(NOTE: certain quotes, appropriately labeled, are used with the permission of Jim Dawson, to whom they were told.)
Ever since Art Laboe started issuing his Oldies But Goodies LPs on Original Sound Records in the late 50s, "The Letter" and "Buick 59" by the Medallions have ranked high with oldies fans. Although never again having a comparable hit, the Medallions found singing work throughout the 50s and into the 60s. There were two themes running through their songs: cars and talking parts (there were five of each). Another theme was "borrowing" things from other songs.
The complex (even for a California group) story of the Medallions begins in early 1954 with a bunch of friends who lived in the Watts and Compton areas of Los Angeles. Vernon Green (tenor), Randolph Bryant (tenor), Willie "Butternut" Graham (second tenor), Rudolph Brown (baritone), and a bass remembered by all only as Chuck began singing together in parks and street corners. "We rehearsed in the car," remembers Willie, "we would park and start singing." Andrew Blue hung around with them as piano player, although he wasn't an official member of the group. They were all in high school (although different ones), being around 16-17.
One day, Randolph saw a movie that featured 17th Century characters wearing medallions. That was as good a name as any for the fledgling group, and for a while all the guys wore them.
Vernon was heavily into writing songs, and the guys would practice them (in the car, of course), each one adding something to the lyrics or tune. This was, of course, in addition to the R&B hits of the day that they learned from the radio.
The Medallions practiced for a few months and then, around June of 1954, went to audition for Walter "Dootsie" Williams, owner of Dootone Records. He liked them, and set up a session for them to record two of Vernon's compositions: "The Letter" and "Buick 59." They probably expected a big modern studio; what they got was Ted Brinson's garage at 2190 West 30th Street. Brinson, a former guitarist with Andy Kirk and bass player for the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra, had built a recording studio in his garage (with a single-track Ampex tape recorder), and Dootsie utilized this for all his early recordings.
Here's what Dootsie Williams told writer Jim Dawson about Ted Brinson's studio:
I liked that little studio because it didn't produce the sound of a studio. It had a natural sound that I liked. Ted had built the place himself. It was pretty small, about 12 by 16 feet. Instead of a control booth he had a single-track Ampex tape recorder in a corner, to the left as you walked in, partitioned off but not soundproofed or isolated from the studio itself. That way he could turn on the Ampex and then walk over to his stand-up bass, three or four steps away, and play. He had two microphones, four or five chairs and a piano, that's all. At first we used one mike; later we added a second. Before we'd record anything, Ted would do all the balancing, which was a sound check to let him know how everybody was coming through in relation to each other, because, unlike today, you had to do all your 'mixing' before you recorded. When Ted was ready he'd take off his earphones, turn on the Ampex, and announce that we were rolling. He'd count off one, two, three, four as he ran to his bass. If a dog next door started barking, which it often did, or a passing car out on 30th honked its horn, we'd have to scuttle the take and start over.
The piano on both tunes was played by Andrew Blue, but this was the only session he was on. He pretty much went his own way after that.
Over the years, both "The Letter" and "Buick 59" have become semi-legendary because of two unanswered questions: what was a "Buick 59"? and what does "sweet words of pismotality" mean?
There was no Buick model 59 in 1954, nor was the song a trip into the future. The answer is a bit more "pedestrian" (sorry). It turns out that the melody and background for "Buick 59" were essentially copied from Todd Rhodes' "Rocket 69" (King 4528, vocal by Connee Allen), a song released around two years earlier. As for "pismotality," Vernon's explanation is "I liked to invent words; I wanted to be different." It was very different, since "pismotality" was followed with "the pompatudes [or "pompatus"] of love" (presumably "pulchritudes") and "put them together and what have you have?" Vernon would dial the phone number that had a woman's voice reciting the correct time and practice his recitations to "her."
Whatever the words, "The Letter," released in July 1954, took off in Los Angeles, and the Medallions were on their way. By September, "Buick 59" was a big hit in Los Angeles, with DJ Hunter Hancock choosing both sides as his "Record Of The Week." Later in September, the Medallions, along with their Dootone buddies, the Penguins, were guests on Johnny Otis' radio show on KFOX.
Dootsie Williams told Jim Dawson:
The Medallions were raw by the standards of the industry, amateurish. But their music had an infectious street quality that record buyers were looking for in 1954. I didn't want to get in the way of their delivery. Another producer would have changed their vocal arrangement and subordinated it to a musical arrangement, shaping their voices around the instruments. That didn't seem natural to me, because these kids had always sung together a cappella. I wanted to catch their style undiluted."
These are high-flown words, considering that the Medallions had a piano player. (And let's not forget that this is the same man that handed Randolph Bryant a 6-cent royalty check for writing
The record was a tremendous local hit. So big, in fact that Willie, Randolph, and Ira (whom we'll meet in a couple of paragraphs) got jobs at Minato's pressing plant (normally a one-man operation) to help turn out all the required copies of their smash (as well as Dootsie's other hit, "Earth Angel"). In spite of the fact that neither side ever made the national R&B charts, Dootsie had a gold record hanging on his wall; where it came from is open to conjecture.
The record was reviewed the week of September 11, 1954, with "Buick 59" receiving a higher rating than "The Letter." That same week saw the reviews of the Chimes' "My Heart's Crying For You," the El Dorados' "Baby I Need You," the Dodgers' "Let's Make A Whole Lot Of Love," and the Capris' "God Only Knows." Also that week, "Buick 59" was a Territorial Tip in Los Angeles (along with the Jewels' "Hearts Of Stone" and Shirley Gunter's "Oop Shoop").
Almost from the very beginning, the story of the Medallions became incredibly complicated. Neither Rudolph Brown nor Chuck ever recorded with the group again, although they would continue to appear with them from time to time. They were replaced, on record, by tenor Donald Woods and bass Ira Foley, both friends of Randolph Bryant. In fact, the Medallions were a loose knit organization of eight or nine singers who were used whenever they were available. Rudolph, for example, continued to appear with the Medallions (ah, but which Medallions?) on and off until 1956, when he was killed in a car accident. The recording Medallions were now: Vernon Green, Willie Graham, Donald Woods, Randolph Bryant, and Ira Foley.
October 2, 1954 found the Medallions as part of Johnny Otis' first "Annual Hep Cats Ball," held in LA's Shrine Auditorium. They shared the stage with the Platters, Richard Berry & the Dreamers, the Penguins, Marvin & Johnny, and the Chuck Higgins Orchestra. Also present was the Johnny Otis Orchestra and MC Jackie Ford (a DJ on San Francisco's KSAN).
The week of November 6, 1954, both sides of the record were rated a Buy Of The Week. It was now big in New York, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Durham. The following week, it became a Territorial Tip in New York. However, although the record did well in many localities, it never made the national charts (nor did any subsequent Medallions issue). The record did so well, in fact, that it got the attention of General Motors. They presented the Medallions with a new 1955 Buick (with possibly a rain check for a 1959 model); however the only one who ever drove it was Dootsie.
Since West Coast cities are more spread out than their East Coast counterparts, the way of life there centers around the automobile. The Medallions reflected this in their string of car songs: "Buick 59" was the first, followed by "Coupe De Ville Baby," "Speedin'," "Pushbutton Automobile," and, when 1959 finally rolled around, "59 Volvo." Vernon's specialty was dialogue; he would rather talk than do straight singing. This is reflected in not only "The Letter," but its follow-up, "The Telegram" (which mentions sending the letter), "Edna," "Dear Darling" (which also mentions that letter), and "Magic Mountain."
At their next session they did (at least) "The Telegram," "Coupe De Ville Baby" and "Mary Lou." Unfortunately, Dootone was one of those maddening companies which didn't put master numbers on the record label, only indicating "A" and "B" sides. This means there's no accurate way of determining what was recorded when. At the same session, they probably also recorded "Edna" (written and led by Randolph Bryant, with Vernon Green doing the recitation and Willie Graham playing piano), "Speedin'" (another "car song"), and "Ticket To Love" (another Randolph Bryant lead). The real Edna was Chuck's girlfriend (although Chuck wasn't on the session).
However, friction developed. Both Vernon and Donald were prolific songwriters, and of course each wanted to record his own songs. Dootsie sided with Vernon (wanting to call the group "Vernon Green and the Medallions"), so that he and Donald quarrelled also.
Around December, Donald, Willie, Randolph, and Ira had decided to form their own group (which, in keeping with the car theme, they called the Bel-Aires). However, this didn't mean the end of the Medallions. Well, not exactly. Randolph was the last to leave, singing with both groups at the same time! When there was a gig, Donald, Willie, Randolph, and Ira would perform as the Medallions (whether or not Vernon was around), unless the show was put on by Dootsie, in which case the Medallions would be Vernon, Willie, Randolph, and Ira. One of the strange results of this was that Dootsie took the photo of the 5-man Medallions, cut out Donald's head, and re-arranged the others to look like a quartet.
Also in December, Dootone released the second Medallions record: "The Telegram" and "Coupe De Ville Baby." This pairing was an obvious attempt to recapture the success of "The Letter"/"Buick 59." While Vernon did his "talking part" on "The Telegram," gone were any invented words; it's a straight reading.
"The Telegram" was reviewed the week of January 15, 1955 (with both sides getting excellent evaluations). Also reviewed that week were Gene & Eunice's "Ko Ko Mo," the Roamers' "Deep Freeze," the Flamingos' "Dream Of A Lifetime," the Mellows' "Smoke From Your Cigarette," the Platters' "Maggie Doesn't Work Here Anymore," the Eagles' "I Told Myself," and the Angels' "Lovely Way To Spend An Evening."
Vernon finally got some replacements for Donald, Willie and Ira. Randolph Bryant remembers going on a tour of Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona (probably in early 1955) with Vernon, Charles Gardner (tenor), Frankie Marshall (tenor), and Otis Scott (bass).
Meanwhile, the Bel-Aires had signed a recording contract with Max Feirtag's brand-new Flip label (which used the same distributor as Dootone) on January 24, 1955. On February 4, they recorded four sides: "This Paradise," "White Port And Lemon Juice," "This Is Goodbye," and "Let's Party Awhile." Their first release, later in February, was "This Paradise," backed with "Let's Party Awhile."
January 28, 1955 found the Medallions back at the Shrine Auditorium, playing to a crowd of 4500, this time with Norman Grantz's "Rock And Roll Jamboree." Others on the bill were the Chuck Higgins Orchestra, the Joe Houston Orchestra, Oscar McLollie, Richard Berry & the Dreamers, Marvin & Johnny, Shirley Gunter & the Queens, the Jewels, Gene & Eunice, T-Bone Walker, and, all the way from New York, the Dominoes. The show was so big that it took three MCs: Hunter Hancock, Dick "Huggy Boy" Hugg, and Charles Trammell. But which Medallions? According to Willie, it was himself, Donald, Randolph, and Ira.
On February 21, 1955, the Medallions appeared at LA's Savoy Ballroom, as part of Dootsie Williams' "Ookey Ook" dance contest. The lineup also included Marie Adams, Junior Ryder, and the Meadowlarks. Not in attendance were the Penguins, who had made "Ookey Ook," but who had left Dootone for the Mercury label. This time, since Dootsie had put on the show, Vernon appeared, but not Donald.
The Bel-Aires' "This Paradise" wasn't reviewed in the trades until the week of May 21, 1955, at the same time as the Midnighters' "Henry's Got Flat Feet," the Dappers' "Come Back To Me," the 5 Owls' "Pleading To You," and the Empires' "Magic Mirror." Also in May, the group's next record was issued, using masters from their February session: "White Port And Lemon Juice," backed with "This Is Goodbye" (with a Medallions-style recitation). On May 27, they had another session, which produced four more masters: "Death Of An Angel," "Man From Utopia," "Stay With Me Always," and "My Very Own." All were led by Donald Woods, except "Stay With Me Always," fronted by Randolph Bryant.
In June, Flip issued the group's third record, but by then their name had been changed to the "Vel-Aires." It's probable that this was due to the existence of another West Coast Bel-Aires, this one a black and white duo that had covered Marvin & Johnny's "Tick Tock" on Crown in 1954. The record featured two tunes from the May 27 session: "Death Of An Angel" (with Willie screaming and Randolph crying) and "Man From Utopia."
Finally, in May, Dootone released the long-ago-recorded "Edna"/"Speedin'." It was well-reviewed the week of June 11, along with Bo Diddley's "Diddley Daddy," the Voices' "Two Things I Love," the Charms' "Gum Drop," the Hearts' "Talk About Him, Girlie," the Robins' "I Must Be Dreamin'," the Miracles' "A Lover's Chant," the Spiders' "Bells In My Heart," the Miller Sisters' "Hippity Ha," the Casanovas' "Hush-A-Meca," and the Flippers' "My Aching Heart."
Vernon then got together with two tenors, Frankie Marshall (a blues singer who had been an on and off member of the Medallions previously, as mentioned above; he would go on to have some solo records on Spark and Atco) and Kenneth Williams. Billed as the Cameos, they released one record on Dootone in June ("Only For You"/"Craving") but nothing came of it. Note that the melody to "Only For You" was a rip-off of the Embers' "Paradise Hill."
Also in June, Dootsie Williams released a Medallions EP. It contained "The Letter, "Buick 59," "Coupe De Ville Baby," and "Mary Lou" (which had been recorded back in 1954, but not yet issued on a single).
June also saw Flip release a duet between Donald Woods and Mary Lou "Rosalle" Thomas, whom he knew from school (not Trudy Williams, as has generally been thought, nor Mary Ann Thomas, of the Ad Libs, who's shown in some postings of the song). Mary Lou, who was 15 at the time, wanted to be a singer and he took her under his wing. They were billed as "Rosalle and Donell", a name Mary Lou chose ("Donell" was Donald Woods' middle name and it had a nice ring to it). The record, "Begin¬ning Of Our Love"/"Shame On You," was reviewed the week of October 8, 1955, along with the Spiders' "Witchcraft," the Cues' "Burn That Candle," the Midnighters' "Don't Change Your Pretty Ways," the 4 Fellows' "Angels Say," the Sycamores' "I'll Be Waiting," and the Scarlets' "Indian Fever."
To make things more complicated, Dootsie had another group, the Dootones, that he was developing. They were: Charles Gardner (tenor; after his days with the Medallions), Ronald Barrett (tenor; formerly of the Meadowlarks, and brother of Fanita Barrett, of the Dreamers and Blossoms), H. B. Barnum (baritone) and Marvin Wilkins (bass). The Dootones, had cut at least four sides: "Teller Of Fortune"/"Ay Si Si" (which Dootsie released in June 55), "Down The Road," which wasn't released until 1962, when Dootsie stuck it on the back of a record by another group which he'd christened the "Dootones," and "Please Don't Stop Me," which remained in the can until a 1998 Ace CD release.
Since the Dootones had no real direction and Vernon had no group, Dootsie joined them together. They started doing appearances as "The Medallions" (and were even sent on a short tour of Canada). A photo was hastily prepared which had Vernon's head from an original Medallions photo pasted on a picture of the Dootones; it was then re-captioned "The Medallions."
In July, the Medallions (Donald, Willie, Randolph and Ira) appeared at the Shrine Auditorium again, this time as part of Gene Norman's Jazz Concert. They shared the stage with Earl Bostic's Orchestra, Chuck Higgins' Orchestra, the Clovers, the Meadowlarks, the Jewels, Marvin & Johnny, and the Voices.
The week of July 2, the Vel-Aires' "Death Of An Angel" received very poor ratings in the trade reviews. Other new records that week were the Cardinals' "Come Back My Love," the Tenderfoots' "Sindy," the Jacks' "Since My Baby's Been Gone," the Meadowlarks' "Always And Always," the Larks' "Honey From The Bee," the Smoothtones' "Bring Back Your Love," and the Chromatics' "Don't Know Why I Cry."
"Death Of An Angel" took a long time to take off, since it was considered to be a very gloomy song. However, by September, it was getting lots of requests on Al Jarvis' local pop-oriented radio show. The Vel-Aires sang it in an appearance on Johnny Otis' TV show on KTTV (Little Richard was in the front row that day).
"Edna" too, was slow to take off, but by the week of August 6, 1955, it was a Territorial Tip in Los Angeles. On September 15, on the strength of "Edna," Vernon and his Dootones/Medallions started a swing through the San Francisco area (along with Percy Mayfield and Richard Berry). When that ended, they hit Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
In September, Dootsie announced the signing of Johnny Morisette (also known as "Johnny TwoVoice" for his ability to sing both high tenor and bass). At the next recording session, Dootsie paired Johnny Morisette with the Medallions (as "Johnny TwoVoice and the Medallions"). Johnny sang lead on "My Pretty Baby" and "I'll Never Love Again," but he was never a member of the Medallions. (Morisette would later record for Specialty as "Johnny Two-Voice" and then have an early 1962 hit on Sam Cooke's SAR Records with "Meet Me At The Twistin' Place.")
Who were the Medallions this time? The Dootones had finally split up (with H.B. Barnum going off to join the Robins), and the others on the session were: Vernon's brother Jimmy Green (tenor), Charles Gardner (tenor, the only holdover from the Dootones), Albert Johnson (tenor), and Otis Scott (bass, another former touring Medallion).
"My Pretty Baby" was released in October 1955, and reviewed the week of October 29. Other reviews that week covered Shirley & Lee's "Lee's Dream," the Cadillacs' "Speedoo," the Turks' "Emily," Little Richard's "Tutti Fruitti," the Orioles' "Please Sing My Blues Tonight," the Diablos' "The Way You Dog Me Around," the Meadowlarks' "This Must Be Paradise" and two serious prison songs: Andre Williams' "Pulling Time" and the Rolling Crew's "Home On Alcatraz."
Also in October, the next Vel-Aires record came out: "Stay With Me Always" (led by Randolph Bryant), backed with "My Very Own."
On the next Medallions session, the group was the same (without Johnny Morisette). They recorded "Dear Darling" (another song with a Vernon Green recitation) and the novelty "Don't Shoot Baby." These tunes were released in December.
Flip issued the final Vel-Aires record in January 1956: "Heaven In My Arms"/"Mighty Joe" (the latter side led by bass Ira Foley). However, after the October 22, 1955 session at which those two songs had been recorded, Donald Woods had left to try a solo career. Willie, Randolph, and Ira got a replacement tenor: Darryl Perault (who would go on to sing with the Jivers) and, on December 10, 1955, they recorded "Baby We Two" and "Patricia" for Flip as the "Rhythm Masters" (also released in January 1956). However, probably just to make my research more difficult, Donald continued to appear with them as both the Vel-Aires and the Medallions.
In February 1956, promoter Norman Granz announced his annual "Rock And Roll Jubilee" at the Shrine Auditorium. Scheduled to appear were the Medallions, B.B. King, Ernie Freeman, Marie Knight, Little Willie Littlefield, Mr. Bear (Teddy McRae), Shirley Gunter, the Dreamers, and the orchestras of Ernie Freeman and Paul Williams. From here on out, I'm not going to make any attempt to try to figure out if the Medallions were Vernon's group or Donald's. Suffice it to say that "the Medallions" were popular enough to support two groups simultaneously!
At some point in early 1956, Vernon Green left the Medallions for a while. When they recorded "I Want A Love" and "Dance And Swing," the group was Charles Gardner (tenor), Jimmy Green (tenor), Albert Johnson (tenor), and Otis Scott (bass). Otis Scott is lead on "I Want A Love" and Charles Gardner fronts "Dance And Swing." (All this would be a lot easier if Dootone session files were available.)
In April 1956, the Medallions appeared on Zeke Manners' "Rhythm & Happies" TV show on KCOP, before heading off to do some more northern California appearances. That same month, Dootone released "I Want A Love"/"Dance And Swing."
Then it was back into the studio for the Medallions. This time they recorded "Shedding Tears For You," "Pushbutton Automobile," and "Did You Have Fun." But who is the group behind Vernon Green? They're actually the Meadowlarks (who, at the time, were tenors Don Julian, Freeman Broughton, Bennie Patridge, and bass Earl Jones).
"Shedding Tears For You" and "Pushbutton Automobile" (back to the slow side/car side pairing) were released in July, both as by "Vernon Green and the Medallions" and as just by "Vernon Green."
In mid-1956, Vernon got fed up with the money that they weren't making, and put together another group (called the Phantoms) at the request of Specialty Records' owner Art Rupe. The Phantoms were, according to Vernon: Bobby Relf (tenor; lead of the Laurels and future "Bob" of Bob & Earl), Jerry Williams (tenor), and Johnny Moss (bass). [Note: the Specialty files tell a different story about the identity of the Phantoms: Vernon Green, Johnnie Moss, Edward Earl Daniels, Madalyn Marselle, and Sidney Runnels.] They originally appeared wearing hoods over their heads, but since Vernon walked with a cane (as a result of having had polio as a child), the deception was pretty thin. When the Specialty sides were released, in July, the label credits even included Vernon's name! The association lasted only a short time, and a second Phantoms release on the Oriole label had the group, minus Vernon, backing Lynn Roberts.
In October, Dootone issued "Did You Have Fun," coupled with "My Mary Lou" (which had been recorded around two years earlier). The record was reviewed the week of November 10, along with Lavern Baker's "Jim Dandy," the Willows' "Don't Pull, Don't Push, Don't Shove," Johnnie & Joe's "I'll Be Spinning"/"Fools Rush In," the Cadets' "I'll Be Spinning"/"Fools Rush In," the Avalons' "It's Funny But It's True," Robert & Johnny's "Million Dollar Bills," and the Gardenias' "My Baby's Tops." "Did You Have Fun" became a Territorial Tip in Los Angeles the week of January 26, 1957.
In January 1957, Dootsie announced that "Dootone" was now "Dooto" (to avoid a lawsuit by the Duo-Tone company), and also that he had renewed the Medallions' contract (the contract itself would probably be fascinating reading).
The next Medallions incarnation consisted of Billy Foster (high tenor), Jimmy Green (tenor), and Joe Williams (bass). In March 1957 they became part of the "Rhythm Rock'n Caravan" tour, along with Shirley Gunter and Bob Williams.
In the spring, this group recorded "For Better Or For Worse," "I Wonder, Wonder, Wonder," "A Lover's Prayer," and "Unseen." There was a small amount of "borrowing" that went on here: the bridge of "I Wonder, Wonder, Wonder" came from Johnny Ace's "Saving My Love For You," and the bridge of "A Lover's Prayer" was appropriated from "The Masquerade Is Over."
June 1957 saw the Dooto release of "For Better Or For Worse," backed with "I Wonder, Wonder, Wonder." It was reviewed the week of July 29 along with Lavern Baker's "Humpty Dumpty Heart," Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Farther Up The Road," Chuck Carbo's "Poor Boy," the 5 Chances' "Tell Me Why," the Uniques' "Somewhere," and Doc Bagby's "Dumplin's."
The next Dooto release was "A Lover's Prayer"/"Unseen," at the beginning of October. Both sides got very poor reviews the week of October 14. Also reviewed that week were the 5 Satins' "Our Anniversary," the Mello Kings' "Sassafras," the 5 Royales' "Say It," Billy Myles' "The Joker," the Titans' "Sweet Peach," Don & Dewey's "Leavin It All Up To You," the Juveniles' "I Lied," the Pretenders' "Whistlin' Man," the El Dorados' "A Rose For My Darling," the Silva-Tones' "That's All I Want From You," and the Hollywood Flames' "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz." There was also a re-release of Dean Barlow & Crickets' "The Man From The Moon" and "I'm Going To Live My Life Alone." Several years old by now, both sides got terrible reviews
Nothing much happened with the Medallions for almost a year. In September 1958, Dooto issued "You Came Along" and "Teenty Weenty," a couple of duets by "Vernon [Green] and Cliff [Chambers]." The record got good reviews the week of September 22, along with the Solitaires' "Big Mary's House," Robert & Johnny's "Eternity With You," the Spotlighters' "Whisper," the Pentagons' "Silly Dilly," the Vibes' "What's Her Name," the Fascinators' "Teardrop Eyes," the Smart Tones' "Bob O Link," the Arrows' "Annie Mae," the 5 Delights' "There'll Be No Goodbye," the Cruisers' "Foolish Me," and the 5 Jades' "Without Your Love."
In October 1958, to take advantage of Detroit's belated release of a 1959 Buick, Dootsie re-issued "Buick 59"; it did reasonably well on both coasts ("Selling like the new Buick!!!" proclaimed the ads). Dootsie also announced that the Vernon & Cliff record was taking off in Washington D.C. and San Francisco.
Early 1959 saw another Medallions session. The group (Vernon, Jimmy Green, Billy Foster, and bass Edward "Buddha" Carter) waxed "59 Volvo" and "Magic Mountain." "59 Volvo," (which is kind of cute) was written and recorded in response to a plea from a disk jockey, whose brother owned a Volvo franchise. Remembering "Buick 59," he wanted a similar song mentioning Volvos. The song was written by Vernon and Dootsie (under his pen name "Bill Willis").
Regarding the flip, Vernon told Jim Dawson:
I wrote "Magic Mountain" as a dedication to a snowy mountain top I could see outside my window in that children's hospital in Colorado. It was freedom and beauty for me. It was the only thing I could see for a long time, and it inspired me.
Released in February 1959, both sides were very favorably reviewed the week of March 28, along with the Impressions' "Lovely One," Joe Tex's "Charlie Brown Got Expelled," Priscilla Bowman's "A Rockin' Good Way," the Wheels' "It's Not For Me," the Pearls' "Ugly Face," the Silhouettes "Evelyn," the Ivoleers' "Lovers' Quarrel," the Dukes' "Looking For You," the Monorays' "My Guardian Angel," and Otis Williams & Charms' "My Prayer Tonight."
On May 3, 1959, the Medallions were part of a show at the Downtown Paramount in Los Angeles. Others on the bill were Bobby "Blue" Bland, Little Junior Parker, Don & Dewey, Wynona Carr, Thurston Harris, Tony Allen, the Dots, the Carlos Brothers, Richard Berry, Johnny Flamingo, and Sammy Yates. The emsee was Charles Trammel.
The next session saw Vernon, Jimmy Green, Billy Foster, and bass Joe Williams record "Behind The Door" and "Rocket Ship" (part of pop music's reaction to the space race). These two tunes were paired in a late 1959 release.
In April 1960, Dooto issued "Give Me The Right" (which has scat singing!) and "She's The One," as one side of an EP; the other side contained two cuts by the Penguins. By this time, the Medallions were either gone from Dooto or standing on the brink of leaving.
After it was all over between Dootsie Williams and the Medallions, Vernon did no recording for a couple of years. Then, in 1962, he did some sides for Aki Aleong, owner of Pan World. The Medallions at this point were the 1955 group again: Jimmy Green, Charles Gardner, Albert Johnson, and Otis Scott. They released "Dear Ann," "Shimmy Shimmy Shake," and "Deep, So Deep."
On October 22, 1962, Vernon was in a terrible auto accident. Jimmy Green was driving and, swerving to avoid a head-on collision, hit three parked cars and a truck. According to Dewey Terry (of Don & Dewey), they were returning from Tijuana, Mexico and the accident "tore half of Vernon's face off." There was a large article about it in the October 26, 1962 California Eagle, but the online copy is mostly illegible. The November 8, 1962 Jet mentioned that Vernon had been "critically injured in a five-car accident". Vernon told me that he didn't sing for nine years, but that's clearly untrue, since he did recordings for Minit in 1967. Possibly he meant that he didn't make appearances.
In late 1962, Jimmy Green recorded with the Furys on the Mack IV label, which was owned by actor James McEachin (who would later star in the TV series Tenafly). The other members of the Furys were: Jerome Evans (baritone lead), Charles Jackson (tenor, who had recorded with the Shields in 1959), and Tony Allen (tenor, of "Nite Owl" fame).
Willie Graham was also active in the sixties, playing conga drums in Jimmy Hamilton's Say What Band from about 1965 to 1967.
In 1967, Jimmy Green and Jerome Evans, along with bass Edward "Budda" Carter, joined Vernon Green to become yet another Medallions incarnation. This time it was on the Minit label (a subsidiary of Liberty): "Look At Me"/"Am I Ever Gonna See My Baby Again."
There was a 1972 release on a bootleg Dootone: "Meet Me Tonight"/"How" (the old "How Do You Speak To An Angel"). The record number, 344, is one that Dootsie seems to never have used in the spring of 1954. Both sides, in spite of poor fidelity, sound like they were recorded in the 50s, but there's no way to tell which of Vernon's groups is present. Another unreleased cut was 1954's "Ticket To Love," led by Randolph Bryant.
1973 found the Medallions back at Dooto (which had now been re-re-named Dootone) doing "Can You Talk (Is Your Old Man At Home)" and "You Don't Know (The Damage You've Done)." They were: Vernon, Jerome Evans, Maxine Green (alto, Vernon's sister-in-law), and Doris Green (alto).
In March 1973, the Medallions appeared at Art Laboe's Club in Los Angeles. With Ron Holden as emsee, the other acts were Don Julian and the Larks, Shirley & Lee, Big Joe Turner, Jessie Hill, and Joe Houston.
That same year, Dootsie even issued an album, which contained "The Letter," the two 1973 cuts, and a bunch of older sides from 1957-1960 (including three previously-unreleased tracks: "I'm In Love With You," "I Want To Be Your Lover Man," and "There's Someone For Me" [which was a solo effort]).
There was one more Dootone session, which produced "You're A Super Star" and "Let's Go Riding On The Beach." These tunes were issued on Dootone in January 1982 and the label proudly proclaims "From the musical 'Super Star' produced by Dootsie Williams." There's no group, and there was a small blurb in Billboard that said the record was by Vernon Green, "formerly with the Medallions." This has the distinction of having been the last Dootone single.
In 1989, Vernon again stepped before the microphone. This time it was for Classic Artists. He recorded "So Bad" and "Accept Me For What I Am." Supposedly the backup group was the Calvanes, but Herman Pruitt denied that they'd backed Vernon. The group could have consisted of Don Julian, Ted Walters, and Walter Cannady. Vernon's final recordings were "Drinkin' Wine" and "For Your Precious Love," which appeared on Classic Artists in 1991. The backup group is unknown.
After suffering a series of strokes, Vernon Green passed away in December 2000.
Note that the Medallions on Essex, Lenox, Singular, Sultan and Card are different groups, as are the Medallionaires.
Special thanks to Jim Dawson and George Moonoogian. Some ads are courtesy of Galen Gart's First Pressings series.
347 The Letter (VG)/Buick 59 (VG) - 7/54
357 The Telegram (VG)/Coupe De Ville Baby (VG) - 12/54
364 Edna (RB)/Speedin' (VG) - 5/55
202 Buick 59//Coupe De Ville Baby//The Letter//Mary Lou -1955
102 Buick 59//Coupe De Ville Baby//The Letter//Speedin' - 1955
373 My Pretty Baby (JM)/I'll Never Love Again (JM) - 10/55 @
379 Dear Darling (VG)/Don't Shoot Baby (VG) - 12/55
393 I Want A Love (OS)/Dance And Swing (CG) - 4/56
400 Shedding Tears For You (VG)/Pushbutton Automobile (VG) - 7/56 **
407 Did You Have Fun (VG)/My Mary Lou (VG) - 10/56 **
@ = credit is "Johnny TwoVoice and the Medallions"
** = credit is "Vernon Green and the Medallions"
419 For Better Or For Worse (VG)/I Wonder, Wonder, Wonder (VG) - 6/57 **
425 A Lover's Prayer (VG)/Unseen (VG) - 10/57 **
446 59 Volvo (VG)/Magic Mountain (VG) - 2/59 **
454 Behind The Door (VG)/Rocket Ship (VG) - 1959 **
456 Give Me The Right (VG)//She's The One (VG)// **
[You're An Angel (CD)//Mr. Junkman (CD - the Penguins] - 4/60
** = credit is "Vernon Green and the Medallions"
Meet Me Tonight (VG)
Ticket To Love (RB)
PAN WORLD ("Vernon Green and the Medallions")
10000 Deep, So Deep (VG)/Shimmy Shimmy Shake (VG) - 3/62
71 Dear Ann (VG)/Shimmy Shimmy Shake (VG) - 1962
MINIT (subsidiary of Liberty; "Vernon Green and the Medallions")
32034 Look At Me, Look At Me (VG)/Am I Ever Gonna See My Baby Again (VG) - 12/67
DOOTONE (a bootleg record; "The Medallions")
344 Meet Me Tonight (VG)/How (VG) - 1972
DOOTONE ("Vernon Green and the Medallions")
479 Can You Talk (Is Your Old Man At Home) (VG)/You Don't Know (The Damage You've Done) - 1973
LP 857 Vernon Green & The Medallions - ca. 10/73
Can You Talk
You Don't Know
I'm In Love With You
Behind The Door
I Want To Be Your Lover Man
There's Someone For Me (Vernon Green solo)
Give Me The Right
She's The One
480 You're A Super Star/Let's Go Riding On The Beach (Vernon Green solos) - 1/82
CLASSIC ARTISTS ("Vernon Green and the Medallions")
103 So Bad (VG)/Accept Me For What I Am (VG) - 2/89
129 Drinkin' Wine (VG)/ For Your Precious Love (VG) - 3/91
VG = Vernon Green; RB = Randolph Bryant; JM = Johnny Morisette; OS = Otis Scott; CG = Charles Gardner
365 Only For You (VG)/Craving (VG) - 6/55
581 Sweet Breeze (VG)/The Old Willow Tree (VG) - 7/56
Tell Me Why (VG)
How Do You Kiss An Angel (VG)
101 Miss You Tonite/I'll Be Around - 8/56
443 You Came Along/Teenty Weenty - Ca. 9/58
366 Teller Of Fortune (CG)/Ay Si Si (MW) - 6/55
471 Down The Road (CG)/
[Sailor Boy - by a different Dootones group] - 1962
Please Don't Stop Me
LEADS: CG = Charles Gardner; MW = Marvin Wilkins
112 Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart/Never More - 12/62
114 Another Fella/Next Time - 63
115 I Really Feel So Good/Always - 63
118 What Is Soul?/I Lost My Baby - 63
005 So Tuff/Got A Pain In My Head Over You - 63
303 This Paradise (DW)/Let's Party Awhile (DW) - 2/55
304 White Port And Lemon Juice (DW)/This Is Goodbye (DW) - 5/55
From here on, the group's name is spelled "Vel-Aires"
306 Death Of An Angel (DW)/Man From Utopia (DW) - 6/55
309 Stay With Me Always (RB)/My Very Own (DW) - 10/55
312 Heaven In My Arms (DW)/Mighty Joe (IF) - 1/56
NOTE: The Bel-Aires on Crown, from the same period are a black/white duet.
314 Baby We Two (WG)/Patricia (IF) - Ca. 1/56
LEADS: DW = Donald Woods; RB = Randolph Bryant; IF = Ira Foley; WG = Willie Graham
307 Beginning Of Our Love/Shame On You - 6/55