Far more influential than many realize, Kit Lambert played a key role in shaping the sound and image of the group he managed, the Who. It was Lambert who suggested Pete Townshend's trademark "windmill" strumming style, and who was also a strong creative force behind Tommy, writing one of the earliest scripts of the famous rock opera. Perhaps most notably, the lackluster sound of the Who after Lambert left in 1975 is the true testimony to his creative influence and importance to the band.
The son of famous English composer Constant Lambert, Kit was born into a talented, artistic family which also included painter George Lambert. Although his father played an absentee role for most of Kit's life, his artistic background and socialite reputation would have a great effect on the boy. Attending Lansing Public School, Kit displayed not only a flair for the dramatic, but a decadent self-destructive side as well. This tendency culminated when, in 1961, after spending time at both Trinity College in Oxford and the University of Paris film department, Kit ventured to Brazil in an attempt to map the longest undescended river in the world, the Iriri. The expedition ended in disaster when a close friend was killed by a cannibalistic tribe. Kit returned to London and for the next few years held various jobs, working half-heartedly as a director's assistant on films such as From Russia with Love and The Guns of Navarone.
In 1963, after meeting a fellow movie assistant Chris Stamp, Lambert hatched the idea that the two should capitalize on Britain's recent rock craze by finding a young, unsigned group and making a film about them. Intense scouring of the London clubs ensued, and Lambert's future was changed when one day he walked into the Railway Hotel and found the High Numbers performing loudly to a crowd of mod youth. Lambert and Stamp quickly ousted the group's management, changed the group's name to the Who, and set about turning them into pop stars. These embryonic days of the Who may very well serve as Lambert's legacy, as it was he who encouraged Pete Townshend's songwriting; Lambert also, sensing their young, largely male audience, cultivated the angry, sexually frustrated image of the Who.
By 1966, with several successful singles credited to the group, Lambert ousted producer Shel Talmy and, after setting up Track Records, took over the producing reigns of the Who. Acting as Townshend's Svengali, the two learned the skill of production together, setting about the task of capturing the Who's raw live show on tape. Always capable of understanding the minds of the youth culture, Lambert convinced Townshend to write about deeper issues than the typical boy-meets-girl fare of other British groups. The results were a brand of tough, gutsy songs ("I Can See for Miles" and startlingly original mini-operas "A Quick One While He's Away") that would culminate in the phenomenally successful 1969 rock opera Tommy.
Though Lambert's contribution to the concept and production of Tommy was widely acknowledged, the success created a situation where the group no longer needed or relied on his close influence, leaving him to slowly wean himself away from his beloved Who. In the '70s Lambert continued to produce and manage the group, but to a much lesser extent than he had done in the early days. He traveled to New York to produce Labelle and in 1975, along with longtime partner Chris Stamp, was officially ousted by the Who in favor of manager Bill Curbishley. Lambert went on to produce some early punk bands in the mid-'70s, but heroin addiction curtailed much of his activity, and Track Records, the label he had founded and which had released the earliest efforts of Jimi Hendrix, folded in 1976. Lambert died in 1981 of a brain hemorrhage.