Before we completely abandon the Mississippi River, we have stopped here in the land of Elvis...literally....Graceland is just across the street from where we are staying at Graceland RV Park. We have stayed here before and while it was not our first choice, it is not flooded as is our preferred park down by the river....it's not so bad....there is security for the RV park and Heartbreak Hotel which sits in front directly on Elvis Presley Blvd. If you have never been to Memphis to see Graceland and the other sites, you simply must if you have any interest in rock and roll, soul, or country because this is where it all came together!
We are here for only two nights so we were up and going this morning so we could be downtown by 10. First we went to Memphis Rock n Soul Museum. We saw and listened to an excellent overview of the blending of white music (melodic celtic folk music) and black (cotton field hollers). Note: This is my very simplified explanation and I am not a music historian....
When it came to music in Memphis in the 50s and 60s blacks and whites came together naturally to give birth to Rock and Roll. The museum tour consists of an excellent short film covering this period of history and then the rest of the museum is experienced wearing headphones with a remote that allows you to choose the pieces of the history you want to hear more about as well as the music you want to hear.
Photos were allowed but it was hard for me to get good ones without glare because of the glass around everything. Listening to the music was a big part of the experience and this museum which has affiliations with the Smithsonian does a good job giving you a feel for what was going on at the time and how Rock and Roll came onto the scene.
The museum is right near Beale Street. We walked down a portion of the street....let me just say that it would probably be a better experience to be there at night and after a few beers....one of those places that in the light of day seems like something is missing. It smelled like people had a good time there last night....if you know what I mean. Anyway we are not bar hoppers and probably aren't the best judges of where a good time could be had. I am certain however that the music happnin' the night before was out of this world!
We grabbed a bite to eat at Planet Hollywood (lots of memorabilia there!) and caught a shuttle a couple miles over to Sun Studio.
Now Sun Studio literally is the birthplace of recorded Rock and Roll. It was founded by an amazing white guy named Sam Phillips who was from a poor tenant farmer family from Florence, Alabama.
He heard the cotton picker field hollers as he picked cotton with his parents. When he was 16 his family was traveling through Memphis on their way to see a preacher in Dallas and he slipped off to Beale Street and fell in love. In the 40s he worked as a DJ at WLAY in Muscle Shoals where both black and white music was being played. He worked at another station as an announcer and sound engineer.
He went back to Memphis and in 1950 started Memphis Recording Service at the site we visited today. Anyone could come in and and for a few dollars have something recorded.
Anyone like BB King, Howlin Wolf or Elvis Presley before anyone knew who they were.
Phillips went on to start his own record label, Sun Records, and mentored artists and brokered relationships....the best known being Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison. Phillips was very instrumental in the development of Rock and Roll and we owe him alot!
Our tour guide was excellent....don't let her Honky Tonk Angel tattoo on her chest fool you.
We saw the first actual record cut by Phillips in 1951 of Jackie Brenston's Rocket "88"...it's considered to be the first rock and roll song. Listen to it here: http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=OzYRKJvQqpU&desktop_uri=/watch?v=OzYRKJvQqpU
Last on our agenda was a factory tour at Gibson Guitar. Full production was not going on as it is Saturday but we saw all the stages from a block of wood to a finished guitar. Pretty amazing. No photos allowed so I can't share any of it with you....you will just have to come to Memphis and see for yourself!