The Medallions

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The Los Angeles-based Medallions -- who formed in early 1954 -- are best known for their durable double-sider "The Letter" b/w "Buick '59," one of Dootsie Williams' first doo wop singles for his DooTone…
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The Los Angeles-based Medallions -- who formed in early 1954 -- are best known for their durable double-sider "The Letter" b/w "Buick '59," one of Dootsie Williams' first doo wop singles for his DooTone label.

The original Medallions formed after intense 16-year-old lead singer Vernon Green, (a native of Denver, CO) -- who was strolling down an East Los Angeles street, singing out loud, caught the ear of Walter "Dootsie" Williams, owner of Dootone, who encouraged Green to come to his offices. Green didn't have a group, but he wasted no time in putting together a quartet of street kids: Andrew Blue (tenor), Randolph Bryant (baritone), and Ira Foley (bass). Green, a polio victim who walked with difficulty, began calling his group the Medallions because of his penchant for wearing medallions around his neck.

Williams booked studio time for the group, and their first single, "The Letter" (written in the style of the Diablos' popular hit "The Wind"), received extensive airplay in Los Angeles and provided regional hits for the Dootone label in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Cleveland, though its slow movement through the independent distribution territories precluded it from charting nationally. The single also started a Medallions trend for the next few singles: they continued writing in the same vein, with two distinct sides to their work: the romantic ballads on one side were sung straight, in almost agonizing purity, while the faster rockin' numbers on the flip were partly tongue-in-cheek out-of-control automobiles.

Willy Graham later replaced Blue, and Donald Woods joined to make it a quintet. There were about a dozen Dootone singles in all with this lineup. With Bryant on lead, Dootone issued the last Medallions single in mid-1955, but the group broke up shortly after. Undaunted, Green grabbed tenors Kenneth Williams and Frank Marshall and formed the Cameos, who quickly issued a single on Dootone the same month that "Edna" was released. Dootsie Williams then paired Vernon Green with the Dootones, christening them the "new" Medallions and sent them on a Canadian tour. (Their promo photo was actually a Dootones photo with a cutout of Green's head glued to the lower left-hand corner.)

Woods and the others, meanwhile, left Green to strike out on their own as the Vel-Aires for Flip. In the fall of 1955, the new Medallions -- Vernon and brother Jimmy Green (tenor), Charles Gardner (tenor, formerly of the Dootones), Albert Johnson (tenor), and Otis Scott (bass) -- backed Johnny Morrisette on "My Pretty Baby"). Other lineups of the Medallions may have included Albert Johnson, Billy Foster, bass singers Bubba Carter and Joe Williams, and many others. Two more singles with Morrisette followed and the group became officially known as Vernon Green and the Medallions, recording three singles for Dootsie's newly re-christened Dooto label.

The new Medallions then jumped to Art Rupe's Specialty Records in 1957 and re-formed as the Phantoms. Their masquerade gimmick --- wearing hoods on stage --- was a bit transparent: Green was the only known lead singer at the time in L.A. who walked with a cane because of his polio, so everyone knew who the lead "phantom" was.

Later in 1957, Green drifted back to Dooto with yet another Medallions, this time made up of Foster, Williams, and Jimmy Green. By 1962, Vernon and Jimmy Green, along with Gardner, Johnson, and Scott, recorded for Pan World and in 1964, Jerome Evans, Ed Carter, and Jimmy and Vernon Green recorded the group's next Medallions single for Minit. Green had a car accident in the mid-‘60s and shunned singing for nine years, returning to Dooto as a solo artist, this time to chance his arm at soul music, in 1973. He was backed by Evans, Maxine Green (his sister-in-law), and Doris Green. Vernon Green never regained his early momentum, but he continued to perform despite occasional bouts of bad health and the fact that he was confined to a wheelchair.