On our first day out and about we took the free shuttle to Sun Studio for their tour. The $22 for 2 tickets was well worth the price. Our tour guide, Launa, was exceptional and she made the tour lively and interesting with her knowledge and theatrics. Sun Studio was unimpressively small and dingy but reeked of history. We were “all shook up” (can’t help myself) listening to the who’s who of this small studio.
Sam Phillips opened the studio in 1950 as a recording studio, Marion Keisker was his assistant and the person who recommended Sam listen to the recording Elvis made at the studio. Marion reported, “Over and over I remember Sam saying, If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel I could make a million dollars”. On July 15, 1954 Elvis was fooling around in the Sun studio after not being able to do justice to a recording of a ballad, when he began playing “That’s All Right” which was the sound Sam had been looking for and the rest is history.
Studio’s would send records to DJ Dewey Philips to play on his program “Red, Hot & Blue”. On the day Sam gave Elvis’s record to Dewey to play on his evening program he played it 14 times after receiving many phone calls.
In 1955 a cash short Phillips sold Elvis’s contract for $35,000, an unheard of sum’ to RCA Victor. The career’s of Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Junior Parker, BB King, Jackie Brenston & his Delta Cats, James Cotton, Rufus Thomas and Rosco Gordon benefited from the sale of Elvis’s contract.
The Southern Delta had its own music, the whites was melodic celtic folk music that brought country music. Blacks had a rhythmic, beat driven music of “field hollers” a call and response where one voice sings the lead and is answered by the chorus. Black churches began blending call and response with white music – African tradition interwoven music and worship. Anglican hymns took on a new and different African rhythm.
In 1954 Johnny Cash introduced himself to Sam Phillips when Sam told Johnny to come back after he had written an uptempo weeper love song. Cry! Cry! Cry! was released in 1955. Johnny stuck a folded dollar bill under his guitar strings to get the raspy sound. Johnny wrote the song “I Walk The Line” after talking to buddies about other guys running around on their wives. Carl Perkins and the Perkins Brothers arrived at Sun Studio begging Sam for a chance to play. While playing at a dance he saw a dancer in the crowd trying to keep his girlfriend from stepping on his “blue suede shoes”. 21 year old, twice married and born entertainer, Jerry Lee Lewis sold 13 dozen of his daddy’s eggs to pay for his trip to Memphis. Playing the piano like a wild man on the keys, playing with his feet and then it happened. Whole Lot a Shakin in 1957 and 6 months later Great Balls of Fire, cemented his career.
Memphis Rock and Soul Museum is a Smithsonian affiliated museum, where you can see the entire Memphis music story. Here the story begins in the rural 1930’s, urban influences of the 40’s and the radio in the 50’s.
Over 300 minutes of information and over 100 songs can be listened to on the MP3 audio guide tour. This museum was our favourite music museum of the entire trip, as we recognized so many of the artists and sang along to the songs (quietly).
Oh those Famous Peabody Ducks! When we arrived at the Peabody Hotel at 4PM a full hour before the duck parade begins it was already crowded. The red carpet was rolled out at 4:30 by the uniformed MC and duck wranger. The tuxedoed wrangler told us how in 1933 the general manager and his friend returned from a weekend of duck hunting and Jack Daniels consumption and thought it would be funny to place live ducks in the fountain. The ducks were enthusiastically received by the quests and have been there ever since.
In 1940 Bellman, E. Pembroke a former animal trainer taught the ducks the famous Peabody Duck March. The ducks, 1 male and 4 female are mallards. They reside on the roof of the hotel, work between 11 and 5 every day for three months and then retire to a farm to live out the remainder of their lives as wild ducks.
The famous part of Beale Street is only 4 blocks long and is blocked to traffic except at the street intersections, in total Beale Street starts at the Mississippi River and runs for 3 km. Beale Street became the hub of the black community in the South. The Blues were everywhere! Every night club, dance hall, gambling place and den of iniquity had a stage with music. Every street corner had a jug band that played for pennies. The street was alive with energy. To a Bluesman Beale Street was like New York’s Broadway for an actor.
Officially declared a National Historic Landmark in 1966 .In 1977 Beale Street was declared Home of the Blues by an act of Congress.
Highway 61, The Blue Highway running from New Orleans to Memphis is a 400 mile drive through Southern music, soul, gospel, R’nB’ and the blues.
During the 60’s civil rights struggles Beale Street was a natural rallying place.
We are staying at Graceland RV Park and Campground which is directly behind the Graceland Hotel and both are adjacent to Graceland complex.
Wahoo, double discounts +60 and AAA. We take our headphones and board the shuttle that takes us across the street to the Elvis Presley home and revisit the 70’s. Immaculately kept and preserved the 15 foot white leather couch in the blue, gold and white living room to the green carpet on the floor and ceiling in the family room to the fabric covered walls and ceiling in the billiard room. It is amazing and sad. Fresh flowers bouquets from fans attest to the love the fans still feel for Elvis.
The incredible number of awards from record sales and humanitarian causes he supported line many walls and are floor to ceiling in the 30′ high racket ball court. Some of his favourite jumpsuits he wore to perform, the suits he wore to certain award events and Priscilla’s wedding dress are all on display.
The memorial garden with his grave and those of his parents, Vernon and Gladys and his grandmother Minnie Mae Presley who outlived all of them. A small plague remembers his twin brother Jesse Garon. It would be hard not to feel sadness and regret while standing in the garden. Elvis Aaron Presley January 8, 1935 – August 16, 1977.
The shuttle delivered us back where we toured the Elvis Automobile Museum, Live From Vegas Exhibit, Tupelo Exhibit, Hawaii Exhibit and his jets. We loved listening to the music, watching his home movie’s and the movie’s he starred in.
The tour took us 5 hours to complete and the cost was $29 each.
After a long tiring day of touring Elvis we called the pink cadillac limo from Marlow’s to pick us up. This restaurant has been on diner’s, drive-ins and dives and several BBQ shows. Terry and I shared a combo platter, brisket, pork ribs and chicken, love, love it!!
We explored Chucalissa a C.H. Nash Museum part of the University of Memphis. Chucalissa (chuck-ah-lizza) is a Choctaw word for abandoned house. This site was an American Indian Temple Mound Complex. It was home to 800-1000 people and occupied between 1000-1550 AD. There were lots of hand’s on display for school kids. The Choctaw practised head flattening by placing a small sandbag to the baby’s head as it lay on the cradle board. It was though to make an adult look handsome, to improve the eyesight and make a man a better hunter. The list of medicinal plants and their use was also interesting.
While in New Orleans we struck up a conversation with a couple from Memphis who were attending there 22nd Mardi Gras. They took the bus from Memphis to N.O. for a grand total of $4.20. The further out you book the trip the cheaper it is thus the cheap total. We choose Majestic Grill a recommendation from them. Yummy burgers! Dessert was served in 5 shot glasses on a wooden tray, choose a cake for $1.99 each, just a perfect size. Lemon cheesecake and carrot cake. We rode the Riverfront Trolley for $1.00 to get a little tour of the area and hopped off at the river and walked to the Cotton Museum.
The Cotton Museum tells the story of how Memphis came to be. Wonderful exhibits explain how the art, history and music evolved around the cotton industry. Founded in 1812 it became a shipping port for cotton and African slaves whose hard work was the foundation of the southern economy. The museum says one of the cities treasures, the Blues; evolved out of African rhythms, soulful spirituals, creative instruments and desperation. The museum explained the grading and selling methods of cotton, the many uses. It gave a very honest account of the cruelty of slavery times. The audio tour was very informative.
Some of the grades of cotton are:
1. good middling white color
2. strict middling white color
3. middling white color
4. strict low middling white color
5. low middling white color
6. stict good ordinary
Color, strength and trash were the determining factors to grading.
The last room, The Exploration Hall, explained how the cotton industry has changed since the 1940’s. Planting methods are similar to wheat, ground temperature must be 68F at a 2″ depth. The seeds germinate within 10 days. Two months after planting flower buds appear and within 3 weeks the blossoms open and after 3 days the petals fall off leaving green pods called cotton bolls. As the boll ripens it turns brown and finely split apart leaving the fluffy cotton. We saw many cotton fields in North Carolina and Georgia, very picturesque. Planting to harvest is approximately 160 days.
Civil Rights Museum
A sombre quiet museum. Unfortunately they have expanded and the grand re-opening will be April 4 so we had an abbreviated tour. The exhibits tell of the key events in the civil rights movements, the Martin Luther King JR. assassination, the day is cronicled from the view of many people who with King, the residents, the police, the investigation, the life of James Earl Ray and the evidence. The controversy so like the Kennedy assignation is confusing. Ray recanted his confession, the amount of money he spent prior to the shooting with no explanation where he got this unearned sum from. The fingers points at the police, and the government agencies possibly both having been involved with the assination plot or the actual shooting. I doubt if there will ever be a definitive answer.
We were warned by many that Memphis is not a safe place to be, to be careful, not to go out at night. We never felt unsafe, the grocery store and walmart we shopped at we were a minority of two.
Memphis seems to be a busy city. Services is the largest employer. Three firms on the Fortune 500 list have their head office in Memphis; Fed-Ex (lucky us we were very close and can attest most of their planes take off between 2 and 3 am), HCA (Health Care) and International Paper, the largest paper company in the world. 40% of the US cotton is traded in Memphis.
Among the top industries are beef production, broilers, soybean, processed foods, grain products, bread, breakfast cereals, flour, beer, whiskey, soft drink, transportation equipment, industrial chemicals, paints, pharmaceutical’s, plastic resins and soap, mining limestone, coal, zinc and clays.