|Long-time home recording artist R. Stevie Moore hails from the same state as Bruce Springsteen (by way of Nashville where his father worked as a studio musician and reportedly with Elvis Presley's backup band). Unlike The Boss, Stevie is only a household word in households where "alternative music" means actively searching out interesting music by (undeservingly) obscure artists. That this immensely-talented guy has never had a top-40 hit in the three decades he's played professionally with even one of his danceable, singable, air-guitarable or just plain weird tunes proves beyond a shadow of a doubt just how|
"Yes it's me and I'm in the bathroom now, and I'm going to tell you a little bit about myself-as I bathe. (Sound-urination into toilet). Robert Steven Moore is my name. (Clears throat). I was born in 1952. January eighteen. I think it was about three in the afternoon. Was a Saturday, that's for sure. (Sound=toilet flushing)."
Thus does our man introduce himself on track 2, side 1 of his first-ever vinyl production, which he issued in 1976 on Vital Records and then reissued in November 1979 on H.P. Music. (shortly before reissuing the full LP he put out a seven-inch EP, Four From Phonography and concurrent with the album's reissue there was a 45 with 2 tracks from the album on the French Flamingo label). Phonography sounds like a collection of demos, which is probably just what it was way back when. It's a hodgepodge of mid-fi home recordings on which Stevie himself does all vocals and instruments (remember that there were no home multitrack tape decks or DAT's in those days. You had to make do with amateur-grade reel-to-reel tape decks or bronze- age cassette gear. Overdubs meant repeatedly bouncing 2-track takes from one tape deck to another).
The tunes range from dreamy space to infectious pop anthems with tight drumming, and music and lyrics quite different from the album or top-40 rock of that day. There's some cheesy vintage-synth licks too, but hey, that's the beauty of it. Stevie works with the usual pop subject matter (e.g. love, youthful angst, good times) but he treats it with a much more of a sense of humor than was (or is) normally heard on radio. Goodbye Piano which follows Stevie's powder room introduction is an echoey, slightly discordant but infectious ode to the defunct instrument upon which he is playing, which comes across a lot like a children's novelty song. California Rhythm could be the Beach Boys hit that never was. She Don't Know What to Do With Herself is a rhythm-driven hard-rock-cum-bubblegum track which redefines the word "catchy". The premier performance of rock ballad I Want You In My Life is a lot looser and more demo-ey than a version which appeared on a later album, Verve. I Wish I Could Sing is one of many tunes Stevie has penned over the years about wanting to get closer to the object of his affection or at least have a hit. There are some spoken- word pieces on Phonography, like Mr. Nashville, a virtual conversation between a starving musician and an imperious record exec. There's also The Lariat Wressed Posing Hour which is a goof on the cheesy TV talk shows of that day ("Who becomes a celebrity from a mere poseur is determined by you") and The Spot, an apparent re-make of a commercial for an English bank backed up with by Robert Fripp-like hovering guitar drones. The real treat on this album is his ultra-tasty fuzztone-guitar-only rendition of the theme from The Andy Griffith Show (Theme From A.G.).
Most musicians who've been working as long and hard as R. Stevie Moore obviously has without a big-time hit or major label deal would've probably packed it in by now. Fortunately for us he has not.
Currently, he has over 200 recordings available through his "cassette club" which he runs out of his home. Stevie's brand of raggedy soul and enigmatic pop has gotten more refined over time but is basically the same as it's ever been. The first thing I noticed was how much cleaner this tape sounded than many of Stevie's previous releases, doubtlessly reflecting recent improvements in home recording technology and Stevie's mastery of it. Stevie also dubbed his latest onto better quality (high-bias) tape. One thing which kind of bugged me about some of his late 70's and 80's tunes is that the primitive drum machines he used sounded kind of low-budget and sometimes spoiled an otherwise professional-sounding mix. Modern drum machines (or samplers) are apparently used here, but the sound is much more like the real thing.
Stevie is, among other things, a top-flight cover man who only covers what he really likes. The 90-minute tape opens with about 30 seconds of what sounds like a hung-over Stevie moaning "Please...ahhhhh...please, no more music!" before ripping into his elegantly bent cover of the Monkees B-side Tapioca Tundra. The pulsing, punkish and mildly misanthropic All People Are The Same features Stevie's voice raised in pitch to a Ween-esque falsetto. Nico Knee Puccini is a Durutti-ish acoustic guitar instrumental. Peeping Tom on The Reeperbahn and White Beacon feature rhythm and dadaistic verse. As on Phonography and other previous releases, Stevie sings, this time more bitterly, about coming out second-best in the rock-stardom lottery (Deemed Inappropriate). The lyrics, laced with Negativland-ish sampled sound bites, might sound self-pitying ("[Saturday Night Live producer] Lorne Michaels never returned my calls", "Failed a Midnight Special audition") if not for his underlying sense of humor ("D.I.-Why?!"), which is probably what has kept Stevie going lo these many years. Stevie's playing on his cover of Soundgarden's Black Hole Sun is dead-on, note for note, but his deliberately amateurish vocals add a slightly bewildering touch of goofiness. White Music Month is an anti-racism hiphop tune, complex loops, in-your-face bass, sampled sounds and all, sounding like it's got sometime Stevie sidekick Frank Balesteri doing back-up vocals. It's followed by the final track, a P-Funk-on-vacation cover of Stevie Wonder's Joy Inside My Tears.
Aside from his prolific tape output (over 200 of 'em so far), Stevie does have a generous handful of LP's to his credit (mainly on import labels like Hamster and New Rose) and a self-produced CD, Contact Risk , on his own "Fruit of the Tune" label. He's worked as a session musician for people like Jim Reeves (at age 7!), The Manhattans and even Perry Como. For all us couch-potatoes, he's got videos of songs, skits, live gigs and more ("RSM-tv").
If you're interested in hearing for yourself what the dean of the home recording scene has to offer, then write to R. Stevie Moore (c/o NASA Spaced Expeditions, Inc).
R. Stevie Moore, who I wrote a full-length article about in July's Music Press, is leaving the 200-release mark in the dust with this cleverly packaged 35-track set (he made a double-cassette box by splicing two single ones together with pieces of a video club ad)! The J-cards feature hand-colored xerox images of our man. The tape opens with the comic musical rant [deleted] Idiots Everywhere (you said it, Stevie). His sardonic, sarcastic, acid wit is definitely in effect on tracks like the C&W travesty Ryman Auditorium, or the savage John Lennon send-up Sex Wants Me (JL). He targets his verbal missiles on his long-time tormentor, the record industry as on How 'Bout Writin' Me A Goddamn Song?, A.R.M.A.D.A. (Which stands for American Record Manufacturers And Distributors Association). Of course, Stevie can wax (somewhat) romantic as on the solo acoustic guitar Hug Me, the slow, draggy vaguely Beatle-ish Traded My Heart For Your Parts. I probably sound like I'm describing Stevie as a comedian. Not so. He can definitely crank out sizzling rock instrumentals or gliding space tunes. His mastery of the digital sampler is clear here. For one brief, delicious minute, he does something I've never heard him do before; he delivers a Sandburgesque poem about life on a farm (That Long Walk To The Barn). Cover tunes are here to (like a synthified rendition of The Who's Sunrise). Keep crankin' 'em out, Stevie! For info, write The R. Stevie Moore Cassette Club. Send two stamps for a neat catalog.
Paul Goldschmidt (Dr. Bartlemania)