Herb Lambert was born and raised in Burke County, where he taught himself to play guitar and mandolin starting at age seven. In the Valdese community where he grew up, Herb was surrounded by music. His mother and father sang in a gospel quartet, his cousin L.W. Lambert was on his way to becoming a fine banjo picker, and the musical Shuffler family lived nearby.
Herb and his brother Milford started a brother duet when Herb was seven years old. Their father bought Herb a brand new Gibson guitar, and he bought Milford a mandolin. “We thought we was something as young kids,” Herb remembered. Herb was more interested in the mandolin than the guitar, so he started working at it on the side. He quickly surpassed his brother’s mandolin skills, and the two switched instruments. Herb also played some fiddle and guitar, but the mandolin was his main instrument. “Anything you can think of is on that instrument,” Herb said. “You just have to find it.”
Herb taught himself to play. His family had no record player when he was first starting, and their tube radio would only pick up bits and pieces of music through the static. “It sounded like frying bacon,” recalled Herb. He remembered hearing Bill Monroe and Jethro Burns, but said he had to figure out most of his playing on his own.
Herb played with various groups over the years, playing for shows and for radio broadcasts, and he made recordings, including some original songs. Herb started playing in a group called Carolina Boys when he was fourteen years old, and the group did a regular radio program in Granite Falls and WHKY in Hickory. He also played with the Blue River Boys for a number of years. That group included his cousin, L.W. Lambert, along with Ray Cline, Danny Campbell, and Terry Baucom. The group recorded in the 1960s and played together for many years. In his later years, he played with Cedar Creek, a group that included Eric Ellis, Buddy Wright, and Ronnie Swann.
Herb also taught many students to play over the years. A few of them have gone on to play bluegrass with professional bands. “Every student I’ve had has been a fine person,” he said. Herb was also proud that he won a championship in mandolin playing in every state he entered, and he was a multiple winner of the world mandolin competition. His original song “To Love and Live Together,” was recorded by Jim and Jesse McReynolds and David Grisman, and it was nominated for a Grammy Award. Herb was a master mandolin picker who could play a lot of instruments and styles. “I can pick some jazz,” he said, “but I don’t feel it like bluegrass.”
Herb Lambert passed away on September 27, 2016 at the age of 88.