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Vinyl Ventures

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Rounder Records was born in 1970, a "hobby that got out of control," a fledging record company more or less conceived when vinyl still reigned, while the Sixties were still in flower and which began publishing on a shoestring budget of just over $1,000. Founded by three friends just out of college, the Boston-area company produced over 3,000 record albums, the most active company of the last half-century specializing in roots music and its contemporary offshoots. Rounder won 56 Grammy Awards and documented a swath of music that in many cases might otherwise never have been presented to a broader public. It's arguably a quintessentially American success story.

This book focuses on the early years up to and just through when Rounder evolved to a second stage, with a generational change that has kept the label healthy and flourishing when so many other cultural enterprises from the era have folded or gone dark. It's the story of three people with no background in business who took an idea and, through hard work and passion, built up something of lasting cultural significance.

Vinyl Ventures: My Fifty Years at Rounder Records is less a standard history and more an idiosyncratic memoir written by one of the three Rounder founders. The book includes original photographs taken by the author or drawn from the Rounder archives.

Published: Jan 1, 2021

Book Contributors

Series


Section Chapter Authors
Foreword
Foreword Bill Nowlin
Chapter 1
THE BACKSTORY TO STARTING A RECORD COMPANY Bill Nowlin
Chapter 2
ROUNDER’S FIRST TWO RECORDS – OCTOBER 1970 Bill Nowlin
Chapter 3
BUILDING THE BUSINESS – THE EARLY 1970s Bill Nowlin
Chapter 4
ORGANIZING THE INDIE SIDE OF THE RECORD BUSINESS Bill Nowlin
Chapter 5
THE CONCEPT OF A COLLECTIVE IS CALLED INTO QUESTION Bill Nowlin
Chapter 6
THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEVENTIES – GEORGE THORGOOD AND THE DESTROYERS, AND WRESTLING WITH CHANGE Bill Nowlin
Chapter 7
ENTERING THE 1980s: 50 DATES IN 50 STATES – NO NIGHTS OFF! Bill Nowlin
Chapter 8
STARTING OUR SECOND DECADE, A MATURING COMPANY, AND SOME REAL GROWING PAINS Bill Nowlin
Chapter 9
THE MIDDLE 1980s – FLYING BY THE SEAT OF OUR PANTS Bill Nowlin
Appendix
The Rounder Founders Bill Nowlin
Chapter 10
ALISON KRAUSS – 1986 AND FOR DECADES TO COME Bill Nowlin
Chapter 11
1990 – ROUNDER TURNS 20 Bill Nowlin
Chapter 12
1995 - A QUARTER OF A CENTURY IN, AND STILL FLYING BY THE SEAT OF OUR PANTS Bill Nowlin
Chapter 13
JOHN VIRANT – “THE FOURTH ROUNDER” Bill Nowlin
Chapter 14
2000 – ROUNDER TURNS 30 AS WE ENTER A NEW CENTURY Bill Nowlin
Chapter 15
SELLING THE COMPANY – THE NEXT ITERATION: THE CONCORD CONNNECTION (2010) Bill Nowlin
Chapter 16
ROUNDER’S SENSE OF MISSION Bill Nowlin

Reviews

What a fabulous read. So much of my young life in the folk community echoes in the early days of this story.
It’s a wonderful and informative read. Everyone who loves folk music should join the Rounder journey.
Betsy Siggins, Past Director of Club 47 & Passim Founder, Folk New England Archives

For a detailed and engaging account of one of the most impactful independent record companies of all time, read this book. Drawing upon his keen memory and plying a brisk, emphatic prose style, Bill Nowlin provides herein the ultimate insider's perspective on the rise to prominence of Rounder Records, achieved through the aspiration, persistence, curiosity, serendipity, and teamwork of three lifelong friends--Nowlin, Ken Irwin, and Marian Leighton Levy. These three "Rounder Founders" contributed their individual skills and musical passions to their collective project--a DIY record company that forever changed the ways people perform and appreciate American and international roots music. Rounder's legacy--thousands of albums released over the past half-century featuring stellar amateur and professional musicians and showcasing the full spectrum of vernacular music genres and traditions--reverberates in beloved sound-waves that continue to entertain and transform people nationwide and worldwide. This book--written by Nowlin yet incorporating insights from Irwin and Leighton and others--tells the full story behind that remarkable legacy.
Ted Olson, Professor, Appalachian Studies, East Tennessee State University and seven-time Grammy nominee

This trio really deserves congratulations for a job well done and enormous credit for being a successful family which had not only learned but knew how to execute all the ins and outs of the record biz without sacrificing the best interests of their adopted charges and keeping their ears and eyes on their original goals of being good stewards of the world’s ever evolving regional or natural folk musics!
Chris Strachwitz, Arhoolie Records