"People have constantly said, 'Your music
is perfect for video.' It would be great to be the first video star, and be there when the time came. I'm not the kind that goes out ... and makes the scene ... I don't want to play the games involved.
There's no games
involved in making my tapes. I'm taking my
private world and giving it to the public. It
doesn't go with my personality to go out and
play. I never play an in-
strument, hardly, unless the red light is on."
"I have Zappa fantasies of 20 musicians on the stage, doing all the parts of 'Don't
Let Me Go To The Dogs' (a production number on Moore's 1977 "Swing and a Miss"). That would be ... ecstasy. With a guitar on my shoulder, play-
ing the silly role, and that would be totally neat. 'I've got a band together, we're on CBS, and...'"
Moore was born in 1952 on the day Buddy Holly died in 1959 (sic). His father, Bobby, "the second best bass player in the world," played many of the early Nashville rock and roll sessions. R. Stevie Moore's sister is in Calamity Jane, a country outfit whose
second album will come
out on Columbia.|
R. Stevie Moore, at 30, more obscure than his obscure influences, may simply be too good to be popular. He grew up in Nashville, "pretty typical, upper-class background." His first record was a duet with Jim Reeves called "But You Love Me Daddy" when he was 7 years old. He met Roy Orbison at home when he was 9; his father was helping produce and arrange the sessions for "Crying" and "Only the Lonely." He was still 9 when his father reached Number 6 in Billboard with the studio orchestra hit "Mexico." ("It's trumpets. Right before Herb Alpert hit.")
He left Vanderbilt University after half a year ("too intellec-
tual"); he went home to live in the middle of his parents' divorce; he got his own place; he started working in record stores. Then he met a man from Babylon, N.Y.
"He had arthritis. Could barely walk, had to use a cane. Victor Lovera, very Italian. We got together, and I sort of backed him up. Very unique quirks ... great lyrics!" It is these sessions on the tapes "Early Ethos" and
"Eros Ethos," with RSM guitar
and production, and
"much utter urgency."
They performed a bit, spent more time recording in living rooms. Lovera played acoustic guitar and sang, Moore played electric guitar and produced. They bought drums and bass; they played with various friends.
Eventually, around 1976, they split up. Victor Lovera went on trying. Moore went back to Nashville (sic), reconciled "somewhat" with his father, and started playing bass on backing tracks for Nashville sessions, getting ready to step into his father's "footsteps," using the country music vocabulary and country music sidemen and working with his father's publishing company. "Things I make fun of these days."
He did demo sessions and occasional master sessions that his father, with four sessions a day of his own, hadn't time to do. He backed up Chet Atkins and Perry Como. He dubbed a guitar on The Manhattans' "Teenage Liberation."
He kept home recording. His uncle told him to keep sending tapes. His father was "mildly amused" at the music. "There have always been certain things he could listen to and hear genius in," Moore says. "As long as I didn't mess them up, which I always do. He knew I didn't take it seriously, and it infuriated im. Up until a year ago, he was still trying to talk me into moving back to Nashville. He'd set me up. But I just couldn't stomach that (upbeat mimicking C&W bass) 'dum, dum, dum, dum.'" Moore would play country sessions, and then he would go home and record "Moons," which he calls "children's music."
He joined a Top 40 band called The Swings, a glittery, rocked-up lounge band playing Ramada Inns across the South and Midwest. And one day Moore was in a motel room in Iowa, talking to his uncle on the telephone, when he said, "I think we're about ready." He bought a little automobile, drove up to New Jersey and stayed with the uncle for two scary weeks until he got a job.
"Tapes were sent to Todd (Rundgren) and (Frank) Zappa. You never know what happens when that happens. They have stacks on their desks, don't they? Tapes and records!"
He was very close at
Polygram. The uncle worked for the record
giant, and Moore says it would have been very
easy to get him signed had he come up with "the
right blend." "Clack!" was a dedicated attempt
to produce the right blend; the Maryland LP may
"They've been talking album talk again, and they say 'Send material,' and I send material and they say, 'Great, send more material,' and I send more material, and they say 'Great, send photographs.'"
He has submitted material all over the place, and though an ASCAP writer, he hardly ever writes "copyright" on his tapes. "I'm totally innocent from all that. I encourage people to steal my material. That could be damaging to my career, but at this point, that is the point. Damage my career, make me have a career that you can damage."
What hurts Moore most is his own creativity and out of kilter humor, which would scare the pigeons out of any pigeonhole. He is difficult to pin down; he says the only thing he has not gotten into is orchestration. When he does the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," dubbing voice and guitar, he is a few irritating syllables off. And when he sings The Critters' "Mr. Dyingly Sad" over a most jangly backing, it's in a terrible guitar-fuzzed voice. "The main thing about R. Stevie Moore music is probably (pause) that it's bad (pause) and good, at the same time," he says, in the monologue "How I Record (Sort Of)" on a 1979 tape called "R." And when asked what he would do if a real record company came at him with a contract, he says, "They'd probably say 'Let's nail it down' and ask me to send three of my best songs, and I'd send the three worst songs, or something."
He looks fit to be signed. He had pink hair with The Swings, bleached white hair and a beard on the "Phonography" cover. Now, beardless, he looks like Marshall Crenshaw or some mislaid Beach Boy. On Feb. 12, he became unemployed as manager of the Paramus Sam Goody's. But he's on a syndicated FM college radio magazine show called "Part Of The Problem" (sic), broadcast on 120 stations coast to coast. And Musician magazine is supposed to do an article on him "any day now."
Yet, he sometimes wonders, "where next?" "New Jersey isn't it. So where next? California? Nah. Boston? Yeah, London, right, that whole thing." Margaux went to London in 1981 to try to interest record stores and labels in Moore, and found they'd
already heard of
Harry Palmer lives "just down the road," but Moore rarely sees his uncle nowa-
days. Moore's father, "the second best bass player in the world," is on the road with Crystal Gayle, doing what he was doing when R. Stevie was born. Victor Lovera is in Florida. He did get signed, eventually, to the CBS-
distributed Kat Family Rec-
ords in Atlanta, and in 1981 released a black-covered album called "Smashers," which did nothing. Moore hears about people he knows back in Nashville, and they're "getting into Eddie Rabbitt-
type things. I'm not impressed with that at all." Separated from country music, he can appreciate it again, "mainly for humor value," and plays it on his radio show.
Moore sees a chiropractor three times a week for a pain-
ful spine problem. And he keeps taping: "Trial & Error," "How Can You Resist," "Subject To Change," "Candid Cassette," "W.O.M.A.N.," and "Boxheads 3," all since last fall, with three more planned. The Maryland LP is tentatively called "What's The Point?" "We do need some vinyl," says Moore, "and it's ... exposure."
"People will find certain things in my music and say 'Redo it, because you can do
it much better, I'm
sure.' Part of the magic of my music is the
spontaneity of well-crafted songs. The magic of
being part of the network of everyman. I know I
have all this amazing talent, but I don't know
what to do with it. I just want to do what I'm
"And have hit singles," a visitor finishes for him.
"And have hit singles, but the Buzzcocks couldn't have hit singles. If they couldn't have hit singles, what's a hit single? 'Chantilly Lace' (from 'Clack!') should be a hit single, but people always say, 'That would be good, but what would we do after that?'"
"But I really don't know any other way. Maybe it's discipline. But I really wouldn't be being myself. For it to sound like R. Stevie Moore, it has to have a twist."
"The innocence of the South," says Margaux.
"The innocence of the '70s," says R. Stevie Moore.
The 1970s have been over for three years now, R. Stevie Moore's innocence has turned 30, and the records are still invisible. But on 65 tapes, under the guitars, telephones ring and ring.