The Swingin’ Medallions will play a free concert on the Square in Covington at 7 p.m. on June 13. (Special Photo)
Robby Cox admits that while growing up in Greenwood, S.C., and playing drums in rock bands as a teenager, he never considered that he would one day be laying down the backbeat for one of the Southeast’s most enduring beach music groups.
“I definitely had no idea, but I love it,” said Cox, who has now been a fixture in the Swingin’ Medallions for nearly 30 years. “It’s been a great thing for us.”
Now celebrating their 52nd year in the entertainment industry, the Swingin’ Medallions — dubbed “The Party Band Of The South” by no less an authority than the late newspaper columnist Lewis Grizzard — will return to the east metro area at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 13 for a free outdoor concert on the downtown Square in Covington. The concert is presented by the Arts Association in Newton County.
Cox, who is also responsible for booking the august band’s many festival and concert dates, said Covington has become a popular stop for the eight-piece band.
“Covington is kind of one of our old stomping grounds and we love to play in that area,” said Cox. “We have a lot of fans there and it’s always a joy coming down. The band used to play in the 1960s and through the years in Athens and Atlanta, so it’s been a huge fan base of ours.”
Calling Greenwood home, the Swingin’ Medallions formed in 1962 and first raised a ruckus in 1965 with their timeless hit “Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love),” which to this day remains the ultimate frat-party song for legions of fans, including the Boss himself, the iconic Bruce Springsteen.
In fact, when Springsteen performed at the Bi-Lo Center in nearby Greenville in 2009, he invited members of the group on stage to perform “Double Shot.”
“In the 60s, Bruce had seen the band a couple of times in New Jersey and he covered ‘Double Shot’ a few times in concert and people that saw him would send an email or call us to let us know,” said Cox.
“We saw where he was going to be in Greenville, so we contacted his management to let him know we were close by and thought it would be a great idea if he’d do ‘Double Shot’ at some point because we knew he’d done it about a year before in Charleston.
“So a week later, we heard back from them and they invited some of the guys to the concert. At the show they told us he was going to do it the first song of his encore. So Bruce called some of the guys up, who went up and sang with him. It was a very cool moment.”
Although the Swingin’ Medallions really don’t need Springsteen’s validation, Cox admitted it was a nice addition to the band’s extensive history.
“It was incredible to have that happen and to know Bruce wanted to do it,” he said. “It was really a great honor.”
These days, the band — which also had hits in the ’60s with “She Drives Me Out Of My Mind” and “Hey Baby” — stays busy in the festival and concert circuit and counts former President Jimmy Carter, former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and the Beach Boys as fans and collaborators.
“Especially in the spring and summer, we’re pretty well booked up,” said Cox. “And in the offseason, we do corporate things and private shows and we’ve even been known to do some weddings. All those things keep us rolling. Wherever anybody wants us, we’ll go.”
John McElrath, the band’s founder, has retired (although Cox says he’ll occasionally show up at a performance around Greenwood) and there’s basically a new set of Medallions on the road, but recent years have seen some charter members and early contributors return to the fold.
“Jimmy Perkins, who was an original member, joined back up with us a few years ago after he retired, and Larry Roark, our keyboard player, was in the band pre-‘Double Shot’ in like 1963 and he’s back,” Cox said. “In addition to those two guys, we’ve got John McElrath’s son Shawn, who runs the band now, and we have another guy, Grey Hines, and his dad was in the original band as well.”
Shawn McElrath plays tenor saxophone, bass and flute, while Perkins plays tenor saxophone and bass and Hines plays guitar. Other band members, besides Cox — who grew up in the same neighborhood as the McElrath family — and Roark, include Chris Crowe (baritone saxophone), Larry Freeland (guitar) and Josh Snelling (trumpet).
“We play our hits and we do a lot of covers of songs from throughout the years, but we try to stay with the traditional 60s stuff with horns,” Cox said.
“It’s just good-time party music, basically. Our demographic at a lot of our shows is now 8 to 80, so we try to do something for everybody. What we do appeals to a wide age group and you can see a 70-year-old dancing over here and a teenager dancing over there. It’s always awesome to see that.”
For more information, visit www.swinginmedallions.com or the Arts Association in Newton County at www.newtoncounty arts.org.
Chris Starrs is a freelance writer based in Athens. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.