Memphis, Tennessee is like no other place I’ve ever been. The city is centered around it’s rich musical heritage, many renowned musicians grew up in and around Memphis these included some personal favourites and true musical legends as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash, B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf. I know I mentioned my trip to Graceland Mansions in my previous post but just had to include it in my top 5 list as it was such a memorable experience.
Our four days in Memphis were hot, humid and packed with music, culture, history and laughs. Memphis has a colourful past and was at the centre of the civil rights issues during the 1960’s ,we took a trip to the Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King was shot and looked around the National Civil Rights Museum, which was well worth a visit and gives a much broader insight into the political struggles that helped to shape the Memphis and indeed America that we love today. Here are the top five greatest things I did during my visit.
1. Music Mecca: Sun Studios- AMAZING. If you get chance you must go. Sun Studios is World famous for founding music genres including blues, gospel and rock n’ roll! Sun Studios was originally opened under the name of ‘Memphis Recording Service’ by music pioneer Sam Phillips at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, on January 3, 1950. The building remains a working recording studio and opens for tours during the day but at night continues to develop the dreams of aspiring musicians. As you enter Sun Studios there’s a cafe bar serving tea, coffee and in my case Strawberry Milkshake, there’s 50’s style booth seats, a juke box and plenty of merch to buy. We bought our tickets and waited for the tour. Tours start at half past every hour. I loved it. We looked around the building including the original recording studios where you are played snippets of unreleased original recordings, we got to sing into the mic used by Elvis and ogle at the impressive guitar selection.I found it interesting that recordings used to be made at Sun Studios and sold to other labels including Chess Records, so some of those old favourites were actually coming out of Memphis and not Chicago!
The story goes that Elvis paid $3.98 to record his very first song at the Memphis Recording Service’ as a belated birthday present for his Mum back in 1953 (that one off record is now valued at a whopping $500,000). A year later on July 5th 1954 Elvis returned to the studio with a backing band where they were rehearsing a handful of gospel songs during a short break from rehearsal Elvis began acting the fool with Arthur Crudup’s “That’s All Right Mama,” then his band mates joined in, Sam Phillips loved what he heard and started recording…..the rest as they say is well, Rock ‘n’ Roll history!
2. Shop & Party: Beale Street- On our first evening in Memphis we walked out and turned the corner onto the famous Beae street to find a ‘bike night’ in full swing. The street was lined with Harleys, Triumphs and some more unusual motorcycles painted in all kinds of imaginative, technicolor designs. Beale Street is a national historical landmark and now plays host to an array of bars, live music venues, shops, street parties, bike nights and all-round great times. We walked down and marvelled at the bikes, went in the shops and soaked in the atmosphere. during the day Beale street provides a slightly tourist driven shopping experience with shops selling all kinds of Rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia, which can prove to be rather amusing to browse around, at night is when Beale street really comes to life.
3. Day Trip to Home of The King: Graceland- A trip to Graceland Mansions for some visitors takes on a quasi-religious perspective, you can feel the excitement and love from the true Elvis fans, some have planned for years to journey to the home of the ‘King’. This love for Elvis’ undying legacy can make for a very heart warming and moving experience. Our visit coincided with the 35th Anniversary of Elvis’ death which meant there were live music acts performing in the grounds of Graceland, we also had a tour of the inside of the mansion building, read tear jerking messages left by fans in the meditation gardens, went onboard the private jets, drooled over Elivis’ car collection including his iconic pink Cadillac and paid our respects to the King. As an Elvis fan this was a very memorable experience, highly recommended.
4. The Peabody Ducks- When my Dad told me that the Peabody Hotel has a duck procession marching through the lobby twice daily I looked at him as if he was telling another one of his pharisaical tales. However, it is in fact true. Since the 1930’s the hotel has housed five mallard ducks that play in the lobby fountain. Back in the 1930’s the manager of the hotel returned from a trip to find his friends had left five ducks in the fountain, he called for them to be removed immediately but the hotel guests loved them and insisted they stay. Since then there have been five ducks playing in the fountain everyday, the designated Duck Master marches the ducks down to the fountain at 11am and then marches them through the lobby and back up to the Duck Palace on the roof at 5pm. This is a magical affair and a joy to watch, the ducks march along happily to the sound of marching band music like something out of a Walt Disney film.
5. Vintage Cinema: Orpheum Theatre- Located on South Main St. at the corner of Beale lies this absolute gem of a cinema, built in 1928 the Orpheum is one of the few remaining “movie palaces” of the 1920s. The interior and exterior are fabulously grand. The movie schedule is as impressive as the building itself screening absolute classics from Almost Famous, Raw Hide to the Rocky Horror Picture Show! What more can I say? Truly incredible.
The Fabulous Times