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Lambert in the studio in 1968, for the Tommy sessions. Photo: Baron Wolman
|Birth name||Christopher Sebastian Lambert|
|Also known as||Baron Lamberti|
11 May 1935|
Knightsbridge, London, England
|Died||7 April 1981
Record label owner
|Associated acts||The Who
Crazy World of Arthur Brown
John Lennon and Yoko Ono
Kit Lambert was the son of the composer Constant Lambert and grandson of George Washington Lambert, a sculptor and painter who was an official war artist for the Australian government at Gallipoli during World War I.
Career in film and music
After studying history at Trinity College, Oxford Lambert briefly served as an officer in the British Army being stationed in Hong Kong. After his service, in May 1961, he joined an expedition with two Oxford friends, Richard Mason and John Hemming, in an attempt to discover the source of the Iriri River in the Amazon. Lambert hoped to film the expedition as a documentary. On 3 September Mason was killed by an uncontacted Amazon tribe known as the Panará while he was alone hunting for food. Lambert was initially arrested by Brazilian officials on suspicion of murdering his friend but after a concerted campaign in Britain by the Daily Express newspaper, which had financed the expedition, he was released. After returning to the United Kingdom, Lambert became an assistant director on the films The Guns of Navarone and From Russia with Love.
Soon after, he and fellow assistant director Chris Stamp (brother of actor Terence Stamp) decided to make a documentary that would show the behind-the-scenes life of a pop group. The band they chose was The High Numbers (known previously, and again afterwards, as The Who). Lambert and Stamp began filming concerts of the group, but eventually abandoned idea of the documentary, deciding instead to become The Who's managers; even though they had no experience ever managing a group. After the band was turned down by EMI, Lambert and Stamp signed them up with Shel Talmy who had produced The Kinks hits, and whose company had an output deal through Decca Records in the U.K. Lambert eventually replaced Talmy as the group's producer in 1966, starting with I'm a Boy which reached number two on the UK singles chart.
In 1967, Lambert and Stamp established their own independent record label, Track Records, one of the first of its kind, signing up various new artists including Jimi Hendrix, Arthur Brown (producing his number one single, Fire in 1968), Thunderclap Newman, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and Golden Earring. In 1968 they set up offices in New York and signed Labelle, whose first album Lambert produced. The label initially proved very lucrative for the duo, but due to fiscal mismanagement and ongoing conflicts with The Who it soon fell into debt and was dissolved in May 1976.
Tommy and firing
In 1966, Lambert convinced Pete Townshend to move away from the simple songs of the group's earlier albums and to produce more mature fare, encouraging the songwriter to begin composing deeper themes about his troubled childhood. Townshend has acknowledged that it was Lambert who influenced him to combine rock music and opera thus creating the rock opera Tommy. Although The Who were international hit-makers by the late '60s, it wasn't until the release of Tommy in 1969 that the band became firmly established both creatively and commercially. However, while The Who was struggling to articulate Townshend's next concept, Lifehouse (which would eventually be abandoned, and turned into the popular rock album, Who's Next), Lambert began shopping a film version of Tommy without the band's authorization. This led to significant differences between Lambert and the group. Despite this, in 1973 Townshend reached out once again to Lambert to aid him with the recording of Quadrophenia, but Lambert's drug abuse and the allegations of missing funds stalled efforts at a reconciliation. After litigation was initiated for unpaid royalties, both Lambert and Stamp were fired in 1974 and replaced by Bill Curbishley who still manages the band today. They officially ended their partnership with the band two years later. In the late 1970s Lambert went on to produce some early punk bands, but with little success.
Ward of court
At the peak of his success Lambert owned a flat in Knightsbridge, London, and the Palazzo Dario on the Grand Canal in Venice, where he was known as Baron Lamberti. Lambert claimed that he was conceived in Venice and hence was romantically linked to the city. His neighbor there was the heiress Peggy Guggenheim whom Lambert became romantically linked with. However, back in the UK his excessive drug use brought him to the attention of the British police and he was arrested and charged with possession of heroin. As a defense, and one rarely used, a lawyer convinced Lambert to become a ward of court whereby he would avoid charges and a potential prison sentence while an Official Solicitor would take charge of his affairs, providing him a with a small weekly stipend out of his own money to live on. This, even though royalties from the albums that Lambert produced for the Who and Hendrix were steadily increasing each year.
Book and final days
In 1980, Lambert, assisted by journalist John Lindsay, began writing an autobiography, detailing how he discovered The Who. It included many never-before-told stories about his contemporaries The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Brian Epstein, Jimi Hendrix and friends like Princess Margaret and Liberace. However, days before Lambert was to sign a publishing deal, the publisher was contacted by the Official Solicitor who was in charge of Lambert's life, who stated that all revenues from the sale of the book have to be paid to the court to be doled out to Lambert. This was the beginning of Lambert's downward spiral, increasing his dependence on drugs and alcohol.
In 1981, Lambert died of a cerebral hemorrhage after falling down the stairs of his mother's house. He was buried in Brompton Cemetery, London alongside his father, paternal grandfather and grandmother. On the night of his death he was seen drinking heavily at a popular Kensington gay nightclub, El Sombrero, and according to many, including Townshend, he had been beaten up by a drug dealer over an unpaid debt which contributed to his fall and death.
The Lamberts biography
Some material compiled by Lambert and Lindsay was included in a book called The Lamberts by writer and poet Andrew Motion, the British Poet Laureate which won the Somerset Maugham Award literary prize in 1986. The tapes made by Lindsay of Lambert's interviews were several hours in length and became an important historical reference both of the era of pop and rock music as well as of Lambert's own tumultuous life. On the tapes he dispelled some of the popular rumors that he had purposely perpetuated himself to generate publicity about his charges. Ironically, in reality Lambert's methods in promoting groups like The Who were far more eccentric and stranger than popularly believed, making him out as one of the most gifted and original showmen of the era. The two remaining members of The Who, Townshend and Roger Daltrey, have always acknowledged Lambert as a major influence on the band's success, along with his business partner Chris Stamp. After his death his estate was worth over £490,000 and the royalties that have flowed in from his various works to his inheritors have totaled over £1 million.
In 2014, an American documentary film was made about Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp entitled, Lambert & Stamp. It was produced and directed by James D. Cooper. It had its world premiere at 2014 Sundance Film Festival on 20 January 2014.
In 2012, independent producer Orian Williams announced he was producing a biopic on Lambert's life to be directed by actor Cary Elwes from a script by former Mojo magazine editor Pat Gilbert. Surviving Who members Townshend and Daltrey will contribute to the film which is based on taped material recorded by Lindsay.
- Napier-Bell, Simon (1997). "Kit Lambert". Sunday Times magazine. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
- The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Live at Monterey DVD
- "Christopher Sebastian "Kit" Lambert (1935 - 1981) - Find A Grave Memorial". Findagrave.com. Retrieved 2015-07-29.
- "Lambert & Stamp || A Sony Pictures Classics Release". Sonyclassics.com. Retrieved 2015-07-29.
- "Arts - Lambert & Stamp: The men who made The Who". BBC. Retrieved 2015-07-29.
- Billboard magazine – Dec 7, 1968
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Jun 30, 1979
- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Dec 3, 1979
- Toledo Blade – Apr 8, 1981
- The Milwaukee Sentinel – Apr 9, 1981
- Lambert & Stamp review March 28, 2015
- Lambert & Stamp documentary – Sony Classics
- Allmusic.com Kit Lambert biography. Accessed on 5 March 2005.