Who was/is Jean Chapel ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Jean Chapel was the only other singer besides Elvis to see her Sun material wind up on RCA. Her Welcome To The Club didn’t move the same number of units that Presley’s recycled Sun singles did for Victor, but now it ranks with the hottest female rockers Sam Phillips put out, even if it was waxed in Nashville. Jean Chapel wasn’t her real name; Opal Jean Amburgey had several performing aliases over the years. She and older sister Irene hailed from Neon, Kentucky, where Opal was born on March 6, 1925. Along with their sister Bertha, they sang country as The Coon Creek Girls and The Amber Sisters, the trio holding down prominent radio slots in their teens. Opal began answering to the name of Mattie, a name given her by the ‘WSB Barn Dance’ in Atlanta.
In November of 1950, Mattie married veteran hillbilly entertainer Salty Holmes, formerly of The Prairie Ramblers, the two performing as Mattie O’Neil and Salty Holmes. The duo recorded for King together during the early ‘50s with Mattie singing and Salty blowing his ‘talking harmonica.’ She also did solo sides, notably the tearjerking Don’t Sell Daddy Any More Whiskey . The pair moved over to M-G-M in ’53, their touring itinerary including regular appearances on ‘The Grand Ole Opry.’ Meanwhile, Irene made a solo name for herself as Martha Carson, belting rousing gospel themes led by her popular Satisfied in 1951 for Capitol (she even tackled New York R&B songsmith Otis Blackwell’s Now Stop for RCA in 1957).
Manager Murray Nash was behind Welcome To The Club and its sultry flip I Won’t Be Rockin’ Tonight, licensing Jean’s Nashville-cut masters first to Sun and then later that year to RCA—a rather unusual situation. The single introduced the newly christened Jean Chapel to the world. Welcome To The Club was written by Mae Boren Axton, the mother of Hoyt Axton and with Tommy Durden the author of Elvis’ RCA blockbuster Heartbreak Hotel. Axton and Durden also teamed to create the bluesier I Won’t Be Rockin’ Tonight. 1956 was a big year for the glamorous blonde chanteuse—she divorced Salty and moved to Nashville to concentrate on her songwriting career.
RCA kept Chapel around long enough to issue a ’57 encore, Oo-Ba La Baby, a cover of Mamie Van Doren’s scorcher in the B-movie ‘Untamed Youth’ (Eddie Cochran and Jerry Capehart were among its authors). There was a long gap between singles after that; Jean finally turned up on Smash in ’63 with a revival of Roy Hamilton’s R&B rocker Don’t Let Go. A year earlier, she’d masqueraded as Jean Chanel on Crest for a pair of Capehart-produced sides, It Hurts Me and Turn Around And Walk Away.
Chapel issued a series of 45s on L.A.-based Challenge Records beginning in late 1966 and rolling into 1970, but her main focus was songwriting. Chapel penned a ‘67C&W chart-topper for Eddy Arnold, Lonely Again, and also wrote for her friend Tammy Wynette as well as Dean Martin, George Jones, Hank Snow, Lorrie Morgan, and plenty more. She died August 19, 1995 in Port Orange, Florida.
© Bear Family Records