Charlie Lamb, who in his various professions helped create Music Row and build it into an international music center, died Wednesday morning (March 7) in Nashville at the age of 90.
Once dubbed “the mayor of Music Row,” Lamb was by turns a journalist, publisher, advertising salesman, talent manager, record company executive, concert promoter, record producer, publicist, performer, trade association organizer and anything else it took to link music with an audience.
He was born June 21, 1921 in Knoxville, Tenn., of show business parents, his mother a trapeze artist, his father a magician, ventriloquist and animal trainer. The lure of the spotlight also affected Lamb, who found work throughout his career as an actor in commercials and movies and as a comic “double talker.”
The diminutive dynamo — he was 5-foot-6 — was working as a carnival barker when World War II began. After service in the U.S. Army as a military policeman, he returned to Knoxville and found work as a newspaper reporter and disc jockey.
From those labors, he moved on to booking shows for such country stars as Carl Smith, Flatt & Scruggs and Red Foley. His successes inspired Mercury Records to hire him to open an office for the label in Nashville. In that capacity, he not only dealt with country artists but also promoted records for pop acts, among them Patti Page and Frankie Laine.
Billboard and Cash Box, then the two most influential music trade magazines, took advantage of Lamb’s budding Nashville connections to employ him as a reporter and ad salesman.
In 1956, he established his own trade journal, The Music Reporter, and introduced the typographical symbol called a “bullet” to designate the singles on his music charts that were rising with particular speed. He sold the magazine in 1964 and, in 1966, started another trade publication called Sound Format.
Lamb’s prominence within the music community placed him at the birth of several trade organizations and traditions that continue today. He helped organize the first Country Music Disc Jockey Convention in 1953, which subsequently inspired such institutional spinoffs as Country Music Week and the Country Radio Seminar.
He was a founding board member of the Country Music Association at its inception in 1958 and of the first Nashville chapter of the Recording Academy (the purveyors of the Grammy awards) when it opened in 1964.
One of the other annual activities Lamb helped engineer — Jimmie Rodgers Day in Meridian, Miss. — has since developed into the International Country Music Conference, now held each spring in Nashville.
Since 2001, that organization has conferred the Charlie Lamb Excellence in Country Journalism award on distinguished entertainment reporters.
Lamb acted in many national-brand commercials, music videos and movies, in addition to performing as a double-talker under his own name. Among the movies he had minor roles in were W. W. & the Dixie Dance Kings, In Country and the remake of Lolita.
In his later years, Lamb served as a record producer and career adviser for a series of aspiring country music artists.
On August 29, 2000, BMI, the performance rights organization, honored Lamb with a reception hosted by Country Music Hall of Fame member Brenda Lee. Then-Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist declared it Charlie Lamb Day.