Sunday, February 04, 2024

David Menconi's "Oh, Didn't They Ramble," the movie

Featured at My Book, The Movie: Oh, Didn't They Ramble: Rounder Records and the Transformation of American Roots Music by David Menconi.

The entry begins:
You might not think the history of an independent folk and bluegrass label is the stuff of compelling big-screen drama. But the Rounder Records story in Oh, Didn’t They Ramble, is the rare exception.

Rounder founders Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton Levy and Bill Nowlin met in college in the 1960s, when they’d march in anti-war protests, hop freight trains and hitchhike to folk festivals. Their adventurous idealism carried over to the label they started in 1970 as an “anti-profit collective” dedicated to preserving American folk music.

That sense of mission served Rounder well as it grew into an operation distributing hundreds of other like-minded labels while releasing literally thousands of albums on the Rounder imprint. But it also created tension after the unexpected commercial success of George Thorogood, which inspired the employees to unionize -- a move the founders contested despite their philosophical leanings.

Rounder has had other improbable successes, most notably Alison Krauss’ multi-platinum superstardom. And yet the label’s bread, butter, heart and soul remains smaller-scale Rounder records by journeyman folk singers or banjo players whose albums might sell a few thousand or even a few hundred copies, primarily at festival merch tables.

While Rounder has always been about the music, its story’s main cast is the three founders, who turned out to have perfectly complementary skills for running a record company in the late 20th century. That, plus good ears and some lucky breaks, is why Rounder has prospered for so long.

So, who to cast?

Marian Leighton Levy – Sophisticated and well-read despite an impoverished upbringing in rural Maine, she had the title of “president” at Rounder because there weren’t any female record-company presidents in the 1970s. During the founders’ 40-year era, before Rounder's sale to Concord Music Group, Leighton Levy was the label’s spokesperson and public face – “the conscience of Rounder,” in Irwin’s estimation.

One could picture Emma Stone conveying her passionate enthusiasm for learning. But I would go with Florence Pugh, whose...[read on]
Visit the author’s blog.

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My Book, The Movie: Oh, Didn't They Ramble.

--Marshal Zeringue