Prolific ‘old-time’ record collector Joe Brussard dies at age 86

Joe Brussard, who made a name for himself as a collector of old-time music including rare records, died on Monday at age 86. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2019.

Brussard’s family said in a Facebook post that he died “peacefully at home” after his long illness.

Brussard started collecting old-time music as a teen, and his collection is estimated to be between 15,000 and 25,000 records. The collection includes early American blues, country, gospel, and folk music, all of which was recorded before World War II.

Even though Brussard dropped out of high school, he continued collecting and eventually started a recording company in the 1950s to continue recording old-time music. The company continued operating until 1969.

His career

Brussard traveled all over the country to search out rare records and 78s, which he bought from collectors, estate sales, and individuals.

He drew the attention of other prolific collectors and worked with the label Dust to Digital on several retrospective projects.

He also hosted two different weekly radio programs in Knoxville, Tennessee and Mount Airy, North Carolina to showcase the music he loved.

He was featured in the 2003 documentary Desperate Man Blues and in a chapter of the book Do Not Sell at Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records, published in 2014 by Amanda Petrusich.

What will happen?

He disliked nearly all music made after the mid-1950s.

Brussard reportedly did not make any arrangements for his records after his death.

He didn’t seem happy with the idea that they should be given to the Library of Congress or a museum because they would not be enjoyed or listened to there.

He told the Washington Post in June, “I like to say I’ll enjoy them until I croak. Then whatever they do with them is fine.”