Darrell "Pee Wee" Lambert

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Mandolinist Pee Wee Lambert looks like a happy man in the publicity photographs that exist of him. Perhaps he is grinning at the idea that at the time these photos were taken, he was helping to create…
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Mandolinist Pee Wee Lambert looks like a happy man in the publicity photographs that exist of him. Perhaps he is grinning at the idea that at the time these photos were taken, he was helping to create a new style of Appalachian music that would be called bluegrass. Or maybe he was just happy that his instrument is the easiest to carry. Lambert was toting his mandolin around, from the mid-'40s onward, with Ralph Stanley as a member of one of the earliest Stanley Brothers bands. This was a music that was in transition between old-time Appalachian music and bluegrass, the actual fibre of the music evolving with different approaches to banjo playing and guitar accompaniment, to name just two instrumental examples. Specific sides, such as the Stanley Brothers' recording of the traditional tune "Molly and Tenbrooks," have been earmarked as being pivotal moments in the evolution of bluegrass by scholars in this field. Others disagree, calling the recording an act of theft. It is said that it was Lambert with his eager ears and trilling fingers who went to a concert by Bill Monroe and learned that artist's arrangement of this traditional fiddle tune, then brought it back to the Stanley crew, dropping a glowing chunk of bluegrass directly in their laps like a hot potato.

In the early '50s, the mandolinist hooked up with Curley Parker, a Kentucky musical virtuoso who had been a master of both guitar and fiddle since practically a child. Like a disc jockey leaping between horses, Parker would grab the guitar for a bluegrass number if the band's other guitarist was an old-time player, or pick up the fiddle for a tune such as "Sally Goodun," if that happened to be too much of an antique for a younger fiddler. The two musical pioneers became co-leaders of the Pine Ridge Boys, and kept the group going for the next decade, membership including banjoist J.D. Crowe at the age of 16, and the fine fiddler Art Wooten. The former hotshot was recruited via word of mouth, and almost left high and dry in his living room when the bandleaders found out the lad was well under the legal limit for hanging out in bluegrass honky tonks. A few minutes of Crowe's picking and the Pine Ridge Boys agreed as a group that the age limit was dumb, anyway. This important group's activity was mostly regional, its recording discography limited by the primitive state of the bluegrass recording industry during this period. While some recording companies were wandering around looking for "folk" artists to record in "them thar hills," these types were not getting turned on by the progressively sped-up tempos, challenging instrumental solos, and altogether more abstract expression of the bluegrass milieu, described best by banjoist Tony Trischka as the "yee-haw factor." Bluegrass recording was done by individuals such a Jim Stanton of Rich R Tone Records, who released some half-a-dozen singles and EPs by Lambert, Parker, and their (sometimes 16-year-old) boys. The Rich R Tone platters were hauled from town to town in the trunk of his car, like jugs of white lightning. The company also released the first recordings of the Stanley Brothers, combining Ralph and Carter Stanley with Lambert and the terrific fiddler Leslie Keith, the lineup that created the controversial "Molly and Tenbrooks" side.

Lambert was born Darrell Lambert, and was both a crafty songwriter and precise tenor and baritone voice in the traditional bluegrass and rural gospel four-part-harmony setting. The vocal sound of the Stanley Brothers in these early recordings was characterized as much by Lambert's third voice as by the name keepers of the group. Lambert's replacement in the Stanley Brothers was his fellow mandolinist and guitarist Curley Lambert, either his brother or cousin depending on the reference. As previously mentioned, Pee Wee Lambert's subsequent long-term collaboration was with another Curly Parker, meaning the mandolinist might beat out Moe Howard's record for time spent around people nicknamed "Curly."