Joe Bussard passes

Joe Bussard (pronounced ‘Boosard’) passed away peacefully at home on Monday evening, September 26, 2022. He was 86 years old. 

Joseph “Joe” Edward Bussard Jr., a collector of 78-rpm records, was born July 11, 1936, in Frederick, Maryland. 

He picked up the collecting habit in his teens after hearing a song by early country music star Jimmie Rodgers on the radio, and deciding he needed to get every Jimmie Rodgers record that he could find. 

From the late 1950s on, his life was only about music. By then, he had formed a musical group, Jolly Joe’s Jug Band, and hosted shows on radio stations playing old-time country music.

After dropping out of high school, he picked up odd jobs and served in the National Guard while keeping up his collection habit. During the 1950s and 1960s, he travelled the United States in search of more and more rare 78s, searching estate sales, sometimes buying from dealers as well as following up word-of-mouth tips.

He went on to acquire 78 rpm recordings of the earliest and rarest examples of blues, bluegrass, jazz, country and gospel music. The collection of discs he amassed is said to be in the region of 25,000 records. 

It is considered by many fellow collectors to be one of the finest and most eclectic of early American roots music in the country, drawing old-time devotees, among them Jack White and Elvis Costello. 

From 1956 until 1970, he ran the last 78 rpm record label, Fonotone Records, producing over a 100 10” singles, some of which feature home recordings by Bussard himself. 

His collection was mined for a few various artists compilation CDs, including Down in the Basement: Joe Bussard’s Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s (Old Hat Records CD-1004, June 17, 2003); Fonotone Records: Frederick, Maryland (1956-1969) – a five-CD anthology of Fonotone releases issued in 2005 by Dust-to-Digital; and The Year of Jubilo: 78-rpm Recordings of Songs from the Civil War (Dust-to-Digital DTD-47, October 16, 2015).

Author and collector Tony Russell, in the liner notes for The Year of Jubilo, wrote …. 

“Joe is famous among record buffs for his single-minded passion for finding and preserving old discs, his hospitality to visitors who want to hear them, and his generosity in making them available for reissue so that they can be enjoyed by succeeding generations.”

Bussard was the subject of a BBC documentary film, Desperate Man Blues, which subsequently produced a DVD (Cube Media) and a CD (Warner Music 5046746272, August 7, 2003) of the same name.

This short film, Joe Bussard: King of Record Collectors, which is included on the Desperate Man Blues DVD, characterises Bussard’s obsession with collecting and how others looked upon him …. 

Until recently, he had weekly shows on WDVX in Knoxville, Tennessee, and, since 1983, on WPAQ in Mount Airy, North Carolina. 

Bussard was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in October 2019, and the COVID pandemic restricted him further. Nevertheless, until July of this year, when he entered hospice care, he continued to welcome visitors to his basement where he enjoyed talking about and sharing his collection with other music lovers.

All funeral services are private. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be made to Frederick Health Hospice.

It is hoped that there will be a celebration of Bussard’s life in the Spring 2023. 

R.I.P., Joe Bussard.

A Discography 

  • Guitar Rag/Screwdriver Slide (Tompkins Square 89108 (LP), 2013)
  • The Year of Jubilo: 78-rpm Recordings of Songs from the Civil War (Dust-to-Digital DTD-47, October 16, 2015)
  • Rebels Hornpipe – Cherry Lane Express (for whom Bussard played mandolin)

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.