Joe Bussard, who devoted his life to collecting rare 78 r.p.m. records — some 15,000 of them, spanning jazz, blues, country, jug band, and gospel — and who shared his passion for the music on the radio and with visitors who joined him to listen to the fragile discs in his basement, passed away on Monday at his home in Frederick, Md., one floor above his collection. He was 86.
His daughter, Susannah Anderson, confirmed his death under hospice care. She said that pancreatic cancer, which was detected in 2019, was the reason.
John Tefteller, a rare-records trader and auctioneer, said in a phone interview, “He literally lived the music, breathed the songs, and shared them with as many people as he could.” “It was his existence from dawn to dusk.”
And any admirer of his treasures might listen to his 78s at his home.
Ms. Anderson added, “He would invite everybody who contacted him to come over.”
From his house in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Mr. Bussard (pronounced boo-SARD) traversed the rural highways of the South in search of 78s that had been collecting dust in people’s homes. He was picky about the items he took back to his basement. He loved jazz but despised music recorded after the 1930s. He adored country music, but said that nothing decent had been produced since 1955. Nashville? He dubbed it “Trashtown.” Rock ‘n’ roll? A cancer.
In the 1960s, Mr. Bussard was driving through the streets of Tazwell, a little town in Virginia, when he encountered an elderly guy who told him he had some 78s in the shotgun shack where he resided.
In the liner notes of his CD “Down in the Basement: Joe Bussard’s Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s,” he remembers thinking, “Oh my God!” (2002). It took all I had to prevent my hands from shaking.
In a 1999 Washington City Paper feature on Mr. Bussard, his wife was cited as stating that if she had not been a “born-again, spirit-filled Christian who made a promise to God the day I married him,” she “would have left long ago.”
She stated that she too enjoyed music (she played bluegrass recordings in another section of the home while her husband played his music from the basement), admired his collection, and appreciated that he was “preserving it for history.”
Mr. Bussard found affinity with individuals such as Ivy Sheppard, a disc jockey and 78 collector with whom he recorded radio shows for numerous stations, including WAMU in Washington and WBCM in Bristol, Va., which were mostly based on his rare recordings but also included some of hers. Throughout more than four decades, he taped programmes for a variety of stations.
Ms. Sheppard noted that she and Mr. Bussard often engaged in lengthy phone conversations while listening to recordings. She characterised her visit to his basement as “the most incredible experience in the world.”
On July 11, 1936, Joseph Edward Bussard Jr. was born in Frederick. His mother, Viola (Culler) Bussard, was a housewife, while his father owned a farm supply company.
When he was 7 or 8, Joe started collecting albums by Gene Autry, the “Singing Cowboy” western movie star; a few years later, he discovered the country singer Jimmie Rodgers and fell in love. When he was unable to locate any of Rodgers’ records at a nearby shop, he continued searching for them by knocking on doors until a lady offered him a box containing two of Rodgers’ 78s.