If you not only like music, but like to know about how it came about, then there are two must-see sights in Memphis: Graceland and Sun Studio. The two are intertwined: Sun Studio is where Elvis auditioned for Sam Phillips and where he recorded his first earth shaking albums.
Sam Phillips was a Memphis recording engineer who got tired of seeing other record labels make the big money off the records he recorded, and started his own record company in the 1950s. What is arguably (1) the first rock-‘n’-roll record, “Rocket 88” by Jackie Brenston, was recorded there in 1951. Ike Turner composed the song and played keyboard. The list of artists who recorded there includes Howlin’ Wolf, BB King, James Cotton and Junior Parker. Later, rockabilly and country artist such as Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis came through.
But it was a 19 year old kid who pestered Phillips for a year that set off a chain of events and changed the music world in 1954. Elvis Presley, playing with two musicians that Phillips had hooked him up with (5), cut “That’s All Right”. And the rest is history.
Sun Studio itself is tiny, and the studio is lined with vintage instruments and equipment still used several days a week for recording sessions.
After lunch we went out to Graceland. The “Mansion” is a large house which wouldn’t look outsized in a lot of upscale neighborhoods in the New York suburbs. It is incredibly glitzy, in a 1960s and 1970s kind of way. The property contains a number of outbuildings, including a horse barn, racquetball court, a garage for golf carts, etc. All the trimmings of someone who had no constraints on what toys to buy.
Across the road, there is a large museum/theater/shopping/eating complex. We watched a bit of one of Elvis’s terrible movies, where he played the singer in a band who also is a race car driver (2). We saw a lot of glitzy costumes. There are rooms dedicated to Lisa Marie Presley, his only child and heir (3).
We also saw glitzy clothing in Lansky Brothers, the so-called “Clothier to the King” (4). While Sally encouraged me to go for it, I resisted.
This being Memphis, I couldn’t resist going back downtown Beale Street to hear some more blues.
(1) The argument is made by Sun Studio and Sam Phillips.
(2) Spinout, (1968), also starring Shelley Fabares as a romantic interest.
(3) Lisa remains owner of the Mansion itself and 15% of Elvis Presley Enterprises, which owns all of the licensing rights to Elvis and his work.
(4) So-called by Lansky Brothers.
(5) Scotty Moore and Bill Black, who would perform in Presley’s band for many years.