Vinyl Ventures – the story of Rounder Records as told by Bill Nowlin

Equinox Publishing has announced a March 30 release for Vinyl Ventures – My Fifty Years at Rounder Records by Bill Nowlin.

Nowlin was one of three recent college graduates who founded the Rounder Records label in 1970 in Boston, MA, alongside Ken Irwin and Marian Leighton Levy. These three have shared in the past that they were greener than green, knowing very little about the business they were entering, using their love of traditional American music forms as their guiding passion. Of course since that humble beginning, the company has gone on to become a premier source for bluegrass, old time, and Americana music, with more than 3,000 releases in total.

Home to such iconic artists as Alison Krauss, Béla Fleck, Norman Blake, and Tony Rice, the label was sold to the Concord Music Group in 2010, with the company subsequently moving its headquarters to Nashville. While Irwin and Leighton Levy remained involved in some creative aspects of the business, Nowlin began to focus on his new interest, writing and editing books about another piece of Americana… baseball. He continues to manage the Rounder Records Trust, and participates in the bluegrass world in other ways.

But with Vinyl Ventures, Bill returns to the early days of Rounder to tell the story of how three college friends formed a record label that came to produce some of the most historic bluegrass albums of the 20th century. Early records tended to be with New England artists, including projects with Tony Trischka, but the release in 1975 of J.D. Crowe & The New South’s self-titled LP – the epochal 0044 album – Rounder was on the map in a big way.

These early times are a primary focus of the book, which also covers its entire run as a major indie label right up to the time it was sold. Fans of the music the label produced – including artists like Rhonda Vincent, Sam Bush, IIIrd Tyme Out, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, Dailey & Vincent, and Dan Tyminski – should enjoy reading about the business side of Rounder, and the growing pains the company experienced at least twice during their time. The explosion in sales of records for Alison Krauss, and blues rocker George Thorogood, tested the growing label’s cash flow, and forced them to into new business strategies in order both to survive, and to continue servicing their artists with the personal touch they had come to expect.

The book also includes more than 50 color photos that Nowlin took of recording sessions and artists, as well as some from Rounder’s deep archive stretching back 50 years.

Keep an eye out for Vinyl Ventures when it releases at the end of March.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.