Don't look back: R. Stevie Moore, onetime Nashvillian and legendary pop iconoclast
R. Stevie Moore may be the most acclaimed underground pop musician ever to come out of–or escape from–Nashville. He's undoubtedly the most prolific. And yet countless LPs, cassettes, and CD compilations haven't made Moore's music any easier to find. Next month, the New Mexico label Flamingo Records releases his seminal 1976 LP Phonography on CD for the first time, offering '90s listeners another chance to connect with this legendary indie figure.
The son of Bob Moore, the renowned bassist who recorded with everyone from Patsy Cline to Elvis Presley as part of Music Row's "A-Team," Moore grew up in Madison and attended Madison High. He sang on a Jim Reeves single when he was 7 years old, and by the late 1960s and early '70s he was getting some work as a session musician, playing bass on a Perry Como record and lead guitar on an early Manhattans cut. He also appeared briefly as a Grand Ole Opry sideman, according to Smithereens drummer and rock historian Dennis Diken.
But Moore was fascinated by bizarre pop, rock, and electronic records that were anathema to the Nashville music industry, and as a high-schooler in the late '60s, he began slipping into the studio to experiment. With a group of like-minded friends, including Billy Anderson, Roger Ferguson, and the late folksinger Victor Lovera, he formed a series of short-lived early-'70s Nashville bands, among them Ethos, Fugto, and Billy A. and the Swings. He spent his spare time recording dozens of homemade songs guaranteed to elicit blank stares from Music Row. From tapes of these one-man-band recordings, made between 1972 and 1974, Moore's uncle compiled the tracks that make up Phonography, releasing the record on his own HP label in 1976.
Disgusted with the local music scene, and frustrated by his lack of attention, Moore left Nashville in 1978 and moved to New Jersey, where he currently works in a Montclair record store. But his cult following has grown through the years, thanks to a mind-boggling series of home-produced cassettes. Since the late 1970s, through his R. Stevie Moore Cassette Club, Moore has issued at least 233 tapes of found sounds and D.I.Y. pop. In The Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock, Ira Robbins calls his prodigious output an "awesome–and seemingly bottomless—well of talent."
"A friend of mine calls him 'the world's most criminally underfunded tribute artist,' " says Miles Goosens, a Nashville-based technical trainer for First American National Bank who operates the R. Stevie Moore Web site. "He has such diverse influences; it's as if you'd taken the Beatles, Captain Beefheart, Zappa, the Bonzo Dog Band, XTC, and the Beach Boys, and thrown them in a blender."
The reissued Phonography will have nine bonus tracks, along with extensive liner notes by Diken; it should be out in a couple of weeks. After that, Flamingo plans a CD reissue of Moore's Delicate Tension LP, which contains more of his Nashville recordings. Ordering information can be found on Goosens' web site. In the meantime, Goosens suggests the best introduction to Moore is through the musician's tapes, which he compares to radio shows. Moore still puts out several tapes every year; for a catalog, send two 32-cent stamps to the R. Stevie Moore Cassette Club, 14 Evelyn Place #4, Bloomfield NJ 07003.