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Beach Music

Mike Lambert writes and sings songs as a lark, but he's an emerging star on the volleyball tour

June 11, 2004|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

Mike Lambert probably won't win any Grammy awards for his songs, or poetry prizes for his lyrics, but then, he spends only about 10 minutes writing his ditties.

Besides, he'd much rather people got a good laugh out of them.

His topics include the Lakers, shopping trips to Costco, and his friends, but the tune he's best known for is the unofficial theme song of the Assn. of Volleyball Professionals, "We Are the AVP."

Lambert, in his second full season, also happens to be one of the top AVP players in the game. At 6 feet 6, he is one of the dominant net players with a tour-leading 187 blocks. Last weekend, he teamed with Karch Kiraly and won the Manhattan Beach Open. It was Lambert's first victory.

Kiraly and Lambert had made it to the finals once earlier this season, at Tempe, Ariz., but lost in three games to Todd Rogers and Sean Scott. Sunday at Manhattan Beach, Lambert and Kiraly were singing a different tune in a 21-15, 21-18 victory over Matt Fuerbringer and Casey Jennings.

After the match, Lambert was still singing, though this time it was his recording of "We Are the AVP" being played through the public address system as spectators filed out. The day before, Lambert had performed the song live at center court between matches.

"I don't claim to be the greatest singer or writer, but I have fun with it," Lambert said. "I'm sure there are much better singers in the world, but they don't have fun with it like I do."

In the AVP song, Lambert pays tribute to fellow players and sponsors, but mostly it's about playing the AVP tour:

We are the AVP,

A sexy sport on a little, little court.

We are the AVP,

We got the bomb events under the black and yellow tents.

On Wednesday, the day after the Lakers defeated the Detroit Pistons in Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Lambert was on a sports-talk radio show to discuss his Manhattan Beach victory. He added a surprise, however, playing a tribute to the Lakers on his guitar. He wrote the song 10 minutes before he went on the air:

We got Karl Malone who is aging,

With a bum knee he is still raging.

Gary Payton is the glove,

Somehow he's got to find the love.

Kobe Bryant wears No. 8,

After court he flies in late.

Last night he playin' great

To the Pistons he says, 'Check-mate!'

A few weeks ago, the Fox Sports volleyball show "DiG" featured Lambert on a day off. He was shopping for meat and beer for a barbecue later that evening and singing an impromptu song as he walked through the store:

We're going to Costco.

We're gonna barbecue fo' sho.'

We're getting that tri-tip to flip,

And Bud Lights to sip.

It is at backyard barbecues that Lambert hones his guitar picking. He said he and his friends got together at least twice a week and it usually ended up with everybody poking fun at one another. Lambert does it with his guitar.

"It's mostly just clown rock," Lambert said. "When you're just sitting around drinking a few beers, you can really get the hang of clown rock."

Musical talent, however, runs in Lambert's family. His father was a professional oboe player in the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. His two sisters play piano. His parents wanted him to learn piano as a child, but Lambert gravitated to sports.

"They tried to share the beauty of music with me when I was young, but I wouldn't have the whole piano thing," he said.

When he arrived at Stanford, Lambert found that he had a dorm neighbor who played guitar. He became intrigued and taught himself to play. He'd listen to the stereo, try to duplicate the songs and have musical friends show him the difficult parts.

By 2002, his rookie year on the AVP tour, Lambert had learned enough to perform on stage at an AVP event in Belmar, N.J. Later that year, again scheduled on a talk-radio show, Lambert wrote his first song: "We Are the AVP."

The players and fans loved it, and so did tour officials, who helped Lambert find a studio and a producer to record the song.

"That was really cool," Lambert said. "Then we started playing it live at some tournaments. It could start to become an every-tournament kind of thing. That would be a cool thing to do."

For now, though, Lambert will focus on volleyball. As an indoor player, he was a force. He led Stanford to a national title in 1997 and started on the '96 and 2000 Olympic teams. The transition to the beach isn't always easy, but Lambert was the 2002 AVP rookie of the year.

He sat out last season after shoulder surgery, but Kiraly, who has a record 145 beach volleyball victories, knew how good Lambert was.

"I saw what he could do, the destruction he could wreak up there," Kiraly said. "That's why I hooked up with him. He can be such a force at the net."

For Kiraly, one of the best diggers in the game, a strong net presence was vital in a partner, but as the oldest AVP player on tour, Kiraly, 43, also needed someone who could pass and set well. Lambert is the whole package.

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