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‘Mayor of Music Row’ Charlie Lamb Feted at BMI Nashville

Posted in News on August 30, 2000

One of the unsung pioneers of Nashville�s music industry was honored at BMI (8/29) as Country Music Hall of Fame member Brenda Lee hosted the Charlie Lamb reception: "A Tribute To Charlie." More than 300 people were on hand to toast Charlie Lamb, legendary journalist, promoter, executive, humorist, publicist and actor who was a key player in Nashville�s evolution into a world-class entertainment center. BMI's Patsy Bradley began the evening's program by presenting flowers from BMI President & CEO Frances Preston to Lamb's wife, Frances, and introducing Mistress of Ceremonies Lee. Others making presentations included Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell, CMA's Ed Benson, Belmont University's Don Cusic, Bill Anderson and Ralph Emery who, on behalf of Gov. Don Sundquist, read a proclamation announcing August 29 as "Charlie Lamb Day."


Bill Anderson, Charlie Lamb, Brenda Lee, BMI's Patsy Bradley, Ralph Emery, Mayor Bill Purcell

Lamb was Nashville�s first Sales and Promotion executive for a national record company. He was the city�s first representative to the national trade publications Billboard and Cash Box. Lamb was on the founding boards of both the Country Music Association and the Nashville chapter of the Recording Academy. A hilarious master of �double talk,� he has been saluted on ABC-TV as one of America�s Funniest People.


Marijohn Wilkin and Brenda Lee

He was also the publisher of Nashville�s first music-industry periodical. The Music Reporter revolutionized the trade by inventing the �bullet� system on its popularity charts. That system remains in use today throughout the music world. As a show promoter, he worked with everyone from the cast of the Grand Ole Opry to Elvis Presley. As a character actor, he has been featured in Hollywood films, television commercials and country music videos. And to a generation of entertainers and executives he was affectionately known as �The Mayor of Music Row.�


Katherine Bradley with Frances & Charlie Lamb

This remarkable man was born 79 years ago in Knoxville, Tennessee. His parents were �show people� - mother was a trapeze artist and father was a magician, ventriloquist and animal trainer. Lamb�s first foray into entertainment was as a barker for the Beckman & Gherty Carnival, but World War II interrupted his career. Although only 5�6� and 105 pounds, he served as a military policeman during the 1940s. He also married his wife Frances during the war years. Back in Knoxville, Lamb worked as a reporter for the Knoxville Journal and as a disc jockey on WKGN radio.


Shelby Singleton and Jerry Kennedy

His career as a promoter began when he began running the artist bureau for WROL in Knoxville, booking such stars as Flatt & Scruggs and Carl Smith. He was next hired by Mercury Records to work in its then-new outpost in Nashville, the city�s first permanent record-company office. He promoted a roster that included Patti Page, Rex Allen and Frankie Laine and rose to a vice presidency.


The Harold Bradley Combo

The New York headquarters of Cash Box magazine wanted a Nashville representative. Lamb was hired as a $15-a-week columnist and sold ads and subscriptions to the publication by hanging around the Opry on weekends. He was soon working on commission as an ad salesman for both Cash Box and Billboard. In 1953 he helped organize the first Country Music Disc Jockey Convention as a way of celebrating the Grand Ole Opry�s birthday each year. That custom survives today as Country Music Week in Nashville each October. He was also a key figure in establishing the annual Jimmie Rodgers Day in Meridian, MS and Hank Williams Day in Montgomery, Alabama.


Charlie Lamb and Brenda Lee

He continued to work as a show promoter, playing a key role in the careers of such stars as Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow, Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubb and Marty Robbins in the 1950s. He was a prolific album annotator, providing notes for packages by Bob Wills, Tex Williams, Spade Cooley and many others. In 1956 Lamb founded The Music Reporter to chronicle the growth of Music Row. The publication inaugurated the �Big 100� popularity chart, which was soon copied by its competitors in New York. So was Lamb�s �bullet� to denote a fast-rising single on the charts. The magazine also published Dick Clark�s weekly top-10 lists from his American Bandstand TV show. The Music Reporter was instrumental in focusing national and international attention on Nashville as a music center in the 1950s and 1960s.


CMA's Ed Benson with a photo of the first CMA Board of Directors, held by Brenda Lee and Patsy Bradley

In 1958 Lamb served as a founding board member of The Country Music Association. �He was probably the midwife at Nashville�s birth as a major recording center,� observes Brenda Lee. �I love him because he was there to help me, and others like me, when I was just starting out in this business.� Lamb�s protegees also included Jim Reeves, for whom he negotiated a star-making contract with RCA. He was Elvis Presley�s fan club organizer when the King electrified America on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. Lamb discovered Bill Anderson in 1958 and pitched the youngster�s �City Lights� to superstar Ray Price, launching Anderson�s career as one of the most successful songwriters in Nashville history.

In 1964 the Nashville chapter of the Recording Academy was established, with Lamb sitting on its inaugural board. In 1965 his liner notes for a Hank Williams LP were nominated for a Grammy Award, another �first� for a Nashvillian. By this time, Charlie Lamb was famous throughout the community as a master of �double talk,� which made him a popular convention speaker and media personality. A typical babbling might be, �Edistrada on the sidistay, another, you got it! Besides, doodisam moffan off there, if�n you can get it working for you.� His skill once drove prospective dictation secretaries to tears on the Candid Camera TV show, and won him the $10,000 grand prize on America�s Funniest People.

He sold The Music Reporter in 1964. He published a second trade publication, Sound Format, in 1966-73. During this same period his Charlie Lamb Agency managed country stars Connie Smith, Ed Bruce, Doug Kershaw and others. He also briefly had his own label, Doubletalk Records. In 1977-80 he operated The Charlie Lamb Country Music Museum of Stars on 17th Avenue South. Then he worked for Jim Reeves Enterprises when it created a museum for that entertainer in Madison, Tennessee.

In recent years Charlie Lamb has been featured in such music videos as Hank Williams Jr.�s �Young Country� (1988) and Ray Stevens� �Get Serious� (1995). His commercial work includes ads for Toyota, General Motors, Godfather�s Pizza, Chrysler, Dodge Trucks, Dollar General Stores, BellSouth, Frito-Lay and many others. He was a frequent guest on the TNN cable show Nashville Now during the 1980s. Lamb also had supporting roles in the Burt Reynolds movie W.W. & The Dixie Dance Kings (1975), the Bruce Willis movie In Country (1989), Jim Varney�s Ernest Goes to Jail (1990) and the Melanie Griffith/Jeremy Irons film Lolita (1997).

Lamb served as the founding chairman of ROPE (Reunion of Professional Entertainers) in 1983. He published his autobiography, The Country Music World of Charlie Lamb, in 1986. He became a familiar figure at Fan Fair throughout the 1990s as the talent coordinator for the Great Escape booth�s popular autograph sessions with vintage celebrities.

Belated recognition has finally been coming his way. Earlier this year at the annual Country Music Conference at Belmont University, an annual award was introduced in his honor: The Charlie Lamb Excellence in Country Music Journalism prize will be presented beginning in 2001 to deserving reporters in the print, broadcasting and internet fields. During Fan Fair�s Golden Voice Awards banquet in June, Bill Anderson presented Lamb with a Golden Circle Award.

As a journalist, promoter and publicist Charlie Lamb helped turn a lot of careers into legends, and in so doing, he became one himself. This event is his industry�s way of saying, �Thank you.� The Charlie Lamb Reception is a GIFT (Giving in Faith Together) benefit event.

Music for the gala was provided by The Harold Bradley Combo. Songwriter, performer and Great Escape Records owner Gary Walker and his wife Peggy headed an event committee that included Brenda Lee, Bill Anderson, Bill Denny, Jo Walker-Meador, Jerry Bradley, Richard Frank, Debbie Carroll, Buzz Cason, Joe Taylor, Stacey Harris, Jerry Strobel, Harold Bradley, Robert K. Oermann, Billy Self, Bob Tubert, Jackie Monaghan, Jay Orr, Ed Benson, and BMI's Frances Preston and Roger Sovine.