A few people had told me Memphis is not an interesting city, one even told me not to go there! I couldn’t believe it this is the city of Elvis and the birthplace of Blues and Soul music, how could they say that! I love music and love reading and watching documentaries about it, Memphis always pops up from Sun Studios to Graceland and Beale Street, I had to go there!
I visited Memphis in December between Christmas and New Year, the heart of winter and geez it was cold. On a road trip my mate and I drove down from Kansas State through the snow a day after a heavy snow storm swept through, there was no snow in Memphis but the chill in the air was freezing!
We drove in over the bridge which divides Arkansas and Tennessee States over the Mississippi River, dropped our bags at the hotel and headed to Beale Street on the old trams which tinker up and down the main street. There was a college football game happening this week in Memphis and the street was buzzing with football fans from both teams in town. The street was filled with pubs and restaurants all with live blues music pouring out of the doors. We settled on eating at BB Kings and chomped down on chicken while watching a show of Blues music on the stage, I could get used to this.
The next day was a cold winter day mixed with low grey cloud and spits of rain, we drove to the outskirts of town to visit Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley. There is a big set up across the street from Graceland of everything from restaurants to museums and gift shops and also the place to buy your ticket to visit Graceland, we grabbed our tickets and stood in queue to catch the minibus across the street to Graceland. We were given our own audio guide and free to wander through the ground floor and lower ground visiting Elvis’ lounge room, dining room, kitchen, jungle room and downstairs to his pool room and chill out room before heading out to see the stables, rooms full of his awards and famous outfits he wore from his movies and music. At the end of the tour was the family cemetery where the Presley’s are laid to rest. We spent the next couple of hours back across the road visiting the many museums from his car collection, jumbo jet and exhibitions from other artists he has influenced. If you weren’t an Elvis fan you would be after visiting Graceland.
Next stop on our Memphis tour was Sun Studios the famous studios owned by Sam Phillips and where the first recording of Elvis took place. I knew a lot of big stars recorded there but until I took the tour which took us into a room filled with info and paraphernalia of early rock n’ roll, it was amazing to hear stories of the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, BB King, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Jerry Lee Lewis all recording there. We were taken into the studio which I have to admit I didn’t know it was still a working studio and the likes of U2 have recorded albums there. But tucked away in the corner and brought out for special photo opps during the tour is the famous microphone used by Elvis and of course I had my photo taken with it.
Our final full day in Memphis we spent the morning to learn about the history. Firstly we walked through the quiet streets of Memphis to the Lorraine Motel, the scene of the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. The hotel has not changed since that day April 4, 1968, with the Cadillacs parked out the front to the inside of the hotel room, even the bathroom across the street where the shooter stood is preserved. Across the street from the Motel a fantastic museum has been built to learn of the life and times of Dr King including his famous speeches and supporting of campaigns and marches. A couple of hours is well spent learning about this great Freedom Fighter.
The afternoon was spent visiting the Gibson Factory, a fact I did not know Gibson guitars are made from start to finish by hand, no mass production, if I had a bit of money I would have taken one home with me! We also visited the Memphis Rock n’ Soul Museum a museum which takes you through the history of rock, soul and civil rights in Memphis.
There is plenty of music and history in Memphis. We had a great few days there exploring only a small part of the great museums and music on Beale Street. I throughly had a great time and would recommend a stop in Memphis on the Rock n’ Roll highway!
Visited Memphis 28 – 30 December 2012