If you love the blues, then you love the sound of Memphis. But if you are still celebrating the birth of rock and roll, then this is sacred ground.
We began our day at the Peabody Hotel, watching the 11AM parade of the ducks down from the penthouse through the lobby. Hard to photograph those little guys running for the fountain, as they drew a crowd that some celebrities would welcome. The official Duck Master gave us the whole spiel, and we saw those duckies follow in an 80-year tradition. I remember watching at least 20 years ago, but didn’t recall that you needed to be there an hour ahead to witness a 30-second event. And I thought they had more ducks then! But it’s still great fun.
Then we took a long walk as part of the pilgrimage to the Sun Records Studio. Yes, one day in 1954, a young Elvis went in there to record a “custom” record for his mother’s birthday for $3. You’ll see the door and the desk where he spoke to the lady who handled his recording and who pushed the owner for a year to let him record for the Sun label. That day came, and the rest is…you know.
They have great memorabilia and a super tour. (Notice they spelled Elvis’s name wrong on his high school class show program. Bet they were sorry later.) The building has never been changed from when Sam Phillips started it as the Memphis Recording Service, and you can stand in the studio in the very spot where The King recorded. One of their claims to great fame is the story of the night that a very successful Elvis was in town and came over to talk and jam. And who else was there? None other than Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. The photo of the four is iconic and was titled “The Million Dollar Quartet” because that seemed like the zenith of record sales in 1956. Unbeknownst to them, Sam recorded the whole evening. Yes, we bought the CD. (The Broadway musical version is touring and is evidently now running in Vegas, Jeff.)
Lots of other greats including BB King, Roy Orbison and Ike Turner recorded for Sun. It was kind of thrilling to be there, to tell the truth.
We also took a riverboat cruise on the Mississippi, which was impressive. Went under several bridges, but one between Tennessee and Arkansas is noteworthy. Tennessee put up the spans they both agreed to, but Arkansas decided not to spend the money after all. So while it looks unfinished, it is quite stable and is for some reason affectionately called “the Dolly Parton Bridge.”
Unfortunately, we ran out of time before we could visit the Civil Rights Museum, but our trolley did go by its reconstructed Lorraine Motel, which was rather chilling.
Finally, no trip to Memphis would be complete without a stroll down Beale Street, where the music never stops. Can’t share the sound, but thought you would enjoy the neon.