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
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-7500-8
    Published: October 2023

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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

"With extensive access to Rounder artists, staff, and founders Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton Levy, and Bill Nowlin . . . David Menconi is able to tell Rounder’s story, from its humble but audacious and idealistic beginnings to becoming one of the most influential record labels in the history of recorded music."—Bluegrass Situation

"A terrific piece of writing. Oh, Didn’t They Ramble isn’t just a book. It’s a guide to our essential musical past." —Greg Kot, Sound Opinions

"David Menconi does a masterful job of documenting the impact of the roots music label that started as it’s three founders sold records out of their van at bluegrass festivals and from the basement of their house."—Americana Highways

"Filled with period photos of the founders and the acts and festivals they supported, Oh, Didn't They Ramble is essential reading for bluegrass fans hungry to learn the inside story on one of the most influential and impactful record labels ever in bluegrass music. Highly recommended."—Bluegrass Unlimited