06
Jun-2014

Road Trip 5.3 – Memphis

Whilst in Memphis there are many music themed attraction to keep you busy. The first one on the agenda was Graceland, home of Elvis Presley. There you get to take an audio tour around the house and grounds, see his car and plane collection and walk through exhibits of his life and career. This was much more fascinating than I thought it would be and you get to walk around the ground floor and basement, the top floor preserved as a private area. The decor is astounding, Elvis certainly had an ‘interesting’ taste in home furnishings. At the end of the tour are the graves and memorials to Elvis and his family that have passed away.

Graceland

Graceland, Memphis

Graceland

Elvis’s living room at Graceland

Being on a budget we opted for a supermarket lunch in the car rather than more bbq before we took on Stax Museum. This museum is a memorial to Stax Records and the music that came out on the original site of the record company. The building is not original but a replica as unfortunately the original was demolished in 1989. This was a real eye opener to the Soul music emerging from Memphis in the 50’s and 60’s. Stars such as Otis Redding, Rufus Thomas, Sam & Dave and Isaac Hayes wrote and recorded music here. The museum is set up as an exhibit to all the stars of Stax and those that made it possible with, of course, music playing as you walk around. By the end of Stax we were fairly fatigued having spent the whole day wandering around exhibits and museums so we relaxed on the back porch of our AirBnB abode before heading out for some more Southern food, this time ‘Soul Fish Cafe’ on the recommendation of Kelly again. He was on the money again. This time we had some catfish, hush puppies (deep-fried cornmeal balls), slaw and a pork chop.

Stax Records

Stax Records, Soulsville USA

Soulfish Cafe

Some catfish, greens and slaw

We had another two museums we had bought tickets for in Memphis, the National Museum of Civil Rights and Sun Studio. We opted to visit the civil rights one first and spent around five hours there. It was the best exhibition devoted to one topic that I can think of seeing. Located on the site of Martin Luther King’s assassination, you are confronted with the balcony that he was shot dead on as you approach the entrance and a quite eerie feeling as you look back to the window that the shot came from. Inside, the museum details the struggle for civil rights for African Americans from the time of slavery through to modern times. It is a very detailed and interesting account of this history and you feel compelled to read all the accounts and narratives as you walk through with props and exhibits that bring the story to life. The first museum is housed in the motel, with the end of this museum walking you through motel room number 306 that Martin Luther King was staying in and the balcony where he was shot right in front of you. Across the road, the boarding house where James Earl Ray was alleged to have fired the gun from has been turned into another museum of the man-hunt and trial that followed with more exhibitions on civil rights and freedoms. We left there in the rain and not feeling like another museum feeling that after this we wouldn’t really take anything in we headed for Beale Street, home to Blues cafes and bars. We had a drink and listened to a very talented man play some tunes on his guitar. We then went for a wander around downtown before hopping back in the car and driving down to the Mississippi to take a look, it runs right past downtown but there’s not much on the banks here so we drove on.

Civil Rights Museum

The balcony outside room 306, where Martin Luther King was shot

Civil Rights Museum

An exhibit showing a sit-in protest at a lunch counter, National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis

I had a tip from a friend to try ‘Gus’s Fried Chicken’ and ‘Bar-B-Q Shop’ whilst in Memphis and as luck would have it we drove right past ‘Gus’s’. We stopped in for a few pieces of the best fried chicken I have had (Southern style) before driving on to check out our dinner venue – ‘Bar-B-Q Shop’. Not feeling like dinner right away due to our ‘appetiser’ of fried chicken, we drove to Overton Park for a walk around and some viewing of a classic American university past-time – Ultimate Frisbee. We then settled down to some more ribs at ‘Bar-B-Q Shop’ and they were delicious, again. I feel like the food has really come through for us in Memphis. We even had some leftover to takeaway with us to make sandwiches with the next day for our drive South to Clarksdale.

Overton Park

A pre-dinner walk through Overton Park, Memphis

Bar-B-Q Shop

Dinner at the Bar-B-Q Shop, Memphis

Our last day in Memphis before the drive South to the home of blues – Clarksdale – began with a bang as our AirBnB hosts were ripping out their kitchen. After breakfast we headed off to another of the icons of American music history, being ‘Sun Studio’. We had a tour of this active recording studio and museum that was home to Sun Studio, set up by Sam Phillips and the place where the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis first recorded. In fact, it was here that Elvis came up with his ‘sound’ and so they say that this place is the true birthplace of rock and roll. It was fascinating to see relics of the early days and in particular to stand in the studio that gave birth to rock and roll. The furnishings are pretty much the same as they were back then as are all the microphones. It is still a working studio by night. After Sun Studio and some pulled pork sandwiches by the Mississippi, we were driving towards Clarksdale, from the home of Soul and Rock ‘n’ Roll to the home of the Blues which started it all.

Sun Studio

Sun Studio, Memphis – birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll

Sun Studio

Original microphones in the studio that gave birth to rock ‘n’ roll. Elvis used these to record his music there.

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  1. Beaumont avenue /

    Fascinating. They are all places we have heard of and known about for decades. It seems to be a gastronomic tour of the stAtes. Where next?

  2. Kirsty and Peter /

    We had so much fun seeing these places. We are in Vicksburg now, an historic civil war town. Heading south tomorrow further down the mississippi towards New Orleans

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