Saturday, April 13, 2013

Walking in Memphis

For our 10th wedding anniversary, we decided to take a short trip to Memphis. I've always wanted to see Graceland, plus there is a rich music history in the city. The reason for our trip being Graceland, I booked a room at Heartbreak Hotel, which is indeed at the end of Lonely Street (although the address is on Elvis Presley Blvd).

After about a 7 hour drive, we arrived in Memphis. The hotel is full of Elvis. Pictures are everywhere, including over the bed. The fitness center is called Kid Galahad's (after the title character in one of his movies). The bar is the Jungle Room, named for the infamous room at Graceland. The computer center in the lobby is the TCB Center (that's Taking Care of Business for those who don't know Elvis's motto).

Tired after a long day, we walked across the parking lot to the Rock & Roll Cafe for dinner. Turns out they have a free show Wednesday through Saturday with a local Elvis impressionist, who also does impressions of other artists from that era. He treated us to plenty of Elvis songs, along with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and more. He even dedicated a song to us for our anniversary.
Elvis impressionist Tim Rowland

Through the hotel we were able to book the Memphis Music Experience tour. I highly recommend the package if you are at all interested in music.

It included a tour of Graceland, of course.
Graceland in the morning sun

Graceland is a fascinating snap shot in time, preserved as it was in 1977 when Elvis died, with a few outbuildings renovated to display his many awards and memorabilia. For a mansion, it's actually fairly small. It's obvious real people lived there.

On the mirrored stairs down to the basement at Graceland

The trophy building and racquetball building have walls of photos, gold and platinum records, his Grammys, clothing, and costumes.
A wall of gold & platinum records over jumpsuits
Just 1 wall of gold & platinum records

Elvis's grave in the Meditation Garden
And then the final stop on the estate: the Meditation Garden, where Elvis, his parents, and his grandmother are buried. There is a hush as everyone walks past the graves, noting the wreaths and flowers sent from fans almost daily.

The gate at Graceland
Going back to the complex across the street for the rest of the tour (the Elvis car museum and his private jets; exhibits on his time in Las Vegas, Tupelo, and Hawaii; an exhibit dedicated to the '68 special) is almost anticlimactic, but well worth seeing. (Note: If you've ever wondered what the big deal with Elvis was and is, watch the '68 special, often called the '68 Comeback Special. The black leather concerts in particular show a hint of the magic, the charisma, of Elvis.)

Sun Records
After a quick lunch, we hopped a free shuttle to Sun Records, the next stop on the Memphis Music Experience. Sun Records launched the careers of more than just Elvis Presley: Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison. The "Million Dollar Quartet" was recorded here when Elvis, Johnny, Jerry Lee and Carl just started jamming. The studio is there, and people still record in it. You can hold one of the original microphones from the 50s, pretending to be a rock star.

Outside Sun Records
The Memphis Rock 'n' Soul Museum was the next stop, where we got a little history of Memphis music from the early days of gospel to blues to rock to soul. There was a lot of familiar music played on that tour.

B.B. King's guitar at the Museum of Rock & Soul
Friday evening was our actual anniversary, so we treated ourselves to a carriage ride around downtown Memphis. A gentle Belgian draft horse named Barney pulled the carriage. Two dogs rode as co-pilots. Deciding to skip the club atmosphere of Beale Street (we did walk down the street, but bars just aren't our thing), we had a quiet pizza dinner at Aldo's.

On our carriage ride around downtown Memphis
We had one final stop on Saturday before the long drive home, the last tour in the Memphis Music Experience: Soulsville USA Stax Museum. I don't follow record labels, so I had no idea how many Stax Records artists I was familiar with--Booker T and the MGs, Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Isaac Hayes. I love horn rock. And the roots of that are in the soul music that came out of Stax, in particular from the Memphis Horns, who played on a ton of the recordings. Booker T and the MGs were the house band. Stax turns out to be an early influence in my musical tastes. Stax was torn down years ago, but the museum was built following blueprints, photos and memories to recreate the famous studio.

Stax Records
There was so much of Memphis we didn't get to see in such a short time. But that's just an excuse to go back. Maybe when the boys are a little older, so they can appreciate the music history. We missed the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel and the ducks at the Peabody Hotel. Memphis is a big city with a rich history, especially a rich music history.

Elvis statue on Beale St.

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