and Opal Jean Amburgey
Jean Chapel and Salty Holmes
Jean, Lana and Salty Holmes
Floyd "Salty" Holmes (member of the Prairie
Rambler Band aka Kentucky Ramblers) b 6 Mar 1909 Glasgow, KY d 1 Jan 1971 Elwood
IN; m. 1947 (divorced 1956) to Opal Jean Amburgey (aka Jean Chapel and
Mattie O'Neill) b 6 Mar 1925 Letcher Co KY d 1995; d/o
Amburgey and Gertrude Quillen; Child of Floyd "Salty" Holmes and Opal
Lana Holmes (aka Lana Chapel)
Opal Jean Amburgey
and Male Woodruff?
Opal Jean Amburgey (aka Jean Chapel and
Mattie O'Neill) b 6 Mar 1925 Letcher Co KY d 1995; d/o
Amburgey and Gertrude Quillen; Opal Jean Amburgey m. (2) Male Woodruff.
Child of Opal Jean Amburgey and Male Woodruff;
I. Kenny Woodruff
Opal Jean Amburgey
and Jeff Calogne
Opal Jean Amburgey (aka Jean Chapel and Mattie
O'Neill) b 6 Mar 1925 Letcher Co KY d 1995; d/o
Amburgey and Gertrude Quillen; Opal Jean Amburgey m. Jeff Calogne.
Opal "Jean Chapel" Amburgey
and Floyd "Salty" Holmes
(Source) Opal Jean Amburgey (Jean
Chapel aka. "Mattie" O'Neil-Holmes-Calogne) was born on March 6, 1925, the
youngest of three girls, born in Letcher county, Ky. She also had three
brothers, Conley, Glen, and Don.
At the age of 10, Jean wanted to pick and play like her father and
grandfather. Her first instrument was the mandolin. "She tuned that mandolin
to make it sound like a banjo," Minnie says, "and with your eyes closed you'd
have thought it was a banjo." The banjo was a favorite instrument for Jean,
but money to buy one with was in short supply during the depression era. Her
father made a considerable sacrifice by selling some of his carpentry tools
to get money for a banjo.
In 1936, at age 11, Jean began her singing career with her two older sisters
in the "Sunshine Sisters" band. After two years of daily practice and countless
public performances, the highly polished "Sunshine Sisters" were in great
At age 13, Jean would leave home with older sister, Minnie, 18; and sister,
Martha, 17; to perform daily at WLAP radio in Lexington, Kentucky. They would
stay with the station for almost a year. Even at this young age, "She was
the star," says older sister, Minnie. "She sang lead on most of our songs;
she had quite the personality."
At age 15, Jean had already performed at literally hundreds of shows,
appeared daily on radio stations, sang on barn dances, became a member of
the "Coon Creek Girls", and was about to begin what she would be most
remembered for--WRITING SONGS!
When Jean passed away in 1995, she had written well over 400 songs with more
than 170 songs recorded and released by major artists such as: George Jones,
Jerry Wallace, Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow, George Morgan, Rosemary Clooney, Dean
Martin, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Connie Smith, Roy Rogers, and
Sonny James, just to mention a few.
The Country Music Association would nominate Jean's 1973 hit "To Get To You"
as one of the top five songs in the country that year. Jean held seven BMI
song writing awards for her song writing abilities.
However, her song writing should not be overshadow the rest of her amazing
career. As music historian, Robert Oermann, says "her saga encompasses
virtually every major development in country music's history - string bands,
radio barn dances, television, rockabilly, and the Nashville Sound."
At age 15, "Jean could play anything with strings," remembers Minnie. The
three sisters would move to WSB Radio in Atlanta to set up a barn dance
program under the direction of John Lair. Here, Lair would change the
Sunshine Sisters' names to Minnie, Mattie, and Marthy. Jean would take the
name "Mattie" and use this name on and off throughout her singing and song
writing career. For the next 10 years, Jean would move around from WSB in
Atlanta, to WLW in Cincinnati, to the
Renfro Valley Barn Dance, to the Grand
In 1947, Jean would marry Salty (Floyd) Holmes, an original "Prairie Ramblers"
band member, and truly great entertainer of his day. The two would appear
numerous times on the Grand Ole Opry as "Mattie and Salty" throughout their
In the early 50's, Jean would record solo
for Hickory Records under the name Opal Jean; record with her two sisters for
the King label in 1951 as the "Sunshine Sisters"; and officially become, Jean
Chapel, in 1956 when signing with Sun Records to sing rockabilly. In addition to
these labels, Jean recorded for Capitol, London, Challenge, Smash, and RCA
She was billed "the female Elvis Presley" by Sun Records, which released her
song "Welcome to the Club" on the flip side of an Elvis Presley release.
Historian Robert Oermann says, "the finest rockabilly performance by a woman at
Sun Records was unquestionably, 'Welcome to the Club' by Jean Chapel."
A divorce, in 1956, from Salty Holmes would lead Jean to slow her recording
career and begin more concentration on writing throughout the 60's. Before long,
dozens of Nashville artists were recording her works.
1966 would find Jean becoming close friends with Virginia Pugh, later to be
Tammy Wynette. Tammy would move into the same trailer court as Jean in
Nashville. Don, Jean's little brother, was dating Tammy at that time and thought
that his sister could give Tammy some pointers in the music business. Concerning
this time, Tammy Wynette would write, "I loved his sister Jean and her daughter
Lana, and I spent most of my social time with them. Jean fascinated me because
she knew so much more about the music business than I did....Jean already had a
number of her songs on records, she was always willing to answer my questions or
give me advice." From the book Stand by your Man.
Jean would ask Tammy to "demo" a couple of her songs for other artists to hear.
Tammy would record three songs written by Jean, "Hungry Eyes", "I Know My
Limitations" and a duet with Jean singing lead "Crazy Me."
The 1970's would find Jean excelling as a songwriter and writing some of her
biggest hits. Daughter Lana would also become a song writer with songs like,
"Sweet Marilyn" recorded by Eddy Arnold; "Hemp Hill KY." recorded by Hensen
Cargill; "Kentucky Ridge Runner" cut by Lester Flatt; and "It's For My Dad"
recorded by Nancy Sinatra.
Jean passed away in 1995. She had two children, Kenny Woodruff and Lana Holmes
(Chapel). Her songs are still remembered by countless people.
Special mention needs to be given to Floyd "Salty" Holmes, Jean's former husband
and partner on the Grand Ole Opry. Together, these two entertained thousands
across television, radio, and personal concert appearances.
Individually, Salty had a long illustrious past of his own in the entertainment
field. Born on March 6, 1909 in Glasgow, Kentucky, Salty was a harmonica
"virtuoso" but could also play the jug and the guitar with great talent.
His band, the Kentucky Ramblers, were legendary forming back in 1930. By 1933
The band was playing over WLS Chicago under the name "The Prairie Ramblers."
They hired a new girl, Patsy Montana, to sing with them. Historian, Robert
Oermann says about the band, "one of the hottest, jazziest, most accomplished
string bands in the history of country music."
At WLS in Chicago, Salty would become good friends with Gene Autry, Tex Ritter,
and Red Foley. 1936 would find Salty and Gene Autry heading for Hollywood to
make movies, and then a return trip in 1944. Salty would appear in several
B-western movies such as: Arizona Days with Tex Ritter; Sagebrush Hero with
Charles Starret; and Saddle Leather Law with Charles Starret.
From 1933-40, The Prairie Ramblers would cut over 100 sessions for Gene Autry
and Patsy Montana. They appeared throughout the country with Patsy performing
daily at many matinees.
Floyd's photo with the Prairie Ramblers can be seen in the "Cowboy Music
Exhibit" at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn. Salty is also
listed in the harmonica Hall of Fame in Holland.
Salty and Jean Chapel were married in 1947 until 1956. His career in radio
carried him from Chicago, to New York, to Davenport, to Cincinnati, to the Grand
Old Opry. During the late 50's, Salty appeared in Las Vegas at the Showboat and
the Sahara club in Reno, Nevada.
Floyd passed away in 1971 at Elwood, Indiana.
Floyd "Salty" Holmes (March 6, 1909 – January 1, 1970) was an
American country musician.
Holmes was born in Glasgow, Kentucky. He became a virtuoso on the harmonica,
specializing in the style known as "talking harp" which imitated the human voice
(much like Sonny Terry). He also played the jug and guitar. He formed the group
The Kentucky Ramblers in 1930, who changed their name to The Prairie Ramblers in
1933 and began broadcasting on Chicago radio station WLS with new vocalist Patsy
Montana. They continued performing and recording under this name until 1952,
playing country, hillbilly music, gospel, and pop songs. They were the backing
group on Montana's platinum hit "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart". Group
members included Jack Taylor on bass, Chick Hurt on mandolin, and Alan Crocket
and, later, Tex Atchison on fiddle. They made over 100 recordings between 1933
and 1940, including as session musicians.
While a member of the Prairie Ramblers, Holmes befriended Gene Autry, who
invited him to Hollywood to star in westerns in 1936 and 1944; among the films
Holmes appeared in are Arizona Days and Saddle Leather Law. In a scene of
Arizona Days, Holmes plays two harmonicas using both his mouth and nose. The
Prairie Ramblers also backed Autry on some of his recordings in the 1930s.
He collaborated with Jean Chapel as "Mattie & Salty", playing regularly on the
Grand Ole Opry; the two married in 1947 and divorced in 1956.
Patsy Montana (1908-1996), born Ruby Blevins in Hope,
Arkansas, came to WLS in 1933. Within a year after the photo above of the
Prairie Ramblers was taken, Patsy and the Prairie Ramblers recorded "I Want to
be a Cowboy's Sweetheart." The song, which Patsy wrote, became the first record
by a female country artist to sell a million copies.
The Prairie Ramblers
Active: '30s, '40s, '50s
Representative Album: "Oregon Trial"
Especially with the presence of the word "ramblers" in the name,
this group which originated in Kentucky may seem on the surface like just
another old-time music or traditional country band. But judging from the group's
versatility and the number of different genres they were comfortable with, the
Prairie Ramblers have more in common with groundbreaking music groups such as
the Beatles. One of the group's recordings featuring its female vocalist Patsy
Montana was the first record by a female country artist to sell a million
copies, so hit-parade gold dust was hardly out of this band's reach. The Prairie
Ramblers were originally formed as the Kentucky Ramblers by mandolinist Charles
Chick Hurt, and "Happy" Jack Taylor, who played both bass and tenor banjo. Both
men hailed from the Summershade area near Glasgow, KY. Relocating to Illinois,
the two wound up collaborating with another pair of Kentucky players. These were
fiddler and lead vocalist Tex Atchison, and Floyd "Salty" Holmes, a
multi-instrumentalist who beside his spicy nickname was also known as the
"maestro of the harmonica." The group began working together at the outset of
the '30s and within a few years had made their radio debut on WOC out of
Davenport, IA. Later, in 1932, the group moved to WLS Chicago, a station that
would make country music history with innovative programs such as Merry Go-Round
and National Barn Dance.
As good as these players were, it was joining forces with Patsy Montana the
following year that made the band really click. Born Rubye Blevins, the country
gal was on-hand for the first set of Prairie Ramblers recordings, done for
RCA-Victor's Bluebird label at the end of that year. The public's growing
interest in cowboy songs and music had led to the name change; apparently, the
prairie was more associated with cowboys than the state of Kentucky. After a
six-month hiatus on New York City radio, the group returned to WLS with a new
focus on both pop-styled cowboy songs and swing music. The cowboy image began to
dominate the group's appearance, the players appearing at venues on horseback
and Western dress, even rustling up Gene Autry's "Ridin' Down the Canyon" as a
signature tune. The group made history in one clear-cut way, providing Montana
with the chance to score a million-selling record, "I Want to Be a Cowboy's
Sweetheart." The band signed with ARC Records and by the end of 1936 had already
cut more than 100 sides. The repertoire just kept getting broader, including
gospel numbers, cowboy songs, mountain music, Western swing, and comedy.
Just like many sanctified artists who recorded scandalous pop music under other
names, the Prairie Ramblers recorded several somewhat off-color incognito songs.
The group even went to the trouble of trying to change its overall sound for
this material, adding clarinetist and vocalist Bill Thawl for tracks recorded
under the name of the Sweet Violet Boys. Apparently it wasn't much of a secret
who the band was, but pianist Bob Miller, who had begun playing on some of the
Prairie Rambler recordings, published the risqué numbers he had composed under
the pseudonym of Trebor Rellim, again not such a sophisticated cover-up. The
songs he was trying to keep his name off included "There's a Man Who Comes to
Our House Every Single Day (Poppa Comes Home and the Man Goes Away)" and "I Love
My Fruit," thought to be the first gay hillbilly song. Apparently Patsy Montana
was allowed to leave the studio during these sessions rather than be
scandalized. Atchison and Holmes rambled right out of the group in 1938,
replaced by fiddler Alan Crockett and guitarist/vocalist Kenneth Houchens. In
the early '40s, the band added in the accordion of Augie Kline and beefed up the
sound further with the electric-guitar stylings of George Barnes. In 1941,
something happened that just about anyone following the band might have
predicted: Montana left to pursue her solo career.
The Prairie Ramblers appeared in several Hollywood Western films, first through
their connection with Gene Autry and later with cowboy singer Rex Allen. Both
artists utilized the group for accompaniment on recording sessions. The final
recordings by the Prairie Ramblers were done for Mercury at the end of 1947, and
followers of the band tend to find this material to be somewhat generic. In the
group's repertoire around the time of its breakup was a tune entitled "You Ain't
Got No Hillbilly Anymore," which was probably a sad fact of life for these
musicians. Hurt and Taylor worked as a duo around Chicago area before retiring.
~ Eugene Chadbourne, All Music Guide