Shining On- The
In September of 1954 that most magical of months in the history of rock music, the buzz out of Southern California was not all about The Penguins. There was this other group from the same high school (Fremont), on the same label (Dootone) that was really breaking big. These were The Medallions, and the record causing all the excitement was Dootone #347 - "The Letter" and "Buick 59". The group was formed in South Central L.A. and was made up of Vernon Green - lead, Andy Blue - tenor, Randolph Bryant - baritone, and bass Ira Foley. The Medallions record actually started to break out in the Los Angeles area before "Earth Angel" and was noted as being the first hit record for Dootsie Williams and Dootone after seven years of trying (some of those attempts on his Deetone label in the late forties and early fifties). Widely listened to area dj Hunter Hancock gives the record his top pick of the week status, and that really starts the ball rolling. Most listeners are totally knocked out by the main recitation part of the tune, being the written part of "The Letter" in the title. Johnny Otis features the group on his radio show for KFOX, and soon signs them to appear at his Hepcat Ball in October. For the rest of the year both sides of the Dootone release go on to big sales nationally and help spread the new music from coast to coast. The song "Buick 59" was a boogie jump tune complete with a joy ride full of sound effects and comments on the need for speed. The song got some unforseen notoriety because the ending lyric line of the repeated phrase "let's cruise" was thought by many to be instead "let's scr - - " - well you get the idea. The great words in the line of "The Letter" are revealed NOT to be "sweet words of his mortality" as most of us thought, but "sweet words of pismotality" a made up term by Vernon Green. (pismo, as in the beach ?). This was probably a spur of the moment idea, but it is one that has lived on in R & B group history for all time. All in all, this was quite a debut record !
In January of 1955, The Medallions released their much awaited followup which shared the same formula as the first. "The Telegram" was paired with another car song - "Coupe deVille Baby" on Dootone #357. The Medallions were hot and they soon apeared at the Rock 'n' Roll Jubilee at L.A.'s Shrine Auditorium with T-Bone Walker, Fats Domino, and many other top West Coast R & B acts of the day. In February The Medallions joined Dootone stablemates The Meadowlarks for a battle of the groups at the L.A. Savoy Ballroom. By now the inevitable personnel changes began to take hold with The Medallions, as Donald Woods and Will Graham joined the group. In late May Dootone #364 was released - and once again a ballad was paired with a car song. This time it was "Edna" and "Speedin'". Soon after the record came out Dootsie Williams announced a Medallions EP 45rpm mini album similar to the one released by The Penguins that met with so much success. At this time the group broke up with Donald Woods and three of the members forming The Vel-Aires who recorded for Flip Records, and became famous for "Death Of An Angel" and "This Paradise". According to Jay Warner in his book "America's Singing Groups : 1940 - 1990" (published by Billboard), at this time Vernon Green quickly formed a pickup group called The Cameos and recorded "Only For You" and "Craving"on Dootone #365. Green then joined together with a minor Dootone group named after the label, and these became the "new" Medallions. This group appeared at a big L.A. Gene Norman R & B show at The Shrine along with The Clovers, Meadowlarks, Jewels, Marvin & Johnny, and the bands of Joe Houston and Chuck Higgins. All the while "Edna" was breaking big especially on the West Coast.
In September Dootone Records signs Johnny Morrisette known as "Johnny Twovoice" because of his unusual high-low vocal range, and he records as part of The Medallions. In early October Dootone #373 is released as by Johnny Twovoice & The Medallions. The songs are "My Pretty Baby" and "I'll Never Love Again", and in support of this new release the group tours along with Richard Berry and Percy Mayfield. Rather surprisingly, the show does heavy SRO business in the bay area of Northern California in San Francisco and Oakland. Dootone releases the EP by the group #202, and also includes sides by the group on the LP #204 - The Best Vocal Groups which also keeps the group in the public eye. At year's end "Dear Darling" and "Don't Shoot Baby" featuring Morrisette/Twovoice, but on the label as by The Medallions is out on Dootone #379. In 1956 The Medallions continue to tour, and apear at another big West Coast R & B extravaganza hosted by Hunter Hancock and Dick "Huggie Boy" Hugg at The Shrine Auditorium. In March #393 on Dootone features "I Want A Love" and "Dance And Swing" again with Johnny Twovoice (Morrisette) part of the group. In May the group does a television show with Zeke Manners on KCOP, and soon after hits the road for a series of one nighters in Northern California and Seattle, Washington. Morrisette had now left the group and were once again known as Vernon Green & The Medallions. During late 1956 and early the following year, this group had three releases on the newly renamed Dooto label that failed to chart - "Pushbutton Automobile" / "Shedding Tears For You" on #400, "Did You Have Fun"/ "My Mary Lou" on #407, and "For Better Or Worse"/ "I Wonder, Wonder, Wonder" on #419.
By mid 1957, Vernon Green tried a change of scenery by jumping to Art Rupe's Specialty Records and recorded with a new group known as The Phantoms. They had one release on #581 - "Sweet Breeze" and "The Old Willow Tree", and like the other later efforts, this one failed to do much of anything. Green now regrouped one more time with new members and a new/old label - back with Dootsie Williams and Dooto Records. "A Lover's Prayer" and "Unseen" on #425 was indeed unseen as well as unheard. Most thought that was the last they would hear of The Medallions, but more than a year later in 1959 - another car song "59 Volvo" and "Magic Mountain" appear on Dooto #446. There was a bit of interest in the record-not enough to warrant hit status to be sure, but gave the group another shot on Dooto #454 later in the year - "Behind The Door" and "Rocket Ship". After another hiatus of three years The Medallions were back on record in 1962 with two releases on Pan World : #10000 - "Dear Ann" and "So Deep" and #71 (a more sensible numbering system) - "Shimmy Shimmy Shake" and another version of "Dear Ann". Two years later a Minit Records release on #30234 - "Am I Ever Gonna See My Baby Again" and "Look At Me, Look At Me". By now the British invasion was in full swing taking over popular music in the United States. That and the rise of Motown ended the doowop era for sure.
The sound of the R & B vocal groups was now part of history, BUT - the pot seemed to always be bubbling just under the surface. The a capella craze in the mid 60s as a radical reaction to the state of the direction of pop by some, led to the 50s rock revival beginning in 1969 (fueled by that most unlikely source, John Lennon with Live Peace in Toronto). And then in 1973 - a new Dootone release by Vernon Green & The Medallions: "Can You Talk" and "You Don'tKnow" on #479! It was like finding an old friend once more. It was a great side given the circumstances, and showed that the style and the touch was still there. Everyone was realistic about the effort as to it having minimal effect on the state of the art, but it was certainly good to see the sound still relevant after twenty years.
Great songs, great voices, and great memories are the stuff that the history of The Medallions is made up of. If only for the recording of "The Letter", they would be a part of any history of the Rock & Roll Fifties. Because they delivered so much more, all of us that were part of this experience are much richer and thankful for the existence of The Medallions.
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