I picked up the violin when I was eight years old in Seattle, Washington. My father was a music teacher and it just seemed like the thing to do.
After taking somewhat grueling classical violin lessons for three years, my teacher “fired” me because I had learned a Swedish dance tune by ear and played it much better than my assigned lesson stuff. I was so proud of learning that little tune. It annoyed my teacher to no end. I took the hint. I switched to a teacher who played a lot of Scandinavian dance music. She also taught using written music, like my first teacher. I really just wanted to play by ear and by feel.
The Big Switch
I was playing at a variety show one night when I was twelve when I saw my first live bluegrass band, Tall Timber. The fiddler was Vivian Williams. She blew my little twelve year old mind. I knew right then that I had to be a bluegrass fiddler. I took lessons from Vivian and we became good friends. I got to go with Vivian and her husband Phil to play square dances. In 1975 we recorded an album of twin fiddle tunes called Twin Sisters. I remember carrying around a few of them every day at school, selling them. Ah, the days of vinyl, but I digress.
Vivian turned me on to fiddling contests, specifically Weiser, Idaho, where the National is held every June. I placed ninth in the junior division my first year and thought I was just terrible. However, I vowed to learn a hundred tunes before the next National… and I did! That was a good year for me. I was 14 then and won the Washington State contest and the Northwest Regional contest, both in the junior (under 18) division. I placed fourth in the National. I met so many fantastic fiddlers during my contest years. Vivian was such a good mentor. She emphasized that a contest wasn’t all about winning but more about having fun and jamming with other musicians.
First Bluegrass Band
At age 15 I joined a bluegrass band that was just forming, located in Portland, Oregon. I thought I knew what I was doing. I did not. My first concert with these guys was a musical disaster. I had no idea what the role of a fiddler in a band was. I learned quickly by listening to records by Jim and Jesse, Bill Monroe and Flatt & Scruggs, to name a few. It was so much different from playing in contests and playing for dances.
Time Goes On, Teaching and Camps
I decided to start teaching fiddle lessons when I was 14. My first student was a very young Mark O’Connor. He was 11. He set the bar high for the students who followed.
Jumping ahead for a moment, in 1996 my friend Cindy Sinclair and I started a camp in Nashville for bluegrass musicians, or those wishing to become bluegrass musicians. It is still being expertly run by Cindy. It is called NASHCAMP and can be seen at www.nashcamp.com
Jumping back to the mid to late 1980s. A band of yodeling cowgirls, Ranch Romance,was born. We got our lucky break being the opener for k.d.lang during her Torch and Twang tour. After we sold a ton of merchandise on our own, we signed with Sugar Hill Records releasing two band albums. I will always call ‘em albums. In 1992 I signed with Sugar Hill on my own, released Fiddle Fatale, produced by Tim O’Brien in 1993 and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to pursue the life of a freelance/touring/studio musician in 1994. My first road gigs were with The Sweethearts of the Rodeo. My first session was a master session playing string parts for Riders in the Sky on a major label. I did freelance gigs with Peter Rowan and his brothers, Tony Trischka, Bill Keith, Charles Sawtelle and a bunch of local television performing.
Summer of 1994 I joined the western swing band Asleep At The Wheel and moved to Austin, Texas. I stayed with them for one year, met and performed with a lot of my heros: Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Bruce Hornsby among them. I got to record with swing fiddle king Johnny Gimble, play on a Grammy winning record, dance with Robert Duvall and make shots of espresso on a moving tour bus without holding onto anything.
Back in Nashville in 1996, I recorded Tonight I Feel Like Texas for Sugar Hill Records. March 1997 I joined folk/rock/funk artist Laura Love on the road. I had been recording on her records for years and now she was signed to a major label. I co-wrote her big hit Mahbootay and toured with her band for about ten years.
In 1999 I took a sabbatical for a year from Laura’s band and went on the road with John Cowan, singer extraordinaire, veteran of the band Newgrass Revival.
In 2000 I released a bluegrass/rock record called Blue On Dakota on my new label,Lots of Coffee Records. Listening to Jerry Douglas shred on electric lap steel through a vintage Vibrolux amp makes me smile big. Scott Esbeck from Austin produced this one.
In 2003 I released Fiddle Piggy, produced by Joe Craven.
In 2006 I released Bootsy Met a Bank Robber, co-produced by Scott Esbeck and me with incredible help from engineer and banjo player Scott Vestal.
2008…..I turned a corner musically. I started the Barbara Lamb Solo Show with more gear than I had ever had to drag around in my past. More gear, but incredible musical freedom. The following is what my friend Danny Barnes had to say about it:
“One of the qualities that keeps me listening to Miss Lamb’s music is her melding of tradition with contemporary innovation. This is a fruitful combination for her musically. These two polarities provide an endless dynamic of light and shade in a type of chiaroscuro effect. As a music fan myself, solo is “where it’s at” so to speak. There is nothing to hide behind in this modality and the music is uncluttered with the trappings of an indifferent ensemble. Barbara has a deep reserve of courage and creativity to draw upon and the resultant effect is striking.” –Danny Barnes
This solo show is really a one woman band. I use looping gear, lots of hand percussion instruments, parts of my body as percussion instruments, an electric kalimba, wine glasses, my fiddle and my voice to create these audio sculptures. It’s performance art you can dance to.
In 2009 I released Twisty Girl on Lots of Coffee Records. It represents my show with ten original pieces ranging from the quirky Scio Sheep Barn to the plaintive I Was Wondering to the completely electronica vibing Benny Got a Chicken.
2009 until now
I have been keeping busy with performing, recording, teaching, composing and fostering dogs. In 2012 I traveled to Russia on a U.S. State Department grant with Bill Evans, Todd Phillips and Tim May. On another US State Department tour in 2012-2013, I traveled to China, Malaysia, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea with Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer. I call that the Yodeling for World Peace Tour.