An Elvis Kind of Day in Memphis, TN

“I’m going to Graceland, for reasons I cannot explain there’s some part of me that wants to see Graceland” – Paul Simon

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Well folks get ready for an Elvis and music themed post today because most of the day was about the man in the blue suede shoes (fun fact – he was not the original artist for that tune…more on that later) and the history and evolution of the blues (this gal is a rhymer).  In the event you did not read between the lines of my daily lyric at the top, today I went to Graceland. After all, I am in Memphis.

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Let’s get down to it.

Graceland is the home of the late – and uber popular – Elvis Presley, who at the ripe age of 22 bought the home and property for just over 100k. Not bad, Elvis, not bad. Now I will admit that I knew several popular Elvis’ songs and that he was in some movies prior to donning my nerdy tourist hat today, but that’s about it. UNTIL NOW. I am now an Elvis know-it-all, equipped with an Elvis 45 boasting 2 of his singles. Yes, I fell victim to one of the 17 gift shops – you think I am kidding about the number 17…I assure you that is no exaggeration. While a tourist trap, Graceland exceeded my expectations. Very well organized, and I’m a sucker for some solid organization – just ask my former employees. And you can take however long you want to walk through the different museums and sections of the property. They don’t herd you through like a bunch of feral cats. Thank the good lord for that.

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The Graceland mansion was neat to walk through…I mean one room had wall to wall and floor to ceiling green shag carpet, and others were perfectly retro (enter yellow, leather bar stools in the TV room and 50s furniture). Be still my mid-century modern heart. I learned he also was quite a generous man, giving to countless charities throughout his life and career. One amazing statistic I walked away learning, was that of all of his Grammy nominations, Elvis won only three of the esteem awards – and not one of them was for rock & roll music. All of his Grammys were for gospel. Pretty crazy to think of “the King of Rock & Roll” not winning a Grammy for any of his numerous #1s! It was quite an experience, walking through the mansion. You walked away with the sense that he was a simple, relatable guy who just let things get way out of control. The place was filled with history, his musical awards and accomplishments, his blue suede shoes, his ornate and oh so fantastic stage costumes, and ultimately his final resting place. Overall, the mansion was simple, like the man, which was especially surprising to me given his fame and fortune.

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I’d be lying if I said his music wasn’t infectious – and boy, did I get my fill of Elvis music today. While I enjoy the tune “My Way” on rare occasion, I need not hear it again anytime soon. It literally is playing in my head right now.  On repeat.  And I cannot make it stop. Feedback to the Graceland organizers – change it up a bit, after all the man and his genius had umpteen number ones!

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“I’ve traveled each and every highway, and more, much more than this, and I did it myyyyyyyyyyyyyy waaaaaaay”.

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So after I visited the mansion, I went to the archives room, swung by the Lisa Marie plane (hello 1970s décor and 24 karat gold safety buckles), the car museum, and grabbed a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich – just like Elvis liked it – for lunch! Phew – that was a 3 hour Elvis extravaganza full oh amazing people watching, including a little old lady sporting a “Love Me Tender, Elvis” t-shirt…classic!!

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um…Sold.

um…Sold.

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Grilled Peanut Butter & Banana

Grilled Peanut Butter & Banana

My next stop of the day was Sun Studio, home of Sun Records at 706 Union Ave in Memphis. I was pretty excited about this stop as a novice music junkie (I don’t play an instrument and I cannot carry a tune, but I love me some music – that’s my official definition of ‘novice music junkie’, in the event anyone was wondering). Probably one of the best tours I have been on. Great guide and it was just really well done, with music and recording incorporated perfectly. So Sun Record Company (now Sun Studio) is still an active Studio (in fact, a U2 drum kit sits in the recording studio) and was originally established by Sam Phillips. The first single ever recorded at Sun Records was “Drivin’ Slow” by Johnny London. And it tanked with radio! Sorry, maybe I shouldn’t use an explanation point on that – poor Johnny and Sam. According to the guide, back in the day you could swing by Sun Records, pay $4 and record 2 copies of a single on a 78. Elvis cut his first single here by doing just that – recording a song called “My Happiness”. Sam Phillips actually didn’t want to record Elvis originally, because he was labeled as a ballad singer and Sam Phillips wasn’t interested in ballad singers. Persistent, Elvis kept returning to Sun Records and eventually cut “That’s Alright” in just three takes and the rest was history, as they say. “That’s Alright” aired on radio for the first time on July 8, 1954 on WHBQ with Dewey Phillips at the helm.

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But Sun Records isn’t all about Elvis. It has a lot of history cutting tracks from the likes of BB King, my personal favorite – Johnny Cash (Folsom Prison Blues, Walk The Line, Get Rhythm), Jerry Lee Lewis (Great Balls of Fire & A Whole Lot of Shakin’), Carl Perkins (who originally recorded Blue Suede Shoes), Roy Orbison (whose top hit from the studio was Ooby-Dooby), and more recent acts like U2. The Million Dollar Quartet (Cash, Presley, Perkins, Lewis) also recorded in the studio – what a scene that must have been! Sam Phillips gave nearly everyone who walked in a listen and ultimately recorded and engineered music that reached across race, age and gender boundaries – pretty impressive given the times when the studio was in it’s prime. Such a cool place to visit! Favorite fun fact from Sun Studio – Drums were banned in country music in the 50s; the drum sounds you here in records like Walk The Line by Johnny Cash is actually from a loosely stringed guitar with paper wrapped around the neck; drums were not allowed at the Grande Ole Opry until 1973 when Johnny Cash became a regular act.

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Million Dollar Quartet

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the “drums”

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Ok – next stop was the Rock n Soul Museum. Now I wont bore you with continuing on about the history of the music scene in the South and in Memphis. I don’t want to put you to sleep just yet. So enjoy the history of rock and soul music from a couple of pictures. Yet another great stop, and great museum on my journey through musical madness.

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WHER – the first all-female radio station

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a fun Elvis fact

Sax played at Dr. Martin Luther King's request after a rally in Memphis. He was assassinated shortly after.

Sax played at Dr. Martin Luther King’s request after a rally in Memphis. He was assassinated shortly after.

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not a bad song selection

organ used on recording of

organ used on recording of “Suspicious Minds”

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the handwritten lyrics of “Suspicious Minds”

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Enough with learning, education, and the museums. It was time to hit Beale Street to see what all the hoopla was about. Interesting place. Crazy cool signage – and I captured a few shots for my sweet little goddaughter, Beale. I stopped for about 30 minutes to listen to some live music and hydrate before catching my 5:30 (and free) shuttle ride back to Graceland. Now on the shuttle back to Graceland, I was accompanied by what I imagine to be a couple of folks who did not do so well in the Geography Bee (is it B or Bee? I have no idea) as they asked the driver multiple times, “What river is that?” Really? Really????? Folks – that is the one and only Mississippi River, like seriously look at a map before traveling. For everyone’s sake. Gracious Pete!

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On my way back to the hotel I made a detour to hit up a Memphis BBQ joint called Central BBQ. Can’t go to Memphis without trying the BBQ. Now, I am partial to some good ole Carolina BBQ so I was skeptical. It was pretty dang delicious, plus it was a great atmosphere – live music, a baby kangaroo dinner mate (pun intended), and the smell of slowly smoked meat. Baby Kangaroo??? WHAT? Yep – just when I thought I’d seen it all, I found myself sitting next to Boomerang, the baby kangaroo. In this case, a picture is worth a thousand words of sheer preciousness.

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Well, I made back to the hotel (my clean laundry waiting for me – woohoo) and ready to plan another fun day in Memphis! I smell a Gibson guitar factory tour in my future.

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“Live each day, as if it we’re your last. It’s written in the stars, your destiny is cast.” – Elvis Presley, Wisdom of the Ages

Until next time…

– traveljunkE

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