“Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, from Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk,” (2020, University of North Carolina Press). Find it at your favorite bookstore as well as amazon.com, Google Play, bookshop, bn.com. Target or Walmart. Beyond America, the book is available in Canada, England, France, Germany, Spain, Japan, India, Australia and New Zealand.
If you want a signed copy, the best place to get that is Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh (which offers shipping anywhere in the U.S.).
Across the great state of North Carolina, it can also be had at Durham’s Regulator Bookshop, Wake Forest’s Page 158 Books, Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books, Greensboro’s Scuppernong Books, Asheville’s Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, Charlotte’s Park Road Books and Pitsboro’s McIntyre’s Books.
Readings, Events & Appearances
November 4 (7 p.m.) – With Let’s Active 40th Anniversary Concert, The Ramkat in Wilston-Salem, North Carolina.
November 10 (7 p.m.) – With M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger at Horse & Buggy Press in Durham, North Carolina.
November 19-21 — North Carolina Writers Network Fall Conference, Sheraton Imperial in Durham, North Carolina.
Testimonials & Reviews
This is a fascinating study of musical history in North Carolina. Thorough, informative, and packed with interesting facts and surprising insights, the book is arranged into sections that focus on various genres popular in the area and, while not strictly chronological, the narrative does move through time in a generally straight trajectory. Through a plethora of entertaining anecdotes, historical recollections, and contemporary observations, Menconi weaves a vivid picture of a vibrant musical scene. Additionally, the pleasing layout and beautiful pictures serve this extensive compendium well. The discography and index are valuable resources. Compassionate, with insightful commentary, the book reveals a deep connection to the area.
— The US Review of Books; Hoffer Awards, First Runner-Up, “Culture”
Menconi may not be a native Tar Heel, but he’s lived here long enough that we’ve come to claim him, and his work in North Carolina music history was already well established but is further cemented with this work. It’s a story that’s long overdue. Maybe it was just waiting for the right person to tell it.
— Michael Elliott, PopMatters review
David Menconi’s sojourn through North Carolina’s musical history is the indispensable book you didn’t know you needed…He’s your favorite cool professor teaching the most popular course on campus.
— Tom Mayer, Watauga Democrat/Mountain Times review
David Menconi’s “Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music, From Blind Boy Fuller and Doc Watson to Nina Simone and Superchunk” (UNC) tells tales as colorful as the mountain laurel blossoms in the state’s mountains and as expansive as the warm sands on the state’s beaches. With a troubadour’s heart, he tramps across the richly loamed Piedmont and the fragrant fields of tobacco in the eastern counties talking to musicians, listening to stories, sitting a spell on porches or in kitchens enthralled by the voices of artists or the plunk of banjos and scrape of fiddles in search of the musical roots and branches of North Carolina music.
— Henry Carrigan, No Depression review
David Menconi reminds us that memory is set free within time and space. “Step It Up and Go” reimagines ghosts carrying guitars crossing Jim Crow color lines that were never meant to be crossed, men who lived and died in their own instrumental universes, and resounding women wailing and weaving their gold into plain view.
This assemblage of interviews and other primary and secondary sources present a wide range of music genres, backstories, and sociological and cultural data that informs, texturizes, and continues to deliver what feels like a seamless space between long ago and now. Celebration and nods of regret remain wonderfully accessible and vulnerable, bearing witness to the power of the everydayness and ordinariness of music makers who call us neighbor, family, and community.
Over and over again, this story of North Carolina music is a righteous invitation. We are drawn to listen to the depth of historical call and response across generations between Rhiannon Giddens, Etta Baker, and Elizabeth Cotten, the slick dance of whoops and hollers of Sonny Terry when 9th Wonder or J. Cole drops the microphone, or to lean in and feel the breath of the shadow spirits of Doc Watson and Charlie Poole swaying in between Chatham County Line.
David Menconi has been in attendance or helped with coverage of every meaningful music event, concert or festival in the piedmont of North Carolina that I can remember over my 20-year career. He deserves to be the one to deliver this comprehensive look into North Carolina musical history.
— Woody Platt, Steep Canyon Rangers
Music is one of North Carolina’s greatest calling cards to the world, and David Menconi is an unmatched ambassador for that music. Weaving together the genres, artists, and songs that feel like the fabric we all wear, Menconi showcases a keen ear for a story, and a journalist’s sense of history.”
— Joe Newberry, musician & Kindness Ninja ™
At long last, David Menconi has given us the musical overview the Tarheel State truly deserves.
— Jon Wurster, Superchunk
“Step It Up and Go” stands alone as a comprehensive, thought-provoking narrative detailing a century’s worth of the entire North Carolina music scene, from the bravado of Charlie Poole and his banjo-driven string music to the wildly creative 9th Wonder and his shepherding of a vital North Carolina hip-hop scene. Menconi’s writing gifts, years of journalism, and direct contact with many of the state’s music figures makes the stories sing from inside and out. North Carolina has needed this book and all its music lovers should celebrate its arrival.
— Thomas Goldsmith (author, “Earl Scruggs and Foggy Mountain Breakdown: The Making of an American Classic”)
Menconi has written a history of North Carolina music that is as lilting as a Piedmont ballad, as pleasurable as a Libba Cotton pick-and-strum, and with all the forward drive of a Fulton Allen solo. That is to say: you should read this book.
— Osha Gray Davidson (author, “The Best of Enemies: Race and Redemption in the New South”)
“Step It Up and Go” is a landmark publication that tracks the state’s rich musical history. David Menconi eloquently introduces early musicians like Shirley Caesar, Elizabeth Cotton, Blind Boy Fuller, Clyde McPhatter, Theolonius Monk, Charlie Poole, Earl Scruggs, Nina Simone, and Doc Watson, as well as contemporary performers like the Avett Brothers, Phonte Coleman, Rhiannon Giddens, Mandolin Orange, Megafaun, Tift Merritt, the Red Clay Ramblers, Southern Culture on the Skids, Superchunk, and Mike “M.C.” Taylor. Menconi delivers a long overdue salute to North Carolina as an unending source of musical talent that has defined the fields of old time country, bluegrass, gospel, blues, jazz, rock and roll, and hip hop.
— William Ferris, UNC professor and Grammy winner
Interviews & Features
“The Road to Now” Podcast interview with Ben Alexander and Dolphus Ramseur (Oct. 19, 2020)
News & Observer excerpt and interview/feature (Oct. 18, 2020) — also in Charlotte Observer, Greensboro News & Record, Houston Chronicle, Bryan (Texas) Eagle, Carolina Coast Online, U.S. News & World Report, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Westport (Calif.) News and The Island Packet
“‘Step It Up and Go: The Story of North Carolina Popular Music’ highlights musicians from across the state,” by Eddie Huffman; Winston-Salem Journal (Oct. 3, 2020) — also in Greensboro News & Record and NotiUlti
“D.G. Martin: Books for holiday giving — a checklist,” Ashe Post & Times (Nov. 23, 2020) — also in Morganton News & Herald, Richmond County Daily Journal, Timesnest.com, Fayetteville Observer, Coastland Times, Stanly News & Press, Chatham Journal and Chapelboro.com
Carolina Alumni Review (September-October 2020)
No Depression wrapup of upcoming Fall 2020 books (July 23, 2020)
“25 Ways to Experience the Arts This Fall,” Chapel Hill magazine (Sept. 3, 2020)
“Religion is everywhere as four important books point out,” by D.G. Martin, Statesville Record & Landmark (Sept. 28, 2020) — also in Morganton News Herald, Independent Tribune, Spring Hope Enterprise, Laurinburg Exchange, Hickory Record, Coastland Times and Up & Coming Weekly
Doc Watson playlist for The Bluegrass Situation (June 5, 2020)
North Carolina busking history and overview for Our State magazine (September 2020)
“Southern Accents” radio show playlist on KMRD in Madrid, New Mexico (Feb. 25, 2021)
Songs from “Step It Up and Go” (on Spotify)
Raleigh playlist (also on Spotify)
Orange County playlist (also on Spotify)
October 18 (11 a.m.-7 p.m.) — “Step It Up and Go” Stage at the North Carolina State Fair’s Homegrown Music Fest with Kate Rhudy, Alex Lawon, Wes Collins Trio (Waterfall Stage at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, North Carolina).
Saturday, July 17 (2:45 p.m.) — Record Store Day with Backsliders and Jeffrey Dean Foster, Schoolkids Records in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Tuesday, July 6 (7 p.m.) — “Step It Up & Go: A Talk with Author David Menconi,” Earl Scruggs Center in Shelby, North Carolina
Wednesday, May 12 (6 p.m.) – “The Story of North Carolina Music,” virtual event via Wake County Public Libraries
Friday, April 30 (8:45-10 a.m.) – “CreativeMornings/Raleigh” discussion
Thursday, April 29 (7 p.m.) — “From Combo Corner to the World: The Diaspora of the Winston-Salem Sound,” virtual event with Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple via MUSE Winston Salem
Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020 (3 p.m.) — Interview on Gimme Country.
Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020 (4 p.m.) — “Secret Monkey Weekend” interview.
Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020 (noon) — “History @ High Noon: Breaking Color Lines at the Beach” talk on beach music, virtual event via North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh.
Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020 (10 a.m.-noon) — “Lawn Darts Radio” interview on Little Raleigh Radio.