 60s-70s timewarp mindset. It gives me strength, power, wisdom. And fleas. HA!!!
Queer Eye. (How'd you know I was closet bisexual? Stop makin fun o' me!) RSM has no idea about this latest brainless entertainment craze. Don't care to keep up with the turnstile of modern TV & film reality gameshow pop culture. No way. What's the goddamned appeal, I ask you? Garbage! Nevertheless, I do harbor countless secret sexual persuasions in my own private head. Leave it at that. Gimme some skin. Wet wet wet.
If I was on that QE4SG episode, they'd probably wanna change my blood pressure to below zero. And feed me organic lentil soup. And dye my beard turquoise.
Let us continue this mayhem!
Q: The 70's, the 80's, the 90's. Compare and contrast. (What they were like for you, but also for music generally).
Q: What do you think about the way you've never had a big number one hit single and Britney Spears HAS. (For god's sake).
A: Don't even go there. Ghastly, innit?
Q: What's the best album ever made? And what's the best film ever made?
A: Ranking, sorry I hate it. There's no "one" best-of anything. Changes daily, doesn't it? Right now the best album ever is MO-DETTES "...The Story So Far..." Yup, thassright. Ask me again tomorrow. Film? Bah, I just don't go for cinema like 98% of the fanatical populace seems to. Can't sit unmoved for an hour and a half. Follow the plot. Yeh, right. Here, listen to this entire opera boxset without stopping. Here, read this thick novel, call me back next month. "The Wizard Of Oz" will simply never be topped. Period. I also USEDTA like Debbie Does Dallas, Blood Feast, Day The Earth Stood Still, The Time Machine, Circus Of Horrors, the 1962 movie that starred both Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, Citizen Mondo Cane, and The Complete History Of The World. And the envelope goes to... Short Documentaries!
Q: Which of your albums do you think was the most artistically successful? (Or are album releases irrelevant to the way you work?)
A: I don't know!! I guess the irrelevant tag must apply, but I resist considering *anything* about my career as irrelevant. Official albums, original sequence hometapes, recurring songs appearing over and over, vinyl, little singles tastes, overdosed multiple remixes collections, I can't really rank which are the most appealing to me, or more importantly, which formats do me the best good or harm. "Artistically successful": would that include the best-of popsongs comps? No, certainly not to the fan of my experimental bent. And vice versa. So I simply cannot say. I have just released my latest double CDR set, Conscientious Objector, and naturally I favor this amazing progression as one of my best ever. I would, wouldn't I? But who's to say that it is more artistically successful than Phonography itself? And guess what? Even this "sprawling" brand new record needs severe pruning! Surprised?
Q: Has your "make everything you record available" approach stopped you being commercially successful? What do you think about commercial success?
A: Do you think my lack of a strict editor has hampered me? I'm clueless. There are those who would wholeheartedly agree with that presumption. Just too much material to locate the cream of the crop. Makes sense, doesn't it? So, who's gonna put the straight jacket on me? And when? Is it too late now?
Am I a song man? Or an album man? Or a diary man? Or a career man? A singer man? A writer man? A musician man? A boy band? You tell me!
It's too easy for stubborn ole me to say, Bullshit! I am what I am, I do what I do, I love it all, I pride myself in the Variety aspect, blah blah blah. Find me a manager dude who'll instinctively know which exact highlights to exploit, and I'll sign the dotted line. Why is it so hard? Who can blame the prolific man? This has been such an issue for so many years that I am at a loss for solutions to the dilemma, if it is a dilemma.
Commercial success, come now. There's no money in the arts. Haven't you heard the news? All R. Stevie needs is a simple living. No wealth whatsoever. At this point, I painfully remain below poverty level. So do the basic math. Buy me a hot dog.
Q: The other thing is - going back to your dad again - I'll probably shorten that section of the interview (what with this being about you and not him after all) but I was wondering if there was a particular anecdote you could put in to illustrate how significant he was as a Nashville session man. I'm imagining something like:Bob Moore comes home from work.. . . . . . .
Bob: Hello there young R. Stevie. I've come home from work now.
Stevie: Hello Pater, did all go well at the office today? I myself recorded 73 hours of weird shit.
Bob: Hell no, that Elvis Presley is such a darned fool.
Stevie: Surely that can't be true Pater?
Bob: Hell yes. We recorded a fine version of a new song called "Love me tender". It was 23 minutes long with a free jazz exploration and some dadaist poetry in the middle - just the sort of thing the kids dig in this day and age.
Stevie: That sounds cool daddy. I expect you played an excellent 7 minute bass solo in there too.
Bob: Yes I did. Two. Through a fuzz box and a big science fiction echo machine powered by squirrels.
Bob: But that fool Elvis didn't like it and we had to record a short version instead.
Stevie: Damn. He should never have joined the army.
Or maybe he never spoke about his work?
I had to ask.
A: I really like that story, pal. Tell me another!
Bob Moore was a highly significant session man. But no, he didn't talk much about his work. And I can't really tell you whether that was a good thing or not, then or now. But I believe Dad was quietly proud of his accomplishments throughout the decades.
Q: There's one other technical question also: why did you move to NJ?
A: The lure of NYC's wide open tastes vs. Nashville's hicktown limitations. Did I ever find what I was searching for, 26 years later? NOT YET! Cruel apathy is global. Oh the humanity!
TO BE CONTINUE