I first became familiar with the Swingin’ Medallions when I bought the Rhino Nuggets boxed set, a continuation of the infamous ’75 double LP with liner notes by Lenny Kaye, guitar player for the Patti Smith group. The box was filled with one-hit wonders and obscure R&R trail blazers I had never heard off. Though I’ve owned the box for years now, I can still dive back into it and uncover a new find. It’s like a treasure chest which contents never looses it shine. One of the 45s that jumped out immediately like a big shining sapphire was “Double Shot (of my baby’s love)” by the Swingin’ Medallions. With its rousing slightly out of tune organ and swaggering harmonies it seemed like the perfect embodiment of the R&R party the band sang off. Like most bands featured on the box the details on their back ground were scant, so for years the Medallions remained an alluring mystery. A few weeks back I was lucky enough to stumble across the original 45, or so I thought, on Smash. Intrigued I looked to see if I could find out more. The Internet provided little, except for an official website. The Medallions were still out there, living up the parties of the South! Though only featuring John McElrath of the original medallions. I decided to seek him out and he was kind enough to grant me an interview over the phone to clear up a thing or two on this ever appealing R&R smash.
The Medallions first formed in Greenwood South Carolina area, where they all met in college. With a thick and relaxed southern drawl John remembers today “None of us were rich, so we had to make a little money to support our schooling”. With that in mind the boys formed the Medallions, playing on the weekends, studying during the week. With eight members the band was pretty much self contained, “Believe it or not, “ John told me, “we had five horn players. I played key bass [on the organ] so we did away with the bass, we didn’t have a string base.” The R&R army of eight played all over area, taking the frat houses by storm. As John relates today, their main sources of inspiration were R&B acts like James Brown & the Famous Flames, Otis Redding and Sam & Dave. “As a matter of fact Double Shot didn’t even portray that,” John advises, “the recording didn’t have horns on it”.
Originally the single was a cheaply recorded affair the Medallions put out on their own label, For Sale, with only a thousand copies printed. John remembers that they intended to sell the 45 at shows, never expecting the recording would be a hit one day. But with the help of Dave Roddy of WFEN Radio, the 45 became a hit in the South in a matter of weeks. At that point Smash records stepped in and started courting the boys with a recording contract. With a sure hit all Smash had to do was print the copies of the master tape, or so they thought. Big as the record was down South, in the North it didn’t get any play on the radio because the band had the audacity to sing “Woke up this morning, my head hurt so bad, the worst hangover I ever had”, to make the single more radio friendly it had to be re-cut, dropping the hangover line. “You can imagine today they probably wouldn’t even have looked at that, “ John laughed at the other side of the line.
The record became a million seller after that. John responds amused when I suggest that at one point they were bigger than the Stones down South. Though he denies that level of popularity, he does have fond memories of touring the South from frat house to frat house. “Those were some of the best parties, ” he remembers, adding “we only toured nation wide in ’66, when Double Shot was big, after that it was back to school.” The band never got to cash in on the success on the single. Returning to school turned out to be a conscious decision on the part of the medallions. Their success had gotten them to play a gig for Frank Sinatra’s daughter Tina, on her wedding. After the show Frank showed interest in singing them on his Reprise records. The band declined, “You remember that was the Vietnam era,” John explains today, “Not going back to school would probably have split us up because of the draft”. One way of avoiding being drafted was to stay in college and keep your grades up. Who knows what might have happened if the times were different.
School or no school the Swinging Medallions still keep going today, even bringing all the original members back on stage for a reunion from time to time. The current live band still manages to thrill quite a few crowds with acrobatics by their horn section. Anybody who has paid attention to music these days can only conclude that the music on the Nugget box is alive and kicking though bands like the White Stripes. With modest pride John confesses today “I’m real pickle with the fact that the people still remember us.”
About the author: I started blogging out of a fascination with Soul music, Bruce Springsteen and Americana in general. Over at Boss Tracks I'm blogging on Bruce Springsteen and the songs he covered. http://bosstracks.blogspot.com/