We’re going Old-Timey with Jug bands, County Blues & Southern Gospel, and Fonotone (78 RPM only) Records…
Joe Bussard is from Frederick, Maryland. He is a collector. Of most things really, but for our purposes, he’s into old-time American music. Pretty much anything before 1955 – but that’s stretching it. He mostly swears off anything past the “golden-age” of recordings (1927-1932) as modern trash. Ya know, if it ain’t on 78 RPM, it probably sucks. As a teenager, in the 1950s, he’d go door-to-door (trying to spot signs of old folks residing) asking if he could take home their old records. “I could look at a house and tell there were records inside”, says Joe. “I could smell them”. Over the years, he has amassed over 25,000 records. There’s been a documentary film made about Joe called “Desperate Man Blues”, articles written like “Joe Bussard Parties Like It’s 1929″, and a Village Voice piece comparing him to the Steve Buscemi character in Ghost World “..times a thousand”.
In 1956, Joe Bussard started a label (78 RPM only, of course) from his parents basement, and called it Fonotone (it sounded good). He recorded himself, friends, and eventually a young John Fahey, who recorded some of his earliest music (and only vocals, ever) with Joe under the pseudonym Blind Thomas. Mike Seeger recorded too, as Birmingham Bill. In the basement, Joe had a mic, a reel-to-reel recorder, and a record cutter – essentially a studio and manufacturing facility for his label of 78s. The label lasted from ’56 until 1969, trying to preserve the old way and the old sound. The records didn’t go far beyond the Maryland border, and many in this day have never heard of Fonotone.
But now, the music has surfaced again, and all that revival spirit, a kinda of faux universe of old-time music in The Bussard’s basement, has been re-issued in a box-set. And who of course, would release 5 such CDs in a time-capsule of packaging – cigar box, photos, 160 page booklet, and a bottle-opener? Dust-To-Digital, who else? The same label that put together the incredible box set (that I play all the time!) Goodbye Babylon. The collection of southern gospel ranging from 1902-1960, which also is a marvel of packaging and product. And when DTD label chief, Lance Ledbetter was assembling the source material for what would become Goodbye Babylon, he noticed that this guy Bussard had about 70% of the material from his personal collection of 25,000 records. Soon, Lance was helping with Joe’s 78 RPM-only radio show “Country Classics” on WREK-FM, and then the idea was realised to re-issue the Fonotone catalogue. This is the kind of stuff The Roadhouse lives for. And why you listen to community, member-supported radio, right?
Listen to the second hour of my show this week and check the feature set on Joe Bussard and his Fonotone Records. And read more about this eccentric, and his vision of what good music really is “…jazz died in 1934″ and “…country music is hillbilly music – when they stopped calling it that, there were no more barns, hay or chicken, just ballrooms with crystal chandeliers!”