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Joe Bussard, Collector of Musical Treasures

Sometimes recorded sound can transport a listener to another place. Turn on the radio and stand beside a correspondent in Kabul, or drive across the plains of Texas.

Joe Bussard's record collection — perhaps the largest of its kind — sends listeners back in time. Among the nation's leading collectors of music from the 1920s and 1930s, Bussard also has recordings that date to the 19th century. He keeps most of his treasure in a basement near Frederick, Md. The walls are lined with records, all in identical, unlabeled cardboard sleeves. He doesn't have a filing system; he has them all memorized.

This collection is Bussard's hobby — and his obsession. He has thousands and thousands of records harvested during four decades of driving through Appalachia. The collection features blues, string bands, jazz and sacred singing, all preserved on black shellac discs that can feel as thick and heavy as a lunch plate.

"The truest form you'll ever hear in American music is on these records," he tells NPR's Steve Inskeep. "It was put there, and it's remained there for seventy years. It hasn't changed."

Several of Bussard's classic tracks have been collected on a recently issued CD, Down in the Basement: Joe Bussard's Treasure Trove of Vintage 78s 1926-1937 on Old Hat Records.

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Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.

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