By Hayley M. Cook
WILLIAMSON - Local musicians in West Virginia, regardless of their musical genre or background, are usually celebrated with pride and support. In Mingo County particularly, there have been several musical successes to celebrate, Kayla Slone being one of the latest locals to see major recognition.
It seems that the locals of Mingo County know when they have a good thing.
The thought of any musician’s accomplishments going unnoticed in this area would seem a little strange, but that is exactly what happened when Darrell “Pee Wee” Lambert was inducted into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame a year and a half ago.
Pee Wee Lambert was a native of Thacker. He was a man who grew up along the railroad tracks, in the middle of nowhere, who managed to make a strong impact in the music world. His Cinderella success story has been told a few times before, but never with the mention of his induction into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
In many of the photographs of Pee Wee Lambert, you can see a bright smile on his face. He is usually carrying his signature instrument, the mandolin, with him.
His story, already well faded with time, was uncovered first in 2005 by Donna May Paterino at the old Matewan Depot Restaurant. It was on that evening that an eerie coincidence led to the resurfacing of a musician who helped shape bluegrass music into what it is today.
“One particular evening, after I had already locked the door for the day, I was visited by two hungry music producers,” said Paterino.
“After I agreed to let them in, while I was preparing their meals, they excitedly asked, “What are you doing with a photo of Pee Wee Lambert on your wall?” I replied, “How do you know Pee Wee Lambert?” They were amazed when I shared with them how close they were to the area in which he lived.”
Those hungry music producers were from Rounder Records, a major independent Nashville-based company that is still standing today and is home to artists like Alison Krauss and Woody Guthrie.
They had a mission: to scope out new talent with a bluegrass sound.
They were also, oddly enough, working on a tribute album for the Stanley Brothers, dedicated to the memory of Pee Wee Lambert.
That was when Lambert’s story was finally revisited.
Born in Thacker in 1925, not much else is known about Lambert’s childhood. What is known is that in the 1940s, Lambert toted his mandolin with him everywhere he went.
He was a man who loved his bluegrass, and, along with Ralph Stanley, became a member of one of the earliest Stanley Brothers bands.
In the early 1950s, Lambert began working with Curly Parker. Together with 16-year-old banjo player J.D. Crowe and fiddler Art Wooten, they founded the Pine Ridge Boys.
For many years Lambert, Parker and Wooten recorded a handful of singles and EPs on the Rick R Tone label, which they sold out of the trunk of their car after shows.
Bluegrass music was not heavily recorded at the time, so these early records were well received and treasured by those lucky enough to own them.
All of these accomplishments are the very reason Lambert was selected to become a member of the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, being labeled a “pioneer of bluegrass.”
Lambert died of a massive heart attack at the young age of 41. He is survived by his wife, Hazel, and four children, Darrell Jr., Ralph, Bobby, and Cathy. His entire family accepted his award on his behalf in 2012.
Lambert’s induction into the Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame is a huge accomplishment. He was a talented musician, a pioneer in the genre of bluegrass, and he died before he could see the fruition of his labor and passion.
That odd coincidence in Paterino’s restaurant several years ago may have been fate, a way to once again remind Lambert’s family and community that his legacy was living on.
It may have been a sign for locals to appreciate the musical talent of their area more.
One thing is certain – his name is now forever among the greats of bluegrass music, exactly where Pee Wee Lambert belongs.