Jan-Feb 1980 
Article and photo by 
Irwin Chusid 

     In a cluttered one-room attic apartment in Montclair, a hapless wizard is plotting to overthrow the musical order. He might never succeed in toppling the "old guard," but damned if he isn't going to die trying. He has no choice. Some people "have to" become doctors or lawyers; others "have to" get married and make babies. R. Stevie Moore "has to" compose music in a most unusual way, and has to let the world know about it.
      As a composer, he's already succeeded. A first listening to anything Stevie's produced generally quickens the pulse, delights the ears and leaves your musical standards topsy-turvy. As one reviewer commented, "Suffice it to say that Toto will never sound the same after a few rounds with the redoubtable R. Stevie."
    R. Stevie Moore is a man apart--not ahead of--his time. He is not "avant-garde", A-G implies a certain measure of esoteric conceptualization which often renders a work inaccessible to all but the cognoscenti. Not the case with Stevie. His music, though exotic, has a potentially broad appeal. That first-time listener is likely to wonder why Stevie's music isn't on the radio. More about that in a sec. First, the man.
     R. Stevie Moore lives in autistic, self-conscious existence in that tiny bat-roost, which is his bedroom and makeshift recording studio. The room is a shambles: overflowing ashtrays, magazines, god-only-knows-how- many-months' accumulation of dirty laundry, empty milk cartons and donut boxes, posters and tearsheets all over the walls. And records. More records than dirty laundry. Everything from the Sex Pistols to Duke Ellington; the Beach Boys to Bartok; Frank Sinatra, new wave, and "How To Train Your Dog in 10 Minutes A Day." Stevie attests that he's listened to more records than anybody in the world. Nobody's challened that contention.
    Stevie spends hours filling up reels of tape with sounds, songs and scenarios, following no formula. Occasionally he will begin with a pre-recorded drum track (recorded by himself or a friend). Then, using two 1/4-track stereo tape decks, he'll overdub keyboards, bass, guitar, vocals, musique concrete, toys and all inventive manner of sound modifiers. One final, unaccountable factor comes into play, which often makes the difference: accidents will happen. When you're dealing with old, overused equipment, there's no way you can account 100% for sound quality. Recording levels occasionally drop off; early tracks become muddy in the overdubbing process; interference from CB's or something equally fortuitous often leaves control over the final product in the hands of fate. Stevie makes mistakes too, and rather than correct them or strive for that elusive perfection, he will work with mistakes and use them to his advantage. This element of chance plays a large role in Stevie's recording. Using this no-formula technique, R. Stevie as spent the best years of his life accumulating a vast library, chronicling his development as an electro-shock pop maestro. Dick Clark meets Stanley Kubrick.
     Stevie was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, country music capital of the world. But don't talk to him about pickers and fiddlers. He'll puke.
     His father, Bob Moore, is one of the leading bass players on the Nashville scene. Steve spent his early years following dad around from session to session: Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Chet Atkins, even an early Elvis date. Armed with his own guitar, Stevie eventually got involved doing sessions on dad's referrals. He even toured with Earl Scruggs. And all the while, at home he'd be listening to John Cage, Brian Eno, Frank Zappa, Firesign Theater and the New York Dolls. He soon got his hands on those ¼-track decks, and he's created his own musical Disneyland ever since.
     By late 1977, Stevie has become quite disgusted with the Nashville scene. It's Waylon-Merle-and-Dolly territory all the way. They just don't hear (as in "deaf") anything else down there. (When Talking Heads played Nashville in 1977, a local DJ emceeing the concert made ad nauseum remarks about "Punk Rock comes to Nashville.") Stevie finally decided to split. He landed in Montclair.
     He has done a tremendous amount of recording in that 3rd-floor cubicle. Everything he does is one-of-a-kind, because Stevie gets bored quickly. Much of his musical and lyrical content is characterised by a quirky cynicism. He also has a highly sophisticated sense of melody, again without following formulas. Because he often composes by starting with a randomly-played drum track, his song structures can be quite unconventional.
     Stevie has released two albums of his home-made iconoclastic/pop (contradiction acknowledged) on his own HP Music label. These two records have generated an underground notoriety on two continents, creating minor tremors up and down California, and in England and France.
     He does not perform or appear much in public. Instead, he chooses to hide in the attic with his coffee pot, his mattress and his tape decks. Though he is contemplating a live band, some of his best material is virtually unperformable. It's those unpredictable accidensts that occur in the recording that are impossible to recapture on stage. As for putting a band together just for the sake of working up a repertoire of adaptable songs--well, Stevie's essentially lazy and he doesn't work well with other musicians. Clashes of temperament, an unwillingness to share the spotlight, an inability to give direction. It hasn't worked yet, but it may someday. A live band could be Stevie's next challenge.
     Until the band materializes, the small quantity of records pressed serve as Stevie's calling card to the world. But owing to the minimal number of discs available, and the costs incurred in pressing, he ain't makin' any $$ on the operation.
     It's all ground work, in the hope that someday a major deal might emerge. If and when that deal happens, it would require Stevie to compromise. He knows that, and he is understandably reluctant to make that compromise if he can help it. Right now he has complete artistic control, within the constraints of poverty. But that unwillingness to compromise may ultimately keep Stevie's music off the radio. And for a good reason.
    Not a judicious reason, mind you, but a factual one: the corporate nature of the music industry, and the commitant inertia of commercial radio. R. Stevie Moore isn't recording for any "major label." Hence, his records aren't recognized as legitimate "product" (ugh!--such language) by radio stations, who take orders from above, not below. So Stevie isn't taken seriously. His records are anything but slick, usually featuring the twin demons of Hiss and Hum that produce a signal-to-noise ratio most radio sations (and industry executives) consider unacceptable. The airwaves and record stores are flooded with formula music, pre-packaged sound-alikes that won't upset the jerk in the street who theoretically (radio marketing theory) disdains anything he hasn't already heard before.
     So, you have the Eagles, Foreigner, The Knack, disco, jazz-fusion, power pop, easy-listening--you name the formula, and there's a radio station that features it exclusively. An artist like R. Stevie Moore. who fits neatly into no category, gets ignored.
     So he sits, up in the attic, not quite on top of the world. And he worries-about his career, about his financial condition, about his aging automobile, He doesn't eat right. Every four weeks he goes into a deep depression. Poor Stevie. For these reasons, you might want to buy his records, either to encourage him or to help pay for the impending medical care.

Stevie's Records: