Unlike her more accomplished and ambitious fellow pioneers in the Velvet Underground, drummer Maureen (Moe) Tucker never became an international rock star or a distinguished new music composer. But neither did she go quietly into the history books. Instead, after a decade-long parenting hiatus, the New Jersey native launched a solo career founded on pretty much the same ideals of inspired amateurism and raw expression that originally motivated the Velvets. In Tucker’s hands (and mouth), Playin’ Possum, a one-woman album issued on her own Trash Records, sounds quite different from White Light/White Heat: the ramshackle home-made set of covers (Little Richard and Chuck Berry classics, a Dylan tune, a stunningly well-played Vivaldi concerto, “Heroin”), plus an original (well…) instrumental tribute to Bo Diddley is charming in its heartfelt solitary incompetence but plants its modest roots in an era the Velvets helped put in the past tense.
Tucker subsequently hooked up with a label run by rich’n’famous rock dilettante Penn Jillette and Florida’s hardworking Velvet Underground Appreciation Society and discovered a kindred and supportive spirit in minimalist/naïve rock titan Jad Fair. So armed, she returned to the studio (actually, a Florida garage, for a total of six hours) in 1986 to cut a similar batch of covers with Fair’s help. (Exactly why the red-vinyl 12-inch named for its four participants is attributed solely to her isn’t clear, since she plays drums and sings only one of the five songs.) Motley as hell but reeking of credibility and unpolished spirit, the wonderful MoeJadKateBarry EP includes versions of VU obscurities (“Guess I’m Falling in Love,” “Hey, Mr. Rain,” “Why Don’t You Smile Now”), a Jimmy Reed standard (“Baby What You Want Me to Do”) and an impromptu instrumental, “Jad Is a Fink.” In her own simple way, Tucker is keeping the Velvets’ legacy alive better than anyone else.
With the involvement of Lou Reed, Jad Fair, Daniel Johnston and Sonic Youth making it an historically significant reunion, as well as a profound inter-generational meeting of prophet and disciple, Tucker’s loose and unpredictable Life in Exile offers a little of everything, all performed and recorded with ramshackle casualness. There’s wall-rattling noise, acoustic folk (“Goodnight Irene”), rock’n’roll (a five-minute return visit to “Bo Diddley” with Sonic Youth’s rhythm section), even a whispery version of Reed’s “Pale Blue Eyes.” Tucker’s six charmingly amateurish originals include a droning guitar/piano tribute to Andy Warhol. (A subsequent three-song single combines an album track and two outtakes from the sessions.)
The thoroughly competent-sounding I Spent a Week There the Other Night brings Tucker into her own as a songwriter: other than a subdued version of “Waiting for the Man” and a rocking “Then He Kissed Me,” the plain-spoken testimonials to normalcy (and Native Americans) are all hers. The classy musical cast includes enough VU alumni (Reed, John Cale, Sterling Morrison) to deem the effectively droney “I’m Not” a full-fledged reunion — if only Tucker had played drums. (She parks her sticks for the entire album, leaving Victor De Lorenzo of the Violent Femmes and John Sluggett of Half Japanese to the rhythmic task.) Rowdy and exciting, proletarian and pure in its true Tucker-ness, I Spent a Week There the Other Night shows the young’uns how it’s done without preaching. “I hate to cook and I don’t like to clean / And hangin’ out the clothes just makes me mean / I don’t wanna dust, don’t wanna scrub / And why the hell would I clean the tub?” For a 46-year-old mother of five, “Lazy” is pure punk perfection.
Even with a less-legendary legion (Morrison, Don Fleming and Miriam Linna of the A-Bones are the marquee names here), Tucker improves on that feat with Dogs Under Stress. Giving an unpretentious, relatively consistent production charge to tuneful rock originals (plus a pumping Bo Diddley cover and an inexplicable “Danny Boy”), Tucker comes into her own as a confident singer and firm bandleader. (Even her track’s worth of alto sax work is credible.) In the most colorful tunes, she manages total parental (or spousal) indifference in “Me, Myself and I,” describes a character called Crazy Hannah, enthuses about “Saturday Night” partydown and plans a trip to New York in “Train,” which sounds like an R&B band imitating the Feelies. Moe power to her.
Tucker has also recorded with Magnet, a band led by Mark Goodman.