Chuck Lambert’s day job is not exactly the kind of gritty, back-breaking slog typically associated with the blues: he’s a membership services associate at Red Bank’s Community YMCA. That’s right, he’s the guy who’ll give you the orientation tour, set you up with access to the Cybex machines or heated indoor pool, and do it all with purring, irresistible charm.
But Lambert has also had glimpses of the seamier side of what the world can show you, he says, and hes not just talking about the men’s locker room at peak occupancy. For starters, some of the musicians Lambert has played with have been run over by the music biz, or drugs, or just plain bad luck, without having any sort of safety net for themselves or their families. Music — the blues in particular — has its pitfalls, he says over tonic water at the Downtown Café. Next thing you know, theyre having a benefit concert for you.
Of course, plenty of musicians hold down day jobs: thats not news. Whether they’re bluesmen, rappers or timpanists for the philharmonic, only a select few can get by without a little something to supplement what music provides in material terms. Lambert’s job at the Y, which hes had for nine years, is a nice backstop for a guy with a 10-year-old daughter. It’s also, he says, a terrific way to interact with people from the town where he lives. (It just seems so right that Chuck’s home is on Mechanic Street, birthplace of one of his idols, William Count Basie).
Heres the thing, though, that we want to call attention to and, frankly, applaud: Lambert, who turns 55 this summer, has had a remarkably durable musical career for a guy who toils on this side of stardom. Hes been playing professionally since he was 16, before he was old enough to drink in the bars where he began honing his chops. Hes always found a way to make a few bucks from it, too, through his days at Lafayette College, then out on the road with legends such as John Lee Hooker and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and right up to the present. It’s been pretty consistent, with no real long spells of inactivity, Lambert says. Considering the alternatives, it’s an achievement that leaves him grateful and humbled beyond expression, he adds.
He’s still at it, too. The five-piece Chuck Lambert Band plays up to 125 nights a year at the likes of the Downtown Café, the Walt Street Pub and the Crossroads Bar in Asbury Park, churning out a blend of muscular Chicago blues, R&B and jazz, with tinges of funk thrown in (the man, after all, rubbed elbows with George Clinton and Bootsy Collins in his native Plainfield).
As in years past, Chuck and his band will take the stage at this year’s 20th edition of the Red Bank Jazz & Blues Festival. The show is, understandably, a high point for Lambert. Getting up in front of a hometown crowd at such a high-profile festival is definitely not just another gig, he says. When you get the opportunity to play in front of thousands of people, many of whom have supported you for years, your heart definitely beats a little faster.
The Chuck Lambert Band is schedule to put some muscle into it on the Marina Stage at 6:30p Saturday. Beware: Your heart rate will rise, too. You will sweat. And towels are not provided.