There are three stages one might pass through in approaching the life and work of R. Stevie Moore. First: the shock of learning that one man has recorded over 400 self-produced, homemade, full-length albums since 1968. Next: bewilderment at the range of musical styles on those releases – everything from gorgeous pop songcraft to extreme avant experimentalism. Finally: dawning joy at the discovery of a major talent who has existed entirely under the radar of the music industry. Cited as a seminal influence by fellow Park The Van artist Dr. Dog, R. Stevie Moore has been conjuring magical sounds from cheap reel-to-reel tape decks for decades.
He was raised in the heart of Nashville's country music big leagues. Stevie's father Bob Moore was and is an in-demand session bassist who recorded and toured with Elvis, Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis, among hundreds of others. As the '60s psychedelic renaissance bloomed, a young Moore absorbed the sounds and attitudes of its creative giants: The Beatles, Brian Wilson and Frank Zappa chief among them. It was in 1968 that he began writing and recording his own work on home equipment, developing the musical skills and DIY overdubbing ethos he maintains today.
As the '60s faded into the '70s, Stevie continued accumulating new influences as quickly as he accumulated piles of homemade tape reels: Todd Rundgren, Roy Wood, Sparks, Roxy Music, the Residents, Public Image Ltd. and XTC were particularly inspirational. Using two cheap tape decks, he would build his own 90-minute "albums," layering all the instrumental parts and vocals. The resulting sonic collage might segue from an elaborately produced glam rock track to a melancholy solo acoustic reverie or a quirky electronic synthesizer instrumental. Often the musical selections were bookended by spoken-word interludes – diary monologues, radio-show patter, "found" audio clips or oddball comedy routines.
R. Stevie Moore recorded dozens of these albums throughout the '70s, but for years they languished unheard. Vinyl compilations appeared on a series of small independent labels (the first of these, 1976's Phonography, was listed by Rolling Stone as one of the most significant indie records ever released), but it wasn't until cassettes became a popular format in the early '80s that Moore's music got a wider hearing. Industry critics wrote glowing reviews heralding the imminent arrival of a major talent, and a small cult of fans began ordering cassette copies from his "tapography," which now numbered in the hundreds. None were mass-produced; Moore (who had relocated from Nashville to New Jersey in 1978) prepared each order with store-bought TDK's, Xeroxed cover art and magic-markered label stickers.
Commercial success eluded him, however. The rave reviews and underground cassette collectors never translated into public awareness or significant sales. Although he spent years as a deejay on New Jersey's pioneering free-form station WFMU, and appeared sporadically on local TV and at club gigs, Moore toiled for years as a record store clerk to pay the bills. Today, he continues recording and enjoys modest notoriety as a forefather of today's DIY home recording revolution. Still, for the handful of zealous fans that have come to love R. Stevie Moore's music, the notion persists that the vast majority of his potential audience remains untapped.
Although eccentric and reclusive, R. Stevie Moore does not belong in the "outsider music" category of artists like Daniel Johnston, Jandek or Wild Man Fischer. His melodies, lyrics, and arrangements are the work of a gifted craftsman, not a tortured maniac. After 40 years under the headphones, with his wry self-awareness and abundant Southern charm, Moore still offers listeners the unique opportunity to discover for themselves an unsung genius who deserves all the support he can get.