Joe Bussard has been dubbed the ‘King Of Record Collectors’ – with good reason. Now aged 75, Joe has perhaps the greatest collection of vintage blues, country, ¬†gospel and early jazz records ever assembled. Over a period of 50 years, Joe has built a world-class collection of 78 rpm records – over 25,000 discs in all.¬†The walls of his basement are lined with records, in identical, unlabelled cardboard sleeves. Reputedly Joe does not have a filing system ¬†– he has them all memorised!
A resident of Frederick, Maryland Joe’s record collecting exploits are legendary. Junking records across Appalachia, the¬†mountain regions of West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. Knocking on doors (in the record collecting fraternity it is known as ‘canvassing’) attending auctions and house clearances to snaffle up records, long forgotten or stored in basements and cupboards – no longer listened to, but not yet discarded. Joe also traded records with fellow collectors – one story goes that he sold records to members of Canned Heat, at the height of their fame. Bob Hite and other band members were long-time blues record collectors, and spent mega-bucks buying up ‘duplicates’ of records Joe had already collected – so much so that Joe was able to buy a swimming pool.
In 2006, Dust To Digital release the dvd ‘Desperate Man Blues’ which tells the Joe Bussard story, whilst in the same year Old Hat Records issued a CD ‘Down In The Basement’ – a compilation of some of the most desriable records on the planet. See the clip below from the introduction to ‘Desperate Man Blues’ broadcast by the BBC in 2009.
In 1999, the Washington Post carried an in-depth article on Joe’s record hunting exploits, telling the story of finding a whole bunch of mint Black Patti 78’s – at the ramshackle home of an old guy he met on the way to a record hunting trip to an out of town flea market. See: ‘Desperate Man Blues- Record collector Joe Bussard parties like it’s 1929’.
Joe’s other main claim to fame is that from 1957 through to 1970, he ran Fonotone Records, the last 78 RPM record label in the USA. Fonotone actually issued custom made 78s sent out via mail order to a small but dedicated band of collectors. Many of the artists are fine bluegrass and string band players and among them were the first recordings of finger-picking guitarist John Fahey.
In 2009 Dust To Digital released a fantastic CD box set of these recordings ¬†‘Fonotone Records, Fredrick, Maryland, 1959 – 1969’¬† and they have more recently released¬†John Fahey: Your Past Comes Back To Haunt You: The Fonotone Years (1958‚Äď1965), a ¬†five CD book set of Fahey’s earliest recordings for the label.
The UK music magazine ‘The Wire’, recently used its website to carry a forty-four minute long interview with Joe Bussard (along with Fonotone recordings) in a featured called ‘Listen to Joe Bussard: An Oral History of Fonotone Records’.¬†It is certainly worth a listen.
Joe is still broadcasting rare country music records on Radio WREK – ‘Country Music Classics’ – each week which Dust To Digital convert to a podcast, which you can subscribe to via¬†iTunes.
If you want to know what record collecting is all about check out the ‘Desperate Man Blues’ dvd!