Desperate Man Blues is a DVD that every record collector should see. It chronicles the long-time efforts of Joe Bussard, an obsessed music lover in the purest sense of the word. Bussard has spent much of his life traveling the backroads of the Southern United States in search of “America’s real music” – country, blues, jazz and bluegrass from the 1920s and early 1930s. During his travels, he amassed more than 25,000 78 rpms, including recordings from pioneering artists such as Blind Blake, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson and Jimmie Rodgers.
As would be expected, Bussard is extremely knowledgeable and opinionated – claiming that rock and roll is the cancer of music, and that real jazz ceased to exist after the Great Depression. His zone of musical reality spans about seven years, from 1925 to 1932 or so, but in that frame exists a whopping amount of original music from a time in the history of the U.S. when playing music for many rural families was as much of a part of the daily existence as gathering food for the evening meal.
Bussard’s stylistic prejudices aside, he’s a hard person to dislike. Watching him take an obscure 78 from his immaculately kept record shelves, giving it a quick cleaning before playing – with ever-present cigar in mouth – and tapping out a rhythm on his knees, and a broad grin spread across his face, it’s almost impossible not to get caught up in his enthusiasm.
While many of us began collecting records from an early age, few of us made the efforts to preserve music like Bussard. His mission to safekeep American music – what sometimes may be the sole recording of an artist – is, in my mind, very admirable. Bussard found his true love early on and has done everything since to keep the passion alive.
Though I don’t agree with Bussard’s take on music in the broad sense, I respect his efforts and thoroughly enjoyed watching this unique man talk of his records with the reverence and joy they so much deserve.
And don’t miss the great footage of Son House playing “Death Letter Blues” on one of the DVD’s many extras.