David Menconi: Oh, Didn't They Ramble
What is American roots music? Any definition must account for a kaleidoscope of genres from bluegrass to blues, western swing to jazz, soul and gospel to rock and reggae, Cajun to Celtic. It must encompass the work of artists as diverse as Alice Gerard and Alison Krauss, George Thorogood and Sun Ra, Bela Fleck and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, the Blake Babies and Billy Strings. What do all these artists and music styles have in common? The answer is a record label born in the wake of the American folk revival and 1960s movement politics, formed around the eclectic tastes and audacious ideals of three recent college grads who lived, listened, and worked together. The answer is Rounder Records.
For more than fifty years, Rounder has been the world's leading label for folk music of all kinds. David Menconi's book is the label's definitive history, drawing on previously untapped archives and extensive interviews with artists, Rounder staff, and founders Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton Levy, and Bill Nowlin. Rounder's founders blended ingenuity and independence with serendipity and an unfailing belief in the small-d democratic power of music to connect and inspire people, forging creative partnerships that resulted in one of the most eclectic and creative catalogs in the history of recorded music. Placing Rounder in the company of similarly influential labels like Stax, Motown, and Blue Note, this story is destined to delight anyone who cares about the place of music in American culture.
An admiring tribute [and] well-researched celebration of Rounder's influence and accomplishments."—Kirkus Reviews
Menconi's history of the legendary Rounder record label also offers a concise survey of the music industry over the last half century. Rounder successfully found a way to honor what came before while introducing a new generation to the best that roots music has to offer, and along the way, it helped create the genre some now call Americana. Menconi does a masterful job crafting a complex narrative into a thoroughly entertaining and, dare I say, even emotional, read."—Michael Elliott, author of Have a Little Faith: The John Hiatt Story
The 2019 North Carolina Piedmont Laureate, David Menconi was a staff writer at the Raleigh News & Observer for 28 years. He has also written for Rolling Stone, Billboard, Spin and New York Times.