COME MY WAY
You hear this a lot about various artists, but in this case it's true: R. Stevie Moore is one of the most influential musicians you've likely never heard of; and his life and cultural footprint are as fascinating as his music, so let's start at the beginning. Moore was born in the Nashville area in 1952. His father is Bob Moore, a session bassist who was part of the legendary Nashville A-Team, which played on countless country hits, and he's worked with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Bob Dylan and, perhaps most notably, Elvis Presley. You can hear his bass playing on Patsy Cline's "Crazy" and Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," for starters. In fact, he's logged over 17,000 recording sessions and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1994, Life magazine named him the number one country bassist of all time. In other words, Stevie was born with music in his DNA.
When he was seven years old, his father arranged to have him sing on the Jim Reeves song "But You Love Me, Daddy," a somewhat bizarre novelty tune that became a hit in the U.K. But when he got old enough to forge his own musical career, Moore chose a far different path.
Already proficient in guitar, drums, bass and keyboards, as a teenager Moore began writing his own songs and capturing them at home on reel-to-reel tape machines, performing all the parts himself.
In the 1990s, with acts like Guided by Voices and Sebadoh starting what, at the time, seemed like something of a revelation—lo-fi recordings in which it was the music, not the sonic quality, that mattered, before digital recording made it easy to come up with professional-sounding productions at home—Moore had been doing it in his family's suburban Nashville basement for over 25 years.
His first official album release came in 1975 or 1976 (depending on which account you believe), when his uncle (who happened to be the head of Atco Records at the time) pressed up 100 copies of Phonography, a collection of Moore's home recordings, and put it out on his HP Music label. After a glowing review in Trouser Press, his uncle released two more albums on the label. Meanwhile, Moore, who around this time moved to New Jersey, was constantly writing new songs, stockpiling his prodigious collection of recordings and selling them himself on cassette.
In 1980, Moore released Clack on cassette, notable because it was the rare recording done in a professional studio. The following year Moore started the RSM Cassette Club, a sort of clearinghouse for the recordings he had accumulated since 1968, with each release ranked from 1 to 10 on a scale of "listenablity."
Of course, Daniel Johnston began releasing his own home-recorded cassettes around the same time, but even today, Johnston has far greater name recognition than Moore. And, one can't help wonder if single-subscription programs like Sub Pop's Singles Club would have even existed were it not for Moore's Cassette Club.
Additionally, his practice of releasing official albums every now and then, while simultaneously offering cassettes of the more obscure stuff, portended the whole mixtape culture of hip-hop.
In 1984, the French label New Rose Records released a double album compilation of his material, the first of many, called Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About R. Stevie Moore but Were Afraid to Ask, which led to a tour of France in which he was extremely well received. It would be his only tour until 2011, when he began touring regularly. (He moved back to Madison, the Nashville-area town in which he grew up, at the end of 2010.)
In recent years, more people have begun to discover Moore. On his website, rsteviemoore.com, you can still buy cassettes of his recordings, but he also now offers CD-Rs as part of the R. Stevie Moore CDR Club (those releases now number in the hundreds). He's been cited as an influence by dozens of current bands and performers, some of whom—Dr. Dog, Apples in Stereo, Mike Watt, to name but a few—he has collaborated with.
Though he's never performed in Arizona (until this week), he has ties to Tucson.
The label People in a Position to Know, run by Mike Dixon, which is known for releasing recordings on unorthodox formats, is now based in Tucson, and the label has issued some of Moore's music: In addition to a collaboration with Ariel Pink that was released on recycled mirrors, the label is home to the R. Stevie Moore Saturday Singles Singles Series, released only in batches to cover the number of pre-orders the label receives, as "clear, square, lathe-cut single(s) in ... hand-set letterpressed cover(s)," according to the label's website.
And, a few years ago, local musician Mari Morton, who performs as Donut Shop Death, and is on this week's bill with Moore, struck up an online friendship with him.
Via an online interview earlier this week, while Morton was in California with Moore, Mari said, "... we're really close. We met through Facebook. We kept in touch for a few years through there. I asked him to play Tucson, he told me to come to Nashville, so I did."
Moore and Morton will back each other up on their respective sets, and Morton says some guests may be joining them as well. They're playing two Arizona shows together – one in Tucson on Friday, and one in Phoenix on Tuesday, leaving time for Morton to show Moore around town, or, as Mari puts it, "(show) him the local flavor."
But back to Moore and his music. By now you've probably realized that Moore is, pretty much without fail, categorized as an outsider artist, lumped in with fellow idiosyncratics such as Wesley Willis, Jad Fair (with whom he has collaborated), and the aforementioned Daniel Johnston. But here's the thing: Moore claims it's not by choice. In interview after interview, Moore expresses not only a willingness but an urge to "sell out," as it were.
In a 2005 profile in The New York Times, Moore said, "''People tell me I'm shooting myself in the foot, releasing so much—I've heard that for years. But I can't help it. It's who I am. I have this prodigy talent I was born with. ... I don't need fancy cars. I hate the whole greed thing. But I do live in poverty, compared to how it ought to be. ... I'm still bitter, and I'm still waiting for recognition."
By now I've spent more than 1,000 words explaining who R. Stevie Moore is, why he's important, and why you should care, and I haven't begun to describe what his music actually sounds like—and that's by design. Growing up around music as he did, it's easy, while listening to Moore's recordings, to recognize that he is a cultural sponge, soaking up and absorbing whatever comes his way. You can hear that in his music, which is to say, his songs—and bear in mind that there are literally thousands of them—encompass pretty much every identifiable musical style in existence (as well as some non-musical sounds, such as one track that is composed of the sound of a toilet flushing repeatedly). If you're interested in hearing what the fuss is all about, I'd recommend heading to his website or YouTube to listen to his music for yourself. My favorite stuff of his I'd describe as quirky, new wave-meets-power pop songs that are eminently listenable—things that sound far less out-of-place in the current musical landscape than they certainly must have upon their original release. In other words, in just about every respect, R. Stevie Moore is a man before his time.
Catch a rare R. Stevie Moore performance on Friday, Feb. 28, at Topaz, 657 W. St. Mary's Road, No. C1A. Donut Shop Death and Human Behavior will also perform, starting at 8 p.m. Admission to this all-ages show is on a sliding scale of $5 to $7. For more info head to templeofcairo.com/topaz-events.
ANSWER NO ANSWER
A small sampling of other shows happening around town this week: Robert Randolph and the Family Band at the Rialto Theatre on Wednesday, March 5; Tribal Seeds at The Rock on Saturday, March 1; George Thorogood and the Destroyers at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Friday, Feb. 28; Cash'd Out and Jerry Giddens at Club Congress on Friday, Feb. 28; Danú at the Fox Tucson Theatre on Tuesday, March 4; Free Salamander Exhibit at Solar Culture Gallery on Tuesday, March 4; WAWAWA 3-Year Anniversary featuring Helicopter Showdown at Club Congress on Tuesday, March 4; Black Cherry Cordial: An Evening with Black Cherry Burlesque and Friends, featuring The Cordials at the Rialto Theatre on Saturday, March 1; Chicano Brown CD-release show at Pearson's Pub on Friday, Feb. 28.
Please check out our listings sections for lots more good stuff.