Text by Mark Minsker & Eilon Paz, Photos by Eilon Paz
Few people have devoted as much of their life to records as Joe Bussard has. Born in 1936 in Frederick, Maryland, he started playing records on his parents’ phonograph and by the end of World War II, he had the collecting bug. During the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, he led thousands of record expeditions through the mid-Atlantic region and the South, looking for 78s of jazz, blues, ethnic and down-home/bluegrass music. These expeditions went well beyond the typical digger routes of mining thrift stores or finding out-of-the way record stores. For Joe, record collecting has always meant driving into the backwoods, parking your car, and walking door-to-door asking the locals if they had any records in the house and, if so, would they be willing to sell them. It is not an exaggeration to say that over 50,000 records have passed through Joe’s hands or circulated through his collection. In addition to his status as a collector, Joe is single-handedly responsible for the creation and operation of Fonotone Records, an independent record label responsible for documenting and preserving bluegrass, folk and blues music of the 1950s,1960s and 1970s (including the first recordings of guitarist John Fahey). A musician himself, Joe performed on guitar, banjo and vocals with his group Jolly Joe and His Jug Band, as well as performing and recording with many others. He has also been hosting radio programs since 1956, when he set up his own pirate radio station out of his home.
Joe Bussard is the subject of the excellent documentary film by Edward Gillian, “Desperate Man Blues” (2003).
Q: Your Full name, age, where you live?
A: Joseph Bussard, 76. Frederick, MD.
Q: What was your first album? How did you get it? At what age? Can you describe that feeling? Do you still have it?
A: The first 78 that I went out and found was….God, you’re going back 50 years or so! That’s almost impossible to remember. I know that I found Gene Autrey records early on but it would probably be Jimmie Rodgers. When I heard him, that about did it. I was hooked.
Q: What prompted you to start collecting? What age did you start?
A: I had a phonograph at my house (still have it) and was playing records when I was six years old. Neighbors would bring records by the house that I grew up in, on Fairview Avenue in Frederick.
Q: Is there a music genre that you avoid?
A: Rock-n- roll. Period. Any of it. Hate it. Worse thing that happened to music. Hurt all types of music. They took blues and ruined it. It’s the cancer of music….ate into everything. Killed Country music, that’s for sure.
Q: A lot of people would claim the complete opposite. that Rock-n-Roll re invented and recharged music. What is it about rock-n-roll that annoys you so much?
A: Don’t like. Just my personal taste. Don’t like the sound of it, the meaning of it…doesn’t promote anything beautiful or meaningful. Idiotic noise, in my opinion.
Q: So artist like Miles Davis, John Coltrane don’t deserve your time?
A: Oh my god, you gotta be kidding me. None of that music moves me.
Q: Do you know what’s an MP3? Do you know that people can share songs today over the internet, download music for free, listen to it from their phones. what do you think of that?
A: A computer isn’t? I don’t have anything like that. Most of the music they’re getting for free ain’t worth a penny anyhow.
Q: A lot of young people are going back to vinyl records these days. they give up on digital music format and go back to this old beloved medium. what do you think is the reason to that?
A: It’s all about tone…It has a mild tone and is much more mellow than this new digital music, which I can’t stand to listen.
Continue reading “King of the 78s – “Joe Bussard” at dustandgrooves.com.
Watch trailer for the Joe Bussard documentary Desperate Man Blues (YouTube)
Dust & Grooves – Vinyl Music Culture (www.dustandgrooves.com)
Listen to Joe Bussard: An Oral History of Fonotone Records (Wire)
Ad Hoc visits Fonotone Records
Interview: John Fahey on Joe Bussard and Fonotone Records (allmusicguide.com)
Fonotone Records review (Pitchfork.com)
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