R. Stevie Moore's "diary" now numbers 200 home-recorded tapes and nine albums.
by Robert Gordon
It's a classic picture: the artist alone, late at night, a bare bulb burning overhead, squinted eyes beneath furrowed brow. Creating.
Well, that image is kind of true for R. Stevie Moore; certainly way more true for him than for most artists in the music biz-ness.
R. Stevie Moore, who usually plays all of the instruments on his recordings, is more than a one-man band. The New Jersey-based singer/songwriter/performer/producer/ distributor/agent says, "I am my own record company, in a real casual sort of way." That's "record" as in "recording," read "tape." His R. Stevie Moore Cassette Club has released nearly 200 tapes of original material (the exact figure, as of this writing, was in the 180-190 area) and the selecion of styles is at least as diverse as that of the Columbia Record Club. "My religion is variety," Moore states.
His most recent vinyl release, his ninth, demonstrates his creed. Teenage Spectacular (New Rose) is made up of pop material, ethereal contemplations, lounge jazz, sound collages and a semi-rocking version of "The Cover of the Rolling Stone." As on his many cassettes, Moore exercises total artistic control on his albums. His earlier work brought comparisons with Todd Rundgren, Frank Zappa and other studio innovators, but Moore no longer feels the kinship. "I've already crossed the barrier of not being influenced by people other than myself. After 190 releases...
"It is a very manic, primal scream kind of thing to do, to put the diary together," says Moore. That he refers to his catalog of tapes as his "diary" is telling, for it is a chronicle not ony of one man's life, but of his emotions too.
Moore was born and raised in Nashville, the son of Bob Moore, a busy session man and bassist to Elvis Presley for 10 years. (No relation to Scotty Moore.) Hanging out in recording studios was routine for the young Stevie, with his first appearane on vinyl at age nine, singing "But You Love Me, Daddy" on a Jim Reeves song. By the time he was a teenager, he had his own reputation as a session musician and was playing with Earl Scruggs ("I grew up with the Scruggs family; Randy Scruggs and I went to school together"), Perry Como, the Grand Ole Opry and others.
His home taping began as a response to the session work. "I didn't like the Nashville scene," he recalls. "I despised country music, and I still do, except for the masters. I was frustrated trying to be a rock & roller in Nashville. So I'd come home and that's when I started making my manic tapes, as a release from those sessions."
The mania soon turned to melody, with Moore recording well-crafted material. "The charm of the 'Nashville Recordings' is that they are much more innocent," he says. The first tapes in the catalog, dating back to 1968, document Moore's learning to play, his experimentations and his early attempts at the craft. By 1974, he had assumed control of his home recording setup and was comfortable writing songs. The output began.
While his leanings toward rock & roll did not please his father, they caught the attention of an uncle in New Jersey, who financed a demo tape. Ultimately released independently as an album, Phonography reveals the many eccentricities in the performer's character and is far from what a Nashville exec could possibly be expected to jump on. Moore introduces himself through occasional quirky dialogues between songs; essentially Moore talking to himself. One can imagine the reaction on a Nashville exec's face, searching for the Kenny Rogers-to-be.
Rock & roll eventually led Moore north in 1978, the year Phonography received a limited public release and attracted some attention. "The big thing [for me] started with Ira Robbins at Trouser Press," Moore continues. "He took me under his wing and I started advertising. The Residents were big fans back then.
"In 1980, I suddenly came to the realization," he continues, "that the whole cassette phenomenon [had] begun. It became popular back then, the concept that anybody can make their own record. By then I already had 50 or so tapes." The Club was born.
As the tapography shows, Moore was extremely prolific during the early Eighties; membership in the Tape Club grew. Patrick Mathe at New Rose Records heard the voice and invited Stevie into the studio to record some of his favorite selections from over the years. Everything (You Always Wanted to Know About R. Stevie Moore but Were Afraid to Ask) was a double album that introduced him to Europeans and led to more releases in France and the U.K. And more members in the Tape Club. "I'll get very depressed when I start not getting much mail," Moore says. "That happens, but there are also times when I can't control it all.
"And I'm a big proponent of 'steal this tape.' I believe nobody owns anything, even though it's suicidal. You've got a copy of my tape, tape it for your friends. Home taping is not killing music, it's killing the music business."
He notes that his latest record was the most enjoyable project of his career, indicative of his growing comfort in the larger studio situation. "For many years," he says, "my main recording setup was two stereo reel-to-reels bouncing back and forth. Generations. It's just basic tape recorders. I don't even have a mixing board, I'm just using a little toy that's dirty."
He is somewhat baffled at the elusiveness of the industry. "Songwriting is what makes me stand apart," he says. "That's what bums me out about these modern alternative artists. They're not really writing songs. There's no melody happening anymore, it's all beat." But he is a realist about the workings of the industry. "It sucks you right in, even if you try to deny it. It's a horrible wasteland, the way it milks you. But if they came beckoning, it would be hard to resist."
Projects on the horizon include continued recording at home, as well as some new directions: Moore recently received two VCRs. Introducing: The R. Stevie Moore Videocassette Club. (It's true.) "It's certainly not MTV," he says, "it's just collage. It's all home done, like my whole life is.
"It's a silly thing to have everything written released," he says, "but that's the way it's been and I can't back out now. People fall in love with something totally original and private."
His diligent years of production have earned him a reputation beyond the world of d.i.y. "It's interesting that I've become the king of home recording," he says. "Nowadays, everyone and his brother has his own four-song cassette out. I'm amused by that, but I have days and days of stuff. Good stuff."