Bucketfull of Brains
about given up, the secret's
kept and kept so well"
R.S.M. February 1989
In respect of his music and his musical ideals, in particular, I hold singer, songwriter and multi- instrumentalist R. Stevie Moore in high esteem. His nine album output, to date, I consider to be one gem after another - virtually without exception. It is this tip of (as you will see) an enormous musical iceberg that I will be concentrating on in this article. To know R. Stevie is to love him, it's just that nobody seems to know of him. Hopefully this feature will change that in some way. But where to start?
In 1959 in Nashville, Tennessee, a 7 year old R. Stevie records a duet with country star Jim Reeves for the album "Jim Reeves And Some Friends" - that the young Moore was actually a friend of Reeves' is doubtful. What wasn't in doubt was the belief held by R. Stevie's father, hot session bassist Bob Moore, that his son would grow up in the family business. A life of M.O.R. country sessions with a fat paycheck at the end of the working week seemed to be how he saw his boy's future. R. Stevie had his own ideas about that; he loathed the "showbiz" country music scene he'd been suffocating in since he was a babe in arms.
In 1971 he quit college to concentrate on Hometaping - something that he had begun to do in 1968, as both a hobby and a general antidote to the hideous Nashville music machine he was involved with. Inspired by his ingestion of all the best the late 60's had to offer, Moore set about recording music and sounds on a reel-to-reel machine in his basement - painstakingly teaching himself overdubbing techniques, improvising and perfecting his playing and production skills. Many of these early Nashville recordings have drawn worthy comparisons to the like of Zappa, Rundgren, Barrett and The Beatles. During the next five years a large catalogue of music and nonsense was laid down on tape and consigned to racks on the basement walls. As soon as one tape was full, R.S.M. would break open a fresh blank, in a never-ending labour of love. His only audience were his friends and relatives. One of these fortunate few was Uncle Harry ("H.P." to his friends), who was a music publisher up north in New Jersey. R. Stevie kept up a constant correspondence with the receptive H.P. and barely a month went by without a new tape from his nephew dropping onto the doormat.
In 1976, while touring the mid-west with a lounge band covering Top Forty material (in another desperate attempt to break out of Nashville obscurity), Moore got a phone call from H.P.: "I think you're about ready" said Harry. Soon after H.P. paid for a hundred copies of an album compiled from Moore's tapes - to be sent out to test the water. American mag "Trouser Press" picked up on the record and gave it a rave review, calling it "an outrageous collection of musical brain spewage" and "a true slash of genius". "Phonography" indeed has all the hallmarks of what makes R.S.M. so vital; a broad pot pouri of sounds and ideas held together by superb songwriting, playing and producton. At the start of 1978, H.P. distilled 4 tracks from the album for commercial release on the "Four from Phonography" EP.
Encouraged by the success of this, R. Stevie made the big break and moved lock, stock and tape machines to New Jersey, vowing never to return to the despised Nashville. Next up was a 3 track 12" - "Stance", the A side of which is an 8 minute slab of ambient music and of little interest to anyone who doesn't like ambience! Fortunately the 2 tracks on the flip more than compensate for the drab lead cut. "Dance Man" and "Manufacturers" are sheer bliss, unforgettable songs with a wickedly swerving production. Almost immediately a second album, "Delicate Tension" and a commercial issue of "Phonography" followed. "Delicate Tension", again compiled from home studio tapes, is quite simply a masterpiece - full of the wit, charm and beauty that people "in the know" were already coming to expect from the man.
Yet for R. Stevie, getting his music pressed onto vinyl was only a small part of his overall plan. Still furiously home-taping, R. Stevie conceived a uniquely brave idea. In 1981 he launched the R. Stevie Moore Cassette Club; for just a few dollars you could buy any tape that R. Stevie had ever recorded, stretching back to 1968. Already his tape list read like a send-up of a major record company's roster and catalogue - the unknown talent with a collection of releases larger than most labels, each one marked from 1 to 10 for listenability quotient ("L.Q."), brilliant or awful, you could buy it. More often than not, the tapes were brilliant, collages of styles, influences, off-the-cuff jokes, all held together by the undeniable talent of R. Stevie Moore. Orders steadily came in as fans built up stacks of cassette mayhem. The occasional track would appear on various samplers. And still the highly prolific R.S.M. sat in his home studio finishing one tape after another.
By the end of '83, however, things seemed to be slowing down; the size of his Cassette Club following had levelled out and other than the occasional low-key gig, and his weekly college radio show, things seemed to be hitting a lull. Enter New Rose Records of France. Headmen Louis and Patrick had long been R.S.M. fans, considering him to be "one of the best songwriters of all-time".
Early in 1984, New Rose released "Everything" (a double-album compiling tapes from the Cassette catalogue recorded since 1974) - it was 100 minutes of pure bliss for all R. Stevie's fans who, largely (at this time) unaware of the existence of the Cassette Club, thought he had long since vanished into obscurity, Barrett-like. Being a double, "Everything" allowed R.S.M. full rein and it includes several of his more off-the-wall musical ideas. Still, the album remains one delight after another from start to finish. At the same time the Cuneiform label released the more concise "What's The Point?!" - also compiled from home tapes and another essential album.
The New Rose album proved so popular in France (indeed the version of "Chantilly Lace" culled from it became a hit single) that R. Stevie embarked on a promotional tour of the country. In typical Moore style, a documentary tape of his week long stay in Paris duly appeared on his tape list, along with a live-in-Paris concert tape. The following year saw the release of "Verve" on the small British label Hamster (again taken from the tape collection). The finished LP is
disappointingly variable in quality and leads too much towards his harsher, less melodic material - though there is enough interesting stuff to make it worthwhile.
Meanwhile, R. Stevie was busy in (for once) a real recording studio - working on his first New Rose album proper, "Glad Music" released in early '86. Finally given the full use of a bonafide studio, R. Stevie pulls out all the stops and the results are stunning; a perfectly crafted collection of pop psych gems each as lovely as the next. The following year saw a second studio recorded album, "Teenage Spectacular" - "the most enjoyable project of my career" according to the man himself, and another perfect album.
Finally, R. Stevie seemed to be doing everything right, and with two superb studio LPs under his belt seemed rightly poised to attract the larger following he so richly deserved. Yet, still, the majority of music listeners continue to ignore this remarkably talented man. Another highly enjoyable "home-tape" album "(1952-19??)" appeared on a label called Cordelia, was bought by the faithful few, and, as ever, ignored by everybody else.
And so we come to the present, and the "Warning" LP just released by New Rose - R. Stevie's ninth glorious album. Yet again Mr. Moore effortlessly confirms my belief, held since his stunning debut album "Phonography", that his musical genius knows no bounds. The quality and subtle power unleashed here is all the more remarkable when you realized that, if all his cassette (only) releases are taken into consideration, then "Warning" is, in reality, more like his 100th album to date (no, not a misprint, it's a conservative estimate).
This fourth New Rose release opens with a new version of his classic "Manufacturers" (originally on the "Stance" EP) and while R. Stevie can't hope to top the snarling, bubbling, mindbending original, he's come up with a sparklingly different rendering. From there, to the lovingly faithful rendition of The Fab Four's "Getting Better" that closes side two, R. Stevie leads you through a constantly shifting landscape of bedazzling melodic psych music tempered with an unerring pop sensibility that is in turn stretched, searched, shattered and smirked at by an intellect not content with God given genius alone. It is this constant pushing at the boundaries and conventions of his vast talent, guided by a perverse dry humour that gives R. Stevie's music its individuality and edge.
Moore is blessed with singing, playing and songwriting abilities most musicians can only aspire to. The sheer quantity and consistent quality of his work beggars all logical belief. Buying "Warning" will convince you of the talents of R. Stevie Moore far more eloquently and easily than my words ever could. On the back sleeve is a disclaimer from the man: "You may not like this record, it's filled with melodies, experiments, chords and naivete. Do not buy it if you're.... well, you know" (We know, Mr. Moore, we know!).
Following soon, on Hamster, the "Thoroughly Years" LP will draw from early material and serve as a companion to "Phonography". As ever, New Rose continue their support by compiling CD versions of the material they have released, a labour of love on their part.
As to the man himself, he's still there in New Jersey, still running his hugely impressive Cassette Club (tapes now approaching the 200 mark). 16 years of plugging away in his own unique style, yet still with only a modest following, R. Stevie, understandably, feels dispondent. He openly admits he hasn't written or recorded anything since "Warning" because interest in him is so scant; instead his creativity is directed towards video, even as I write, Mr. Moore is busily working on video versions of his vast back catalogue. He's already (prolific as ever) offering eight two-hour videos via the Cassette Club.
That this unbelievable apathy towards his music has finally undermined his confidence, to such an extent that R.S.M. has ceased recording is worse than criminal. With just a small proportion of his output committed to vinyl, he's proved time and again that he is without peer. He's a singer, songwriter and musician who has steadfastly refused to play a part in the music business, believing that music isn't a business but a creative process first and foremost. He stands alone in allowing complete access to every little wart of his astonishing musical outpourings and, by doing so, credits his fans with an intelligence and sophistication that most record companies would only sneer at.
I can do nothing more than express my admiration for R. Stevie Moore's ideals and urge whoever will listen to seek out his music for themselves.
With thanks to New Rose, Hamster and R.S.M. himself.
(drawing by BIZAARTVARK MD 89)
MD's Selected "Ten For Starters" Tapeography:
R. Stevie Moore Is Worth It / C90 / NJ146 / 1985
Two Evenings In New York Live / C90 / NY142 / 1985
Swing And A Miss / C90 / NT21 / 1977
Games And Groceries / C90 / NJ26 / 1978
Clack! / C60 / NY31 / 1980
Column 88 / C60 / NJ40 / 1981
Repertoire / C90 / NJ62 / 1983
R. Stevie Moore Gets Off / C60 / NJ105 / 1984
Purpose / C90 / NJ167 / 1986
1984U. / C90 / NJ110 / 1984
All available from The R. Stevie Moore Cassette Club, Bloomfield NJ USA.