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Posts Tagged ‘Joe Bussard’

Hi FESA Fans!

I’ve got a few good stories to tell, since spending the summer of 2009 in Washington, DC, working with Smithsonian Folkways Recordings and the Folklife Festival at the Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage (See future posts on all things Smithsonian!).

One of my favorite DC area adventures was visiting legendary record collector, Joe Bussard, at his home in Frederick, MD. Now, some of you might remember that we screened the Dust-to-Digital film about Joe and his incredible collection of 78 rpm records, “Desperate Man Blues” (2006), in the Spring of 2008 as part of the FESA Film Series. I bought this film before seeing it, because I was so captivated by this charismatic man, and his story. It turned out to be a fine purchase, indeed.

During the Folklife Festival, I got to speaking with Rinzler archivist Jeff Place about Joe and he said I should just call him up and see if he’d like to host a group of us for a little while. I thought the whole thing was too good to be true, but I called him up anyway and after sort of quizzing me on my familiarity with early American music, he said he’d be glad to host a small group of Folkways interns. (I probably just answered Jelly Roll Morton to everything).

Joe Bussard’s record collection holds original and rare copies of some of the most historically significant music in America  – music that is not in the Rinzler Archives at Folkways, or housed at the Library of Congress. Bussard dropped out of school as a teenager and simply started driving around, knocking on doors in the South, seeing what rare 78 rpm records he could find. Record collecting quickly became more than a hobby for him. Since Bussard first starting collecting, he’s shared his unbelievable findings (and impressive familiarity with the music and its time) with the record collecting community. One can hear some of these rarities by tuning in to his weekly radio show Country Classics on Atlanta’s WREK, and through his limited-release box sets on his own Fonotone Records. By collecting, preserving, and sharing these rarities he has done us (Americans, music fans, historians, musicians, folklorists, archivists, the list goes on) quite the service, and I am so thankful to him for that.

 Joe pulls a record from 30,000. He has no shelving labels - he knows the location of each of his records through memory.

Joe pulls a record from 30,000. He has no shelving labels - he knows the location of each of his records through memory.

Joe’s collection of about 30,000 78 rpm records consists primarily of American folk, gospel, blues, and jazz, from the 1920s to the 1930s.

The first spin

Joe displays his original Jimmie Rodgers picture disc

Joe displays his original Jimmie Rodgers picture disc

Joe’s most endearing quality was his sheer enthusiasm and rhapsody whilst listening and sharing his records. I think he probably played the mouth trumpet more than a few times. Whenever I tried to capture his music moves he’d take them down a notch (understandably). This video is the closest I got:

Ah! Nevermind - mouth trumpet documented!

Ah! Nevermind - mouth trumpet documented!

Part of Joes record station

Part of Joe's record station

A typical pre-listening narrative with a bit of a tour of his collection. Here he pulls a Roanoke Jug Band 78:

Joe in his element

Joe in his element.

Next, Joe had no qualms about spinning us the record that put him in the history books – the #8030 Black Patti, “Original Stack O’ Lee Blues” by the Down Home Boys. Worth about $50,000 if I remember correctly. It was found near Tazewell, Virginia, “under a bed in a box with three feet of dust, it was one of 15 Black Pattis in mint condition and it turns out to be the only known copy of the recording” (Fonotone).

Joe shows us portrait with his Black Patti in a record collector mag.

Joe shows us a portrait with his Black Patti in a record collector mag.

Here’s Joe spinning us the Black Patti. It’s probably one of the loveliest songs I’ve heard in a long while:

Joes rarest: The #8030 Black Patti

Joe's rarest: The #8030 Black Patti

Then, Joe told us some more stories and played us some records on his incredible Victrola.

Joe sets up his Victrola for demonstration

Joe sets up his Victrola for demonstration

Warming up the Victrola

Warming up the Victrola

Finally, I convinced him to play us some music. Do check out his one-time band, Two Black Jacks. Here he plays his guitar with a screwdriver:

Some of Joes methods of cataloging his music: self-made indexes

Some of Joe's methods of cataloging his music: self-made indexes

A jazz index

A jazz index

Joe would rather continue telling us stories than pose for a formal photograph!

Joe would rather continue telling us stories than pose for a formal photograph!

After 3.5 hours of stories and music: Smithsonian Folkways interns (L to R) Schuyler Marquez of MA, Eric Dresner of MI, Jenn Jameson of IN, Joe Bussard, and Caitlin Allen of MA. Photo by Laura Casserly of DC.

After 3.5 hours of stories and music: Smithsonian Folkways interns (L to R) Schuyler Marquez of MA, Eric Dresner of MI, Jenn Jameson of IN, Joe Bussard, and Caitlin Allen of MA. Photo by Laura Casserly of DC.

One final photo of Joe and his Victrola

One final photo of Joe and his Victrola - Letters from NASA in the background (!?)

Finally, we headed to Bussard’s favorite spot, Barbara Fritchie’s Candy Cane Diner. He says he likes it so much because they don’t play “terrible music on some jukebox” (in fact they don’t play any music at all).

Barbara Fritchies interior

Barbara Fritchie's interior

Me and Fritchie: Frederick, Maryland

Me and Fritchie: Frederick, Maryland

A week or so later, I received the custom tape I commissioned from Joe.

He asked me what I wanted on it, and I told him “Surprise me”.

The best kind of momento.

The best kind of momento.

Jenn Jameson

(jamesonj@umail.iu.edu)

FESA Secretary, Fall 2009

Ed. Note:

More pictures can be seen here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rosehips/sets/72157622233080843/

A few more videos can be seen here: http://vimeo.com/album/126383

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