Each month in “The Story Behind,” I’ll look at the history of a well-known Top 40 hit based on interviews I’ve conducted with individuals who performed some of the most familiar pop hits of the 1960s and ’70s.
This month, I’ll look at a song about which the late Southern writer Lewis Grizzard wrote in 1993, “Even today, when I hear the Swingin’ Medallions sing ‘Double Shot of My Baby’s Love,’ it makes me want to stand outside in the hot sun with a milkshake cup full of beer in one hand and a slightly drenched 19-year-old coed in the other.” It’s a sentiment many people probably share with Grizzard, as “Double Shot” is a song that pretty much epitomizes parties, good music, and good times. Based on an interview I conducted with Swingin’ Medallions’ frontman John McElrath , here’s the story behind 1966’s “Double Shot of My Baby’s Love.”’
The Medallions got together in 1962 at Lander College in Greenwood, South Carolina, when group founder John McElrath and his friends formed the band to make a little extra money to help pay for school. Their act was based in rhythm and blues, and like many up-and-coming regional bands during the ’60s, they made their living lining up gigs to play at frat parties and in clubs.
While on the club and campus party circuit, McElrath and the group — now consisting of Carroll Bledsoe, Steve Caldwell, Jim Doares, Brent Forston, Charlie Webber, Jimmy Perkins and Joe Morris — had become familiar with a song called “Double Shot,” a huge regional hit that had been originally recorded by a Southern band known as Dick Holler and the Holidays. As McElrath told me, “I had heard it played in Columbia [SC] in the 1950s. It was a local hit when I was a teenager, and when we put our band together, we started to play it, too.”
The Dick Holler version is pretty mundane as you can hear in the clip above, and it’s actually a testament to the Medallions that they saw the potential to make the song a hit. But that’s exactly what they did, and when the group had the opportunity to record some sides for record producer Bill Lowery from Atlanta, one of the first songs that came to mind was “Double Shot.” However, as many groups making the jump from party band to recording artists have learned, playing to a live audience and feeding off of the energy of the crowd, and trying to get things just right in the studio, are vastly different things.
“They kept trying to have us record it with different arrangements and in different ways with horns and so forth that didn’t fit the song,” McElrath said, and the group became frustrated. “We knew we had a good song, We wanted to play it live like we did at shows, so we just took off and went to Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte. We actually pulled in people off the street and had a big crowd in the studio to make background noise, and that party atmosphere gave us the sound we were looking for.”
With the “live-sound” version, everything clicked. Initially, the record was released on their For Sale label, and they sold them at their performances, but it got some airplay and really started to take off. Soon they added the “Swingin’” moniker to the Medallions name, and history was made. Smash Records liked what they heard, but before distributing the record nationally, they wanted the song altered a bit.
McElrath said, “They didn’t like some lines, like, ‘Woke up this morning, my head hurt so bad/ The worst hangover that I ever had,’ and made us change it to, ‘Worst morning after that I ever had.'” The line, “She loved me so long, and she loved me so hard” were apparently considered too risqué and were changed to, “She kissed me so long, and she kissed me so hard” as well. As McElrath told me, “It was all stupid, I thought.” This type of censorship seems particularly ridiculous today, but was in fact all too common during the 1960s.
Even with censorship, the song was popular, and the single was released and became a million-seller, going all the way to #17 on the charts. “It was strange, really, because it had moved up on the charts before it got played up north and out west and became a hit. It helped us as far as our touring went because it was so popular.” Like many groups who made it big on the heels of one quick hit in the 1960s, the group was expected to follow up with another song very similar in nature to their hit. Occasionally it worked out for the groups, but just as often it did not, and it frequently led to bands being pegged as being one dimensional.
That may well be what happened to the Swingin’ Medallions. The group next released “She Drives Me Out of My Mind,” a song that, “Freddie Weller, a friend of ours with Bill Lowery, wrote. They wanted our next song to be as close to ‘Double Shot’ as we could make it.” As you can hear in the clip below, it’s pretty close to “Double Shot,” perhaps as close as you can get without repeating the sound verbatim. Despite — or maybe because of — the similarities, the record stalled at #71.
To give credit to Smash, they stood behind the group for a while, even though the records weren’t charting. “I Don’t Want To Lose It For You Baby” (1966), “Don’t Cry No More” (1967), “Turn On The Music” (1967), and “Bow And Arrow” (1967) all failed to make the charts. The same fate awaited a version of Bruce Channel’s “Hey! Baby” called “Hey, Hey Baby” on Capitol in 1968, and a release on the 123 label in 1970. As a result, with just one Top 40 hit, the group became labeled as a one-hit wonder, even if their one hit was one of the greatest garage rock/frat rock/party rock hits of all time.
Eventually, band members went their separate ways, most going back to college to finish their education, but there were no regrets. As McElrath told me, “We had a lot of fun. I think we just lucked into it.” Luck or not, the song and the band have become legends, and a modern incarnation of the group performs even today. Fittingly, perhaps Grizzard put it best: “I have asked often what, if anything, endures? Well, the Swingin’ Medallions and their kind of music — my generation’s music — has.” Many music lovers would certainly agree.