Phonography was lo-fi legend R. Stevie Moore’s first vinyl release – only 100 copies were pressed in 1976. The album (including a slightly larger 1978 pressing) barely earned the artist lunch money. But Phonography has since become the cornerstone of the Do-It-Yourself movement, while establishing Moore as the Granddaddy of home recording. Both Rolling Stone and Spin have proclaimed it one of the most influential independent releases of the past 50 years. Phonography was recorded by a self-taught control-freak, using cheap, malfunctioning analog equipment. Robert Steven Moore was born in 1952, in Nashville. His dad, veteran bassist/producer Bob Moore, taxied between sessions for major stars (including Elvis Presley). But Stevie preferred Brit Invasion, Zappa, Brian Wilson?s idiosyncratic arrangements, and outliers like the Shaggs. At the urging of his supportive uncle, Harry Palmer, he moved to New Jersey in 1976.
The Phonography material was recorded by this one-man virtual band at home between 1974 and 1976 with a pair of analog open-reel stereo decks and no multi-tracking equipment. Moore built songs starting with a rhythm track (e.g., played on drums, furniture, or boxes), upon which he layered instrumental and vocal tracks in a primitive sound-on-sound technique. Multiple generations of sound caused frequency loss and sonic distortion – the embodiment of “lo-fi” – but these are charming artifacts that don’t obscure the brilliance of the compositions and Moore’s masterful music eccentricities. Moore and Palmer culled the top-tier songs, which were interspersed with spoken word, audio verit, and radio snippets to create a “program” effect. The song styles were eclectic, reflecting Stevie’s omnivorous music appetite: hard rock, sweet ballads, Britpop, guitar raves, glam, and Zappa-esque weirdness. The album laid the foundation for Moore’s four-decade underground career.
He has self-released hundreds of albums on each successive era’s format du jour (cassette, LP, CD, digital download). He’s had vinyl and CD compilations produced worldwide on two dozen indie labels. For a songwriter with a massive catalog of prime material, Moore’s revenue stream has barely afforded him the luxury of replacing gear plagued by worn-out switches. Yet most of the surviving labels who turned deaf ears to R. Stevie Moore are now, like him, struggling to make a buck on their catalogs. Their corner-office execs come and go. R. Stevie Moore is still here. And Phonography is back.