In the song "Nashville Cats," The Lovin' Spoonful sing that there's "thirteen-hundred-fifty-two guitar pickers in Nashville." That's a delirious understatement. Nashville is one of the most productive music capitals of the world. Some of the most evocative, compelling, subtle, and Honest American music has been nurtured and recorded there. I'm no country music buff myself, but some of my favorite pop music of the '60s was recorded in Nashville. Skeeter Davis, Chet Atkins, Sue Thompson, Homer and Jethro, Roy Orbison, The Jordanaires, Brenda Lee– great songs; lovely melodies; ethereal harmonies; tight, if restrained, rock and roll. The way a soul fan can tell Motown, Nashville, too, has its own trademark sound.
There is a family there, among thousands, very deeply involved with music and the music business. There's Bob Moore, bassist extraordinaire, one of the unsung heroes of many a classic pop tune. Bob is THE bassist to have on your session. He backed up Elvis for many years. Also Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Don McLean, Willie Nelson, Loretta, Crystal, George and Tammy. You name it, if it came out of Nashville, Bob's on it, going on 25 years.
Daughter Linda Moore, age 27, Miss Tennessee, 1977. Georgeous, glamorous, talented. Currently singing and playing with Calamity Jane, 4-girl country group, one of Columbia Records most illustrious "products" these days.
Then we come to Robert Steven Moore a.k.a. R. Stevie Moore, age 31. Also a musician and composer. Son of Bob., brother of Linda; born in Nashville, 1952. Stayed 26 years, then split, vowing never to live there again.
Stevie and Bob don't talk much. There is between them a distance that can't be expressed in turnpike miles. It is musical. If Nashville is an uncertified, non-degree-granting university of higher musical knowledge, and Bob Moore could be considered one of the more distinguished professors, then R. Stevie Moore had all the important benefits of that education--then said "fuck it" and dropped out.
He now lives in Upper Montclair, New Jersey (far enough from New York that there's more trees than houses, close enough to feel the cultural heat). Being 950 miles away from Nashville, Stevie professes a certain fondness for the music he grew up with, "dad's music." It's a nice place to listen to, but he wouldn't want to live there. In the intervening years, there's been just too much Eno, 1/2 Jap, PiL, John Cage, Spike Jones and Killing Joke for Stevie ever to go back. So he inhabits his own musical Disneyworld, which he created by spending a tremendous amount of time over the past 10 years sitting in front of two chronically-malfunctioning 1/4 track tape decks. He is a one-man band. King of the Overdubs. Stevie builds songs, poptones, and composes other pieces that don't quite fit the "songs" form, but are still recognizably musical. He has compiled an audio diary chronicaling his development as an unknown, but determined pop maestro. Fifty 60- or 90-minute open reel tapes, all of it erratic, some of it silly, abrasive, or self-indulgent (God, talk about people who never throw anything away), but lots of truly brilliant, and very, very, very, very distinctive.
R. Stevie is an ingenious musician, with a wry approach to pop music. You'd never know he came from Nashville. In fact, he is passionately, irredeemably Angloholic, which prompted journalist Michael Bloom to diagnose Steve's musical syndrome as "Muswell Hillbillies in reverse." An odd hybrid: the Nashville-London connection. And you thought Sparks were weird.
What does his music sound like? Eccentric--best word. Stevie knows all the pop gimmicks, and he has fun rearranging them, and ultimatley pinching you on the bum when you think you know what's coming next. He adores the two Franks--Zappa and Sinatra. Can't get more extreme than that. So his music sounds like The Mothers Meet The Beatles Meet The Residents. A list of his instrumentation wouldn't read much differently than that of any technically versatile, if untalented, six-piece pop combo playing for union scale at your cousin's wedding. Stevie will play anything he can get his hands on (except horns. Can't play them, doesn't like them, the former explaining the latter.) But all the ingredients don't add up anyway. R. Stevie Moore's music is a gestalt of unpredicatle factors. Over the years he's amassed quite a catalog of instant hits that never will be. Typical reaction of a first-time listener--"Hey, this is fun! Why isn't he on the radio?" How naive.
Of all Moore's musical heroes, the one he most closely resembles--temperamentally, and sometimes musically--is Brian Wilson: reclusive, fragile, spontaneous, an unrepentant prankster. Creative powers seemingly beyond his control. Refuses to perform live ("I'm a recording artist.")
R. Stevie Moore is not the Next Big Thing. He won't start any trends. There isn't anyone who could copy his idiosyncratic style, and there isn't much point in trying. It would be possible for another artist to cover one of his songs, because some have an immediate pop appeal. Others are impossible to duplicate, and even Stevie won't try. They just come from somewhere beyond the composer's control. Eccentric? You bet. Self-conscious? Sure. Talented? Well, he can't help it. Just seems to run in the family.