Oh, Didn't They Ramble

Rounder Records and the Transformation of American Roots Music

By David Menconi

Foreword by Robert Plant

224 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 42 halftones, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-7499-5
    Published: October 2023

Buy this Book

For Professors:
Free E-Exam Copies

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit Bookshop.org
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, Béla 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.

About the Author

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.

For more information about David Menconi, visit the Author Page.


"An admiring tribute [and] well-researched celebration of Rounder’s influence and accomplishments."—Kirkus Reviews

"A richly detailed presentation of the facts [Menconi] uncovered through research and countless interviews. . . . Oh, Didn’t They Ramble tells an important story in an entertaining and informative way. If you only read one book about music this year, this should be the one."—Bluegrass Today

"The Rounders felt a calling to share what they loved and ended up making history while trying to preserve it. The sheltered sounds of traditional American roots music have been greatly amplified by Rounder's passion for sharing the good news. The story of Rounder Records has been well told in this fine book, revealing a mission of the heart."—Alison Krauss

"As a man of few words, just let me say, Rounder Records made me, and vice-y verse-y."—George Thorogood

"Long one of my favorite music writers, David Menconi has blessed us with a wonderful yarn about the most unlikely of success stories imaginable. Rounder Records has long been the tiny label that somehow could and did. It was ahead of its times in almost every imaginable way and succeeded by going against every grain and trend. An excellent book and a blast to read."—Patterson Hood

"Balancing a determination to document the label's history, warts and all, with a loving appreciation of the music and the label's founders who facilitated it, Menconi charts the path Rounder followed from an 'anti-profit collective' to a cultural juggernaut. A masterful depiction of the indie label business and the roots music culture of the last fifty years."—Danny Goldberg, author of Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain