ROY COUNTS with Okla. Play Boys: California Hillbilly bop and Country-rock (1957-1964)

ROY COUNTS is nearly unknown nowadays, except for 6 sides issued under his name at various times. He was billed on his Bel-Aire record as with his Okla. Playboys, and

roy counts guitarHBR Hometown jamboree

 

 

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he appears to have shared his session (same band) with another Oklahomian (who made his way to California), Jack Tucker. But we have already jumped to his first known issue, as two earlier tracks from the Hometown Jamboree have since surfaced on the Hillbilly Researcher serie # 26 : « I’m tired » and « I’ve got a new heartache » are two average boppers (drums present, although unheavy), and I can’t but remember hearing them of Wynn Stewart solid early sides (like « Slowly but surely », « It’s not the moon that makes a difference » or « You took her off my hands » all on Capitol Records). However these early Roy Counts sides have nothing exceptional.

Roy Counts, “I’m tired

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Roy Counts, “I’ve got a new heartache

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Wynn Stewart,Slowly but surely

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Wynn Stewart, “It’s not the moon that makes a difference

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Wynn Stewart,You took her off my hands

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Things are changing with the already mentioned split-session for Bel-Aire Records, which were located in the same town, El Monte, Ca. as the one where was aired the Hometown Jamboree from, on the airwaves of KXLA. I discuss also the Jack Tucker sides (Bel-Aire 23), « Surrounded by sorrow » and « Let me practice with you », bel-aire Tucker Sorrowsince the sound and backing are very similar. A strong steel guitar (probably Ralph Mooney, according to his particular sounding), Don bel-aire Tucker PracticeEvans on lead guitar, who was a regular with Jack Tucker ; a bass and drums, then a piano player who sounds remarkably like Bill Woods.

Jack Tucker,Surrounded by sorrow

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Jack Tucker,Let me practice with you

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Roy Counts’ « I ain’t got no blues » is a medium ditty full of yodeling – he probably handles the rhythm guitar duty, with a fine steel is well to the fore. Piano, if any, is barely audible. Counts is in good form, as in the faster « Darling I could never live without you » (Bel-Aire 22). Again that sweet and mellow Mooney steel, and this time two piano solos, almost certainly in the style of Bill Woods. These sides have been issued during the Spring of 1957, reviewed by Billboard in April.

Roy Counts, “I ain’t got no blues

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Roy Counts, “Darling I could never live without you

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Billoard, April 27, 1957

Billboard April 27, 1957

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early or later issue?

bel-aire Counts bluesbelaire Counts Darlingbel-aire counts darling

 

 

 

 

 

We jump now to 1963-64 for two sides first issued on the Jedco label, then reissued on Commerce # 5009 (same issue numbers for both labels). « Temptation » is not at all a bad record for this era, and has a very good steel (again Ralph Mooney?) over a fine piano for an uptempo ‘city’ country side. Flipside « Blue angel » is a very good medium paced rockaballad with an haunting steel. Note that both sides were produced by a certain Jack E. Downes (« Strictly drums » on Jedco 5002) : the initials are transparent of JEDco, and one can wonder if it’s he who handles drums on the Roy Counts disc, although it’s largely open to speculation and, as the saying goes, of very small interest !

Roy Counts, “Temptationcommerce Counts Angel Jedco counts temptationcommerce Counts Temptation

billboard counts 1964

Billboard January 18, 1964

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Roy Counts, “Blue angel

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Beside these records, Roy Counts failed to attain a higher stature and fell into obscurity, and that’s a pity : he was in his own right, although a minor one, a very good artist.

 

Sources: 45-cat for label scans; soundfiles from various sources; a great ‘thank you‘ to ‘fortyfivesfrank’ on 45-cat for “Blue angel“; Roy Counts picture from hillbilly-music.com; Wynn Stewart demo 45 from “Roots Vinyl Guide”.

Jimmy Work & the Border Boys: Tennessee Border and Making Believe (1945-1959)

All too often, country composers of the 1940s and 1950s who didn’t have a substantial string of hits of their own are forgotten even if their songs have not been. Jimmy Work is a classic example. The author of three bonafide Country classics – “Tennessee Border” (1948), “Making Believe” (a simultaneous hit for both he and Kitty Wells in March of 1955) and “That’s What Makes The Juke Box Play” (1955) – Work’s records have been a little more than a footnote to the fifties, a composer’s credit on someone else’s records. That fact is truly unfortunate, for in truth, Jimmy Work was among the most expressive composers of the era. Though Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell enjoyed greater success, Work’s best songs were among the most evocative of the period: raw, unvarnished gems with an undeniable directness and beauty.
Born in Akron, Ohio, on March 23, 1924, Jimmy Work moved to a farm his folks purchased near Dukedom, on the border of Western Kentucky and Tennessee, in 1926. “I started playing back when I was seven years old”, he says today. “My Dad had bought my mother a guitar, and she never did learn to play it, and that’s how I learned to play a guitar. Back then I listened to Gene Autry, and I liked Roy Acuff. He was one of my favorites.”
“Around this part of the country, there were some good musicians also”, Work says. “And I was going to high school and we had a band there. They used to have fiddler’s contests, and I was playin’ in all of those and I winnin’ a lot of prizes, but I just liked country music. I started writin’ songs when I was real young. And started singin’ those songs around and people seemed to like it. And that’s been more or less a hobby of mine – sittin’ down and writin’ songs and playin’ music.” Work did not only commit himself to music. He also became an accomplished millwright, a profession he pursued on and off, alternating with music., throughout the past several decades.
His first substantial musical work came at the end of World War II when he moved to Pontiac, Michigan, around 1945. Pontiac and other Detroit suburbs were a powerful wartime magnet for southerners drawn to the money they could make working in war production plants that had been adapted from Detroit’s massive auto factories. Country singers like Work gave them a taste of home, for the loneliness of displacement from the rural south to the smoky, urban Midwest, later brilliantly evoked in Mel Tillis’ classic song “Detroit City”” was very real. Work went on to work on the aptly named WCAR radio in Pontiac, had a songbook published and made his first records for the tiny Trophy label. “Detroit was a good country town, a good country record town”, he remembers.

In 1948 Work recorded an original composition, “Tennessee Border”, for the local Alben label .alben work border

You know, I couldn’t get nobody to record that song, and I went, and recorded it myself,” he remembers. “That record got me started.” Hank Williams was among the major artists who covered it. Its rural overtones made it enormously appealing. He recalls: “All the major labels put it out (on their artists).” Decca signed him in 1949, and with Paul Cohen producing, Jimmy recorded in Cincinnati (backed by Jerry Byrd, Louis  Innis and Tommy Jackson, among others) and Nashville. “Bluegrass Ticklin’ My Feet” did modestly well, but the Decca contract didn’t last.

Still working around Detroit, he recorded one single, “Hospitality”, for Bullet (out of Nashville), backed by his Tennessee Border Boys (# 699). By the early fifties, he was with Capitol, (and writing for Hill and Range), but still hadn’t followed up his success with a hit of his own. He made numerous guest appearances on the major live radio shows of the day and era, such as the WLS National Barn Dance out of Chicago, Illinois, the WWVA Original Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia, the KWKH Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana, the WFAA Saturday Night Shindig out of Fort Worth, Texas.

Work had landed a contract with Capitol in 1953, but again two singles went nowhere, and by 1954 he was signed to Randy Wood’s Dot Records of Gallatin, Tennessee. He produced his own sessions in Detroit and shipped off the master tapes to Dot for pressing and release. From that first session came not only “Making Believe”, his first Dot release, but “That’s What Makes The Juke Box Play”, along with “Don’t give Me A Reason To Wonder Why.” All the backing tracks feature austere, straight accompaniment that is strictly supportive. The lead guitarist, for example, does little more than play a pulsating dead-string accompaniment in the style of Zeke Turner or Luther Perkins with the steel guitar and fiddle the most prominent instruments.

“That’s What Makes The Juke Box Play”, the second Dot single, did not become a huge hit for Work but this quintessential honkytonk ballad, like “Making Believe”, has had a long and sustained life with honkytonk singers ever since, its sorrowful and powerful imagery being among the finest of the idiom.

Cash Box April 30, 1955

Cash Box Sept. 17, 1955

“Just Like Downtown” has much of the rollicking feel of Hank Williams’ numbers like “Settin’ The Woods On Fire”, an idealized, sanitized portrait of a southern house party. “That Cold, Cold look In Your Eye” and “Blind Heart” were typical unrequited love ballads.  He recorded “Blind Heart” twice. The first recording, recorded at his second session, wound up on a Dot album, the second (done at his final session) was one side of his last Dot single in 1956.

 

Thirty years have dimmed his memories of specific details of the records themselves, though Jimmy does remember some basic data. “The Dot sides were cut in Detroit. I used United Sound studio, and I used Casey Clark and his band; Casey played fiddle, and Buddy Emmons played with me on some of those (Emmons was working in Detroit, before joining Little Jimmy Dickens in July 1955). Casey, his boys kind of switched around with him, you know. He had different ones here and there. The band had lead guitar, bass fiddle and a piano on some of them. I don’t know if there were drums in there or not. We recorded about four songs at a time. I’d cut ‘em in Detroit and send ‘em to Randy Wood at Dot.” The band sounded at times as if they were consciously patterning their accompaniments after those of Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys (note the high-register Don Helms-styled steel guitar licks on “That Cold, Cold Look In Your Eye”.)

As a vocalist, Work was among the least polished, most overtly rural of the era aside from Hank and Lefty. His phrasing was understated, and his voice quavered in places. None of it was affectation, his voice was nasal (he could have done well had he pursued a bluegrass career) and his delivery was relaxed and easygoing, putting the lyrics up front.

Virtually all his Dot recordings were original numbers and the majority were ballads in the late 40s/early 50s style. Yet he also did some fine uptempo novelties like “When She Said You All”, or “Don’t Knock, Just Come On In” a bluesy novelty number in the Hank Williams style, the only Dot number never issued (until now). (…) was “Puttin’ The Dog”.

“Making Believe’s” popularity expanded his horizons. After a stay in Nashville, he headed south to WVOK in Birmingham, Alabama, which became his new home base for a time. It also got him some substantial tours, including a string of bookings handled by the popular Memphis C&W disc jockey Bob Neal, then booking Elvis Presley around the South. “Elvis was a good entertainer,” he says. “That’s when he was on the Sun label. When his first records came out, a lot of disc jockeys thought it was Rhythm and Blues, you know. I took ‘em back to Detroit and the (country) disc jockeys wouldn’t play ‘em. And I told ‘em, “Well, someday you’ll play them, and I don’t think it’s gonna be too long.” And those same disc jockeys remembered. Later they said “Jimmy, you was right.”

He stayed in Alabama until 1957, then played around the country music parks in the northeast, including some in Pennsylvania. Dot continued releasing records during 1956, none of them, however, had the impact of “Making Believe”, good as they were. “Digging My Own Grave” was particularly interesting. Much in the style of Hank’s “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive”, it had the same easygoing fatalism.

However, Work’s performing and recording career effectively ended by the late fifties.(…) Some tried recording rock and roll; others were forced into it by producers. But Work never tried to do that. “I was just a few years too late, maybe four or five”, he reflects. (…) For a while, he moved to Southern California, where he sold real estate, and made his final two singles (one a cover of “Tennessee Border”) for the Whittier, CA based “All” label. In the end, he returned to Dukedom and millwrighting, apparently without bitterness or rancor. He does not performing, even locally these days. “But I still write songs for Acuff-Rose”.

Rick Kienzle, notes to “Jimmy Work – Making Believe” LP (Bear Family 15177), 1985.Sources: for the most part, a huge 78rpm collection, label scans from 78worlds.

Article first published in 2011, completely revised July 2019.

Late November 2018 bopping fortnight’s favorites

Hi ! This is the late November 2018 bopping fortnight’s favorites selection : I try to add regularly this section of bopping.org. Obscure artists and record labels, as better known ones, but the emphasis is done on lesser known tunes. They do represent anyhow my feeling for the Hillbilly Bop music between 1945 and 1965 (occasionnally I am sticking these time limits out).

First artist is DICK DYSON, whom I still doesn’t know anything about. I had posted a tune (« I Work In The Daytime, (She Works At Night) » in the early July 2018 faves’ selection, here is one more : « Warmed Over Coffee And Woke Up Kisses » is a fast song, a lot of steel and a very agile lead guitar. Vocal by Johnny Pearson. This was released in 1947 on Tri-State 103.

The November period is favourable to witches and haunted houses. JACK RIVERS on Coral 64072 cut in 1954 the classic half-sung tune of the genre with « Haunted House Boogie : piano, steel, and skeleton’s clinketings.

From Columbia, TN, came in 1960 the rousing « The Drifter », released on Maid 1000 by the Tennessee Drifters (with TOMMY MORELAND on vocal). Great trembling guitar over an high-pitched vocal. More of the same with « The Tennessee Blues » on the Columbus (located in…Columbia, TN, near Nashville) label # 1501. He released also the out-and-out rocker «  » in 1962 on Skoop 1054.

On the West coast, GENE O’QUIN delivers « I Specialize In Love » (Capitol 2578), cut in December 1954. A fast bopper, steel played by Speedy West and fiddle by Harold Hensley.

On the Houston based Shamrock label (no #) I am releasing RAY COATS (Collins and The Ranch Boys) for the fine « Texas Blues », from 1952 or 1953.

In West Monroe (La.)(near Shreveport) was cut the good « Just Me And The Jukebox » by the veteran BUZZ BUSBY on vocals and mandolin. A fast song, a banjo solo as expected on the small Jiffy label # 207.

Next artist was primarily a ballad singer. RUSTY McDONALD, a native of Lawton, Texas (1921-1979, aged only 57 years) worked with Bob Wills, the Callahan Brothers, Tex Ritter as guitarist or front singer. Here he appears on the 1951 released « Baby Sittin’ Boogie » (Intro 6035) : lazy vocal, shufflin’ and sympathetic rhythm. He scored big the same year with « Postage Due », a very styled uptempo tune.

The veteran TEX RITTER has an assured vocal and a dreamed backing behind him, that of Speedy West on steel, Merle Travis on guitar, Cliffie Stone on bass and Harold Hensley on fiddle for « Boogie Woogie Cowboy » (Capitol 928, from January 1950)

Sources : as usual, YouTube, Uncle Gil’s Rockin’ Archives, Internet.

Early November 2018 bopping fortnight’s favorites

Howdy folks ! This is the early November 2018 fortnight’s bopping favorites selection. They are limited from 1955 to 1959 and they include labels like Ekko, Ram, Poppy or Capitol.

First we get JAMES WILSON & the Jimmie Cats. As the time of recording (August 1956), being born in 1940, he was still student at the Shreveport, La. University. His track «Wilson Blues No. 1

» (Ram no #) is a raw bluesy rockabilly: harsh vocal (stop-and-go), great guitar and piano. The flipside is nearly also good, and is backed by a very young (actually his debut) James Burton on guitar. «You Won’t Know Why ’til I’m Gone». The record will cost $ 600 to 700.

At the time he cut those songs below, LOU MILLET was not a newcomer, in regard with records. He had already more than one issue on Columbia, and actually cut as Louis Millet on the Rouge label (1949). From 1955/56 do come his sides cut for Ekko Records out of Nashvlle, TN. «When I Harvest My Love» and «Chapel Of My Heart» are superior boppers (Ekko 1024) – although medium-paced.

On the same label you can find two interesting sides by LLOYD McCOLLOUGH. The man had an abundant dscographical production, under his actual name, or his pseudo («Lloyd Arnold). He realeased several great discs on Von and Republic. Here are two goodies, «Until I Love Again» and «What goes on in your heart» (Ekko 1023).

On the West coast now with CHESTER SMITH, born in Wade, Oklahoma in 1930 – moved at an early age to California. He settled as a DJ during the latter part of the ’50s for the famous KTRB radio station out of Modesto and he had a long string of releases (many sacred ones) on the Capitol label. In 1957 he duetted with Del Reeves for a minor classic (does this song ring a bell? By Gene Vincent!), «Love, Love, Love» (valued at $ 100-150). We find him a couple of years later on the Riverbank, Ca. label Poppy and «Tennessee Saturday Night», a light country rocker. In the meantime he had also cut for Decca «You Gotta Move», which is clearly Rock’n’roll, as did the unissued-at-the-time «Rock Go Around».

More on the West coast by a great: SKEETS McDONALD . Two tracks out of a January 1955 session. Both are very good examples of shuffling, bouncing Hillbilly bop, «I Can’t Stand It Any Longer» and (my favorite of Skeets for years) «You’re Too Late“.

Sources : YouTube, 45cat, my own archives and collection. This article has been made on a Mac.

Jean Chapel a.k.a. Mattie O’Neil a.k.a. Opal Jean (1950-1957)

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. At the mattie o'nealage 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 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 demand.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 Ole Opry.king o'nail hiccough

Mattie O’Neil & Salty Holmes, “The Hiccough Song

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Mattie O’Neil and Salty Holmes, “Stuck With Love

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In 1947, Jean would marry Salty(Floyd) Holmes, an original Prairie Ramblers Band member, and a truly great entertainer of his day. The two would appear numerous times on the Grand Ole Opry as “Mattie and Salty” throughout their career.salit & mattie 2salty & mattie 1

Salty & Mattie “Long Time Gone

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In the early 50’s, Jean would record solo for Hickory Records under the name Opal Jean; record with her two sisters under the name of Amber Sisters.

hickory opal Tennessee

Opal Jean, “Tennessee Courtin’ Time

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for the King label in 1951 as the Sunshine Sisters, or The Amber Sisters on Capitol Records (with Joe Maphis);

More King sides (1951-52):”Our Love Is Gone

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Shackles And Chains”

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capitol amber lonesomecapitol amber lovin'king Mattie goneking Mattie shackles

The Amber Sisters, “Lonesome Road Blues

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The Amber Sisters, “When I Want Lovin’ Baby I Want you”

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The Amber Sisters, “Cherokee Eyescapitol amber cherokee

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capitol amber tiredThe Amber Sisters, “So Tired Of Your Runnin’ ‘Round

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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 Records. 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.”

sun jean welcomeJean Chapel, “Welcome To The ClubRCA-Victor jean welcome

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RCA-Victor jean rockin'Jean Chapel, “I Won’t Be Rockin’ Tonightsun jean rockin'

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Jean Chapel, “Oo-Ba La BabyRCA-Victor jean baby

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In 1957, she sang « Ooh-ba La Baby » for the film « Untamed Youth ». 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. 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, click here to see a list.

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.salty & 6 harmonicas

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.

Salty Holmes (with Joe Maphis) “Cannon Ball Special”

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Salty Holmes, “Wabash Bues” (instr.)

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decca salty cannonLondon salty Wabash
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. In the 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.

(biography from Don Chapel, All Music). Additions by bopping’s editor.

Sources: 78rpm-worlds (Ronald Keppner, as usual – many thanks to him), also “45stalker”; Notes and music from Cattle CD 289