Herb Lambert, master mandolinist and teacher from western North Carolina has died at 88 years of age.
He was known for his ability to play in the Bill Monroe style, and for carrying those techniques forward to songs other than one Monroe had himself recorded. Many of todays top mandolinists, like Sam Bush and David Grisman, had sought him out when they were learning in the 1960s for help understanding how to play Monroe’s music.
He was a fully self-taught musician, learning as a young boy based on what he heard on the family’s old radio. With his brother, Milford, the two Lambert boys performed a brother duet show while still a pre-teen. The performing bug seems have stuck, and became a major part of Lambert’s life going forward.
For many years, Herb was a member of a band with his cousin, L.W. Lambert and the Blue River Boys, starting in the early ’70s. L.W. played banjo, with Ray Cline on lead guitar, Tommy Malboeuf on fiddle, Joe Greene on bass, Elbert Arrington on guitar, and Herb on mandolin. The elder Lambert had performed with the Blue River Boys in the mid-’50s, but the group disbanded after about six years together.
The second iteration of the band with Herb became the terrors of the competition circuit, entering and winning more than thirty band contests, taking home what was considered good money in 1972, nearly $16,000. From that prodigious start, the Blue River Boys became a popular regional attraction, and eventually a successful touring act on the larger, national scene.
Also known as a bluegrass songwriter, Herb had one song recorded by Jim & Jesse and Jim Buchanan, and also by David Grisman.
Prominent bluegrass radio host Dennis Jones, a good friend of Herb’s, shared this tribute from the band’s legacy.
“On May 17, 1980, L.W. Lambert and the Blue River Boys played at the Lincoln Center in New York City, opening the bill with Emmylou Harris, Norman Blake, and the Whites. The New York Times review spoke kindly of Emmylou and the others, but said that Herb and band was the best Bluegrass he had ever heard on-stage in New York.
Bill Monroe called him the best mandolin player he had ever heard.”
Lambert is remembered not only as a fine player, but also a generous teacher of the mandolin, especially with young people eager to study bluegrass style. He was also a notorious jokester and could be counted on to keep any gathering in stitches.
A memorial service is scheduled for tomorrow (October 1) at 4:00 p.m. at Mountain View #2 Baptist Church. in Morgantown, NC. The family will receive friends at the church from 2:00-4:00 p.m. Military honors will be provided by the N.C. National Guard and the Caldwell County Veterans Honor Guard.
Herb’s family has requested that, in lieu of flowers, memoriam be made in the form of contributions to:
Burke Hospice and Palliative Care, Inc.
1721 Enon Road
Valdese, NC 28690
R.I.P., Herb Lambert.