WHUS snags Joe Bussard 78 RPM records show

Joe Bussard in his home studioThe University of Connecticut’s student FM radio station WHUS scored a coup Sunday afternoon, October 11, during DJ Jim Beaver’s Red Rooster Party, which features old country, hillbilly and pre/proto bluegrass music.

Famed 78 rpm record collector Joe Bussard of Frederick, MD is now broadcasting 30-minute programs of hillbilly, country and early bluegrass 78s from his private collection, as a featured segment of the long-running Red Rooster Party.

If you haven’t heard of 79 year old Joe Bussard (pronounced Buzz-ARD) and his archive of rare 78 rpm records, check out a recent article from Garden & Gun or back issues of The Old Time Herald. Among connoisseurs of country, hillbilly, jazz and novelty 78 discs, Joe is DA MAN! At his home he has nearly 20,000 pristine discs. Joe is probably the last person in the country who owned and operated a 78 rpm record production company — Fonotone — up until 1974. The Fonotone catalog included bluegrass, for example, some of the very earliest recordings of the late John Duffey.

According to Joe, country music ended in 1955 and jazz ended in 1933!

Joe has been producing programs for a few stations for 30 years. WPAQ in Mt. Airy, NC, WDVX in Knoxville, TN, and WREK in Atlanta. GA lead this select group.

Jim Beaver and Ivy Sheppard visit Joe Bussard at his homeJim Beaver and friend Ivy Sheppard of The South Carolina Broadcasters (she is also a WPAQ DJ) had been kicking around the idea of visiting Joe, who by the way welcomes visitors. A June phone conversation resulted in a vow to “do it!” A phone discussion with Joe produced an enthusiastic welcome for the two seekers. July 16 the pilgrimage was made. Jim and Ivy say it was a day they’ll never forget – life changing…

Jim says he NEVER heard 78 records sound so good, using Joe’s great playback equipment and massive Laguna speaker. Mississippi John Hurt’s Frankie sounded like Hurt was there in person.

Jim felt that his station WHUS was being left out of something great. Joe expressed eagerness to make programs for the U Conn station. Jim took the concept to WHUS management and got the approval.

In these days when recordings are made by musicians cutting digital tracks in home studios — transmitted to the producer via internet, Joe Bussard is (of course) old school. He records his programs on cassette tapes (!!) and snail-mails them to U Conn. Currently, Jim makes digital transfers for WHUS broadcast, but he’s dusting off the station’s old high-quality cassette player.

Joe Bussard looks for a gem within his massive collection of old recordingsThe initial WHUS Country Classics segment included amazingly CLEAR recordings: the 1922 first-ever country fiddle record Sally Goodin by Eck Robertson, Uncle Dave Macon’s 1926 Whoop ‘Em Up Cindy, Earl Johnson and his Dixie Clodhoppers with some wild fiddling on Sourwood Mountain, the WLS Prairie Ramblers (big influences on young Bill Monroe), Sam McGee’s great guitar playing, the swinging Mississippi Juke Band, The Blue Sky Boys singing Turn Your Radio On, and the fiddling Stripling Brothers playing Lost Child as the theme. Joe comments authoritatively on each record. He has an excellent radio voice, too.

WHUS has listeners across southern New England and New York. Via internet, Red Rooster Party and the follow-on program Bluegrass Café have listeners all over the world. WHUS is a reporting station to Bluegrass Unlimited and Bluegrass Today top 30 lists.

Joe Bussard is a legend…particularly because of his eagerness to share his astounding collection. There are record collectors who guard their stash jealously. Not Joe — he wants these old gems to be heard! His Country Classics program is a wonderful addition to the New England bluegrass and old time music soundscape.

Joe Bussard has a website under construction with the help of his daughter at joesvintage78.com. He reads but may not reply to email at Joesvinatge78@aol.com, although he enjoys feedback very much. You can listen to WHUS-FM Red Rooster Party and Bluegrass Cafe at 91.7 or WHUS.org on Sunday afternoons (sometimes pre-empted by U Conn sports). The show archive includes a link to Joe’s initial broadcast.

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About the Author

Dick Bowden

Dick Bowden is a VERY traditional bluegrass picker and fan from New England, who makes occasional contributions to Bluegrass Today representing the old timers' viewpoints.