Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ken Irwin of Rounder Records: The Well-Rounded Radio Interview


At a moment where what being a record label means is certainly in flux, Rounder Records is celebrating its 40th anniversary and, in many ways, showing what it means for artists who share a label and what that means to its customer and fans. (News on 4/14/10: Concord Records acquires Rounder Records)

Rounder Records was started in March 1970 by Ken Irwin, Marian Leighton-Levy, and Bill Nowlin (left to right). In our interview, Irwin tells us how the label came to be, and how they began with blues and bluegrass, and evolved the label to include folk, Cajun, Celtic, and reggae music.

Rounder also manages 18 subsidiary labels, including Heartbeat and Zoe Records.

As someone who knows a bit about bluegrass music, but wanted to learn more, I also ask Irwin to take us through the history of bluegrass.

Irwin kindly takes us through the history of bluegrass from Bill Monroe to Flatt & Scruggs to Nitty Gritty Dirt Band to Alison Krauss to Steve Martin.

From the Theme from Deliverance to Bonnie and Clyde to O Brother, Where Art Thou? to bluegrass festivals around the world, Irwin helps us to understand some landmark moments in the history of the form and why it’s thriving now more than ever.

There are, of course, a lot of great resources about bluegrass music online, including Wikipedia, DMOZ, International Bluegrass Music Association, Society for the Preservation Bluegrass Music of America, International Bluegrass Music Museum, Bluegrass Works, and iBluegrass.

There is also a terrific book about Bill Monroe by Da Capo Press, Can't You Hear Me Callin': The Life of Bill Monroe by Richard Smith.

From starting a record label because, as Irwin put its, “nobody told us we couldn’t” to winning a Grammy Award for Allison Krauss and Robert Plant’s Raising Sand collaboration, there are many lessons within Rounder’s story for musicians in 2010 and beyond.

In our next episode of Well-Rounded Radio, we’ll feature an interview I did with Scott Billington, the Vice President of A&R for Rounder Records with a focus on Cajun and zydeco music, much of which Billington has produced himself.

Rounder Records celebrated its 40th anniversary in March with a new concert CD and DVD, as well as a concert special on PBS. The concert featured Mary Chapin Carpenter, Minnie Driver, Bela Fleck, Allison Krauss and Robert Plant, Allison Krauss & Union Station with Jerry Douglas, Steve Martin, Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas, Madeleine Peyroux, and Irma Thomas.

They’ve also just revamped their web site, rounder.com and there's a great book about Rounder, The Never-Ending Revival: Rounder Records and the Folk Alliance by Michael F. Scully.

I spoke with Irwin in Newburyport, Massachusetts to discuss
* why they started the label and how it has kept going
* how Rounder evolved through the years
* what some challenges are for roots music in the year 2010

Songs featured in the interview include:
1) J.D. Crowe and the New South: The Old Home Place
2) Alison Krauss and Robert Plant: Rich Woman
3) George Pegram: Mississippi Sawyer
4) George Pegram: Are You Washed in the Blood?
5) Joe Val: Along about Daybreak
6) Don Stover: Things in Life
7) Hazel Dickens: Hills of Home
8) Bill Monroe: Molly and Tenbrooks
9) Flatt & Scruggs: Go Home
10) MIke Seeger: The Memory of Your Smile
11) Bill Monroe: Blue Grass Breakdown
12) Jim & Jessee: Hard Hearted
13) Bill Monroe: Orange Blossom Special
14) Conne and Babe & The Backwood Boys: Home is Where The
15) The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band: Will the Circle be Unbroken
16) Summertown Road: Summertown Road
17) Vern Williams: When Springtime Comes Again
18) Steve Martin: Late for School
19) Alison Krauss & Union Station: Every Time You Say Goodbye
20) J.D. Crowe & The New South: Long Journey Home
21) Danny Paisley and the Southern Grass: At the End of a Long Lonely Day
22) Whitstein Brothers: Arkansas
23) The Soggy Bottom Boys: I am a Man of Constant Sorrow
24) Laurie Lewis & Kathy Kallick: Is the Blue Moon Still Shining
25) Alison Krauss and Robert Plant: Gone Gone Gone
26) Jimmy Rogers with Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters: Left me with a Broken Heart
27) The Balfa Brothers: J'ai Vu Le Loup, Le Renard Et La Belette
28) Bela Fleck: Crossfire
29) Minnie Driver: Cold Dark River (Rounder Records 40th Anniversary Concert)
30) Irma Thomas: River is Waiting (Rounder Records 40th Anniversary Concert)
31) Sierra Hull: Secrets
32) James King: Leavin'
33) Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard: Montana Cowboy
34) James Hand: Don't Want Me Too
35) Marcia Ball: That's Enough of that Stuff

6 comments:

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