***Memphis is home to some of the most amazing places! If you love music, and its history, this is the place to roam. To think that iconic bluesmen and legendary rockers walked these streets and frequented the clubs gives me chills. If only the walls could talk!!! I made tracks around this town and am happy to say I hit a lot of amazing places. From Beale Street (and all its haunts) to Graceland, the Gibson Guitar Factory, Rock & Soul Museum, Sun Studios, Lorraine Motel, Peabody Hotel, the Civil Rights Museum, and more. This place is magic!! And, it’s got a good sense of humor, too! I got a kick out of some of the signs advertising restaurants, food, and drinks, on Beale – “Put Some South in your Mouth,” “There’s a Thrill on the Hill,” “The Best Head on Beale,” “Big Ass Beer,” “Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,” etc. And, the barbecue is to die for! I had two of the most amazing rib meals ever, at Blues City Café, (http://www.bluescitycafe.com) and the Rendezvous Cafe. (http://hogsfly.com/awbbq.php?gclid=CKKu_uCRqLQCFUxxQgodpkcARw) Eat at both places if you ever make it to Memphis!
One completely surprising occurrence that I was unaware of, was that Memphis is the home of St. Jude’s Hospital, Danny Thomas’ Hospital for sick children. I’ve known about it forever, but had no idea it was here, so it was intriguing to come upon it during a tour. “The mission of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is to advance cures, and means of prevention,
for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Consistent with the vision of our founder Danny Thomas, no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay.” It was quite a place!
Then, there were the honky tonks that my friends in ‘Paula Harris & Blu Gruv’ band, who were here a few months earlier for the International Blues Competition, mentioned that they visited. Kudzu’s Bar is a rustic old place where the gang went to jam a few nights during their stay. I stopped in one night to check out the scene (on blues jam night) and was entertained not only by the musicians, but by the extremely friendly (and funny) bartender. He was an older guy who had probably been there for a few decades, and was the personality of the place. I imagine people come just to chat with him, and become like family there. He had only just met me, but hooked me up with a ride home when he found out that I was going to be walking back to my hotel alone. What a guy! As for the music, I noticed the biggest difference between Memphis and Northern California blues jams was the age of the performers. In California, it seems that the majority of the blues musicians are in their 50s or 60s, however in Memphis there were young’uns in their twenties (and maybe teens.) It was nice to see a few generations jamming together on one stage.
The Rock and Soul Museum and the Gibson Guitar Factory were conveniently located right across the street from each other, and a block from Beale Street! Really? How could so much musical wonderfulness be in such close proximity to
each other? I was in Heaven! Inside the R&S Museum, I found antique memorabilia, such as wood cabinet radios and shareholders’ battery operated radios, circa 1930s; a handcrank record player, a 1934 Selectophone Jukebox, old guitars, radio station equipment and histories, and the list goes on. It gave us a musical tour through the birth of rock and soul music, telling the story of musical pioneers who, for the love of music, overcame racial and socio-economic barriers to create the music that shook the entire world. Much of the focus was on radio, and things that transported music to its listeners via the airwaves, record players, microphones, et al. Immediately after that tour, I took myself directly across the street to the Gibson Guitar Factory, which was a music extravaganza in itself. We got to watch as guitars were taken from their beginning as a slab of wood, cut, sanded, shaped, formed, painted, glued, strung, tuned, shined, and ready for shipping! It was so fascinating, that I seriously contemplated applying for a job to get on their assembly line. Why not move to Memphis and make Gibsons? Then I realized how truly unglamorous it would be to be holed up in a windowless factory performing a repetitive task for hours on end. No thanks! But, I sure do appreciate those who work there and creat some of the greatest musical gifts to the world. Yes, thanks!
The Grand Finale: The Lorraine Motel & Civil Rights Museum…
***GRACELAND! Wow! Elvis’ home! Meticulously kept in its full 1970s décor, this home shows how the man lived. A large home, the
tour groups are not allowed upstairs in order to respect Elvis’ and his family’s private space. However, there was plenty to see on these sacred grounds where the King, his family, friends, and fellow musicians gathered. I have always heard that this home was tacky, and some of it is, but I wonder if people forget that we’re talking the ‘70s here – a time when styles, décor, cars, fashion, had a reputation for being rather cheesy and gaudy. So, of course Graceland was the innocent victim of being decorated during such a tacky time in our interior designing history. But, believe me I’ve seen worse! I think. Maybe. The tour took us through the grand front door, into the foyer which looked into the roped off living room. Furnished in white, with white carpet, the focal points were the bit of color – blue curtains, sleek black coffee table, and especially the stained glass window separating this room from the piano room. With the light shining in from outside, the room was sophistically simple, sleek and sharp. Meandering through the house, the most notable rooms, besides the Living Room, in my opinion, were the Jungle Room, the TV Room, and the Game Room. Individually and uniquely decorated, each room is completely different. The Jungle Room is predominantly green, with heavy wooden furniture, carved in tiki style. I found nothing comfortable or cozy about
this room, and would most likely spend little time in it had I lived there. Downstairs in the basement, you will find the TV Room, with it’s black sectional couch accented with yellow pillows. In the wall are three seventies era televisions side by side, that Elvis watched simultaneously. Elvis’ personal record collection sits next to the wall of TVs, with a small, unassuming turntable, looking almost like an afterthought squeezed into the corner. I expected much more from a musician, but this room looks like it belonged to a newsman, or some other sort of television executive – except for the god-awful color scheme and décor! The yellow and black, with mirrored walls, and just plain ugly artwork painted on the wall behind the couch, is nauseating in this claustrophobic, windowless basement room. I couldn’t get out of their fast enough, but first had to snap some pictures of it, the bar, with its yellow formica counters, mirrored walls and shelves, and black appliances. Truly hideous! I don’t know how anyone spent more than a few minutes in that room! (I know, I know….it was the 1970s and all the rage!!) Anyway, after my stomach settled down, it was on to another claustrophobic underground room – the game room. This room was less tasteless, but more resemblant of
an acid trip with busy patterned fabric pleated and covering the walls, ceiling, furniture, etc. Yikes! The pool table in the middle of the room was the only solid block of color. The rest of the room looked like a paint factory filled with peacocks exploded inside – definitely a visual sensory overload! Enough of the inside of Graceland, now it was time to visit the grounds. Outdoors was the large lawn with Lisa Marie’s swing set still standing, the pool, and buildings that housed many of the outfits Elvis wore in various movies, pictures and paintings, awards, gold and platinum albums, guitars, and a variety of other Elvis memorabilia. He had a car collection, as well as airplanes, but the most moving experience I had here was when I stood before his grave. It gave me goosebumps! But, not only that, it seemed that the ghost of Elvis (and the Universe) constructed a way for me to be there alone. I had been with a group of people in a tour group the entire time, and now suddenly they were all gone. As I stood looking down at the graves of Elvis, his parents, his grandmother, and his twin brother*, I was overcome with emoition. My entire lifetime had
included Elvis, in movies, in concert, in interviews, television specials, his sudden death, his dynasty, the man, the legend, the imprint and legacy he left to the world. And, here I was, standing at his final resting place, the place I’ve heard of for so many years. As I looked down at the graves, tears welled up in my eyes and I was overcome with sadness. The sky overhead darkened, filling with rain clouds and, as the tears fell down my face, they also fell from the sky. Yes, the sky was crying with me, crying over a man who gifted us with his music, his acting, his talent, and who was taken from us too soon. Here lay a man who hit the world by storm, had it wrapped around his finger, but was still lonely and sad. Here was a man who had everything (by the world’s standards,) yet ended up with nothing (in the spiritual sense.) Here was the ending to a sad story, and the skies over Graceland and I felt it together. I thanked him for his music, and I told him how sorry I was that his life ended up as it did. No one was around, so it was just Elvis and I having a moment. I know he was there – I could feel his spirit – and he knew how much he meant to me. It was not a coincidence that I ended up in that spot alone, nor that the sky began crying at the exact time I came face to face with his resting place. These were sacred grounds, a holy place, where the spirit of Elvis remains. It moved me to tears, and it was an experience I will always remember…Thanks, Elvis!
Coming soon: Barbecue, St. Jude’s Hospital, Kudzu’s, Rock & Soul Museum, and the Gibson Guitar Factory