Joe Bussard

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Joe Bussard
Bussard talking about 78s
Bussard talking about 78s
Background information
Birth nameJoseph Edward Bussard Jr.
Born(1936-07-11)July 11, 1936
Frederick, Maryland, U.S.
DiedSeptember 26, 2022(2022-09-26) (aged 86)
Frederick, Maryland, U.S.
Occupation(s)Record collector
Years active1951–2022
Esther Mae Keith
(m. 1965; died 1999)

Joseph Edward Bussard Jr. (July 11, 1936 – September 26, 2022) was an American collector of 78-rpm records.[1] He was noted for owning more than 15,000 records, principally from the 1920s and 1930s, at the time of his death.

Early life[edit]

Bussard was born in Frederick, Maryland, on July 11, 1936.[2][3] His father managed the family's farm supply business, and his mother, Viola (Culler), was a housewife. Bussard began collecting when he was seven or eight, starting with Gene Autry records.[2] During his teenage years, he and his cousin collected everything from rare coins to beehives to birds' nests. He attended Frederick High School, but left in eleventh grade without graduating.[3] He initially worked at his family's business and in a supermarket, but was unemployed from the late 1950s onwards.[2]


Over his lifetime, Bussard amassed a collection of between 15,000 and 25,000 records, primarily of American folk, gospel, jazz and blues from the 1920s and 1930s.[1] From 1956 until 1970, Bussard ran the last 78 rpm record label, Fonotone, which was dedicated to the release of new recordings of old-time music. Among these were recordings by hundreds of performers, including the first recordings by the guitarist John Fahey. A five-CD anthology of Fonotone releases was issued in 2005 by Dust-to-Digital.[4] It was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Boxed or Special Limited Edition Package in 2006.[2][5]

Bussard was the subject of a documentary film, Desperate Man Blues (2003), and his collection was mined for a compilation CD, Down in the Basement.[2] He also authored his own entry in The Encyclopedia of Collectibles, which was published in 1978.[3] He shared his collection, which included many only-known-copies of records, best-known-copies, and numerous reissue labels, as well as work with individuals for whom he taped recordings from his collection for a nominal sum for decades.[6] His daughter reckoned that a minimum of 150 individuals visited their home annually to hear him play songs and recount how he obtained his records.[3]

Bussard produced a weekly music program, Country Classics, for Georgia Tech's radio station, WREK Atlanta.[7] He had radio programs on other stations: including WPAQ-AM 740 in Mount Airy, North Carolina, and WDVX in Knoxville, Tennessee.[8] He disliked the city of Nashville, Tennessee, sometimes called "Music City", calling it "Trashville".[9] His dislike for modern music, especially hip hop and rock and roll, was well documented.[10]

In a 2022 interview, Bussard cited the recording, "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground" by Blind Willie Johnson, as one of the greatest recordings of all time.[8] He visited a flea market in Emmitsburg, Maryland a month before his death to look for more 78s, but left empty-handed.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Bussard married Esther Mae Keith in 1965.[11] She worked as a hairdresser and cosmetologist to support the family. They remained married for 34 years until her death in 1999. Together, they had a daughter.[2][3]

Bussard died on September 26, 2022, at his home in Frederick while in hospice care. He was 86, and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two years prior to his death.[2][3][12][4][13][14]


  1. ^ a b Heim, Joe (June 5, 2022). "A savior of abandoned American music contemplates his collection". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 5, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Sandomir, Richard (September 30, 2022). "Joe Bussard, Obsessive Collector of Rare Records, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2022.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Heim, Joe (September 29, 2022). "Joe Bussard, who built a basement temple for music worshipers, dies at 86". The Washington Post. Retrieved October 1, 2022.
  4. ^ a b Hussey, Allison (September 27, 2022). "Joe Bussard, Record Collector Who Preserved Early American Blues and More, Dies at 86". Pitchfork. Retrieved October 2, 2022.
  5. ^ "2006 Grammy Winners". The Recording Academy. Retrieved October 1, 2022.
  6. ^ Reichert, H. Stereophile, December 2020 (
  7. ^ "Country Classics". WREK. August 19, 2011. Retrieved September 27, 2022.
  8. ^ a b "A savior of abandoned American music contemplates his collection". Washington Post. Retrieved September 27, 2022.
  9. ^ "Records". The Jackson Sun. Jackson, Tennessee. August 19, 2001. p. 21. Retrieved April 7, 2018 – via Nashville?" he'll spit. "More like Trashville.
  10. ^ Desperate Man Blues: Discovering the Roots of American Music. Dir. Edward Gillan. 2006. DVD. Cube Media/Dust-to-Digital.
  11. ^ "Miss Esther Keith Weds Joseph E. Bussard Jr. ", The News, Frederick, Maryland, June 18, 1965, p.14
  12. ^ Gotrich, Lars (September 27, 2022). "Joe Bussard, the collector who preserved early American recordings, has died at 86". NPR. Retrieved October 2, 2022.
  13. ^ Sinnenberg, Jackson (September 30, 2022). "Joe Bussard, who built a pre-war sound trove to rival the Library of Congress, dies at 86". KTUL. Retrieved October 2, 2022.
  14. ^ Pescovitz, David (September 28, 2022). "Joe Bussard, historian of old-timey music and legendary 78 RPM record collector, RIP". Boing Boing. Retrieved October 2, 2022.


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