Home   Kent   News   Article

Walking in Memphis with Paulene Green

You can find Elvis's soul at Sam Phillips' Sun Studio on Union Avenue
You can find Elvis's soul at Sam Phillips' Sun Studio on Union Avenue

Welcome to the birthplace of rock'n'roll. It's the pulsating city of Memphis, Tennessee, which revels in its musical history with a loud and proud energy, writes Paulene Green.

MEMPHIS possesses a kind of earthy electricity which is unique and its music has inspired so many top bands.

Tourists to the city can celebrate the cradle of the most modern of cultures. And it's unforgettable.

From its early gospel days right through to rock, soul and rap music, Memphis still has the buzz and it's a wonderful place to visit. So put on those blue suede shoes and walk the dog through a finger-snapping chapter of 20th-century history.

THE early gospel/blues singers were impoverished African Americans who walked up Route 61 into Memphis and influenced the music we hear today.

Route 61 leads straight to Beale Street. It's the pulsating heart at the centre of this vibrant city and where the rock never stops rolling in venues like BB King's Blues Club and Dyers.

Down the road you'll find the new Stax museum dedicated to the other side of Memphis - the Soul. It's built on the original site of the old Stax Studio. Readers of a certain age are likely to have a few Stax originals in their vinyl collection, each one certain to be a classic sound.

Here black and white musicians played together and produced the Stax sound with the horns backing sweet soul music. Such a cultural mix was virtually unheard of in America but it gave us some musical icons as this most prolific soul record label produced hit after hit.

The museum conveys the history of the record label from which stars like Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes and Booker T and the MGs launched their careers. Thousands of romances have blossomed with this music and your feet just itch to dance every time you hear a familiar intro.

The museum is bursting with fantastic artefacts including original costumes such as one of Tina Turner's skimpy dresses, Wurlitzer juke boxes, instruments like the saxophone rescued from the plane crash that killed Otis Redding and most of his band. And just in case you forget how it all began there is even an original 1906 gospel church, completely rebuilt inside the museum.

Another fabulous piece of blues history will be found at the Smithsonian's Memphis Rock 'N Soul Museum. It's a dazzling chronology of rebellious hearts, it echoes the music that gave us the Memphis Sound. The legends are here: BB King, Elvis, Otis, Jerry Lee Lewis. You know their songs, so this Mecca of a museum plays some of the 120 or more that were huge hits.

There are genuine artifacts such as BB King's Lucille guitar, original sheet music, vintage films, costumes from Al Green, Isaac Hayes and the man in black himself, Johnny Cash. Play on the vintage juke boxes, watch interviews of the artists and much more. All this for an entrance fee of less than $10.

But where is the King? Recently voted as America's number one icon, Elvis Presley is the favourite son of Memphis. He lived in Memphis, went to school there and listened and learned from the music and he loved the place.

In one way or another he's everywhere. You can find his soul at Sam Phillips' Sun Studio on Union Avenue, a nondescript little building you could easily pass by. When Elvis first walked into the Sun Studio as an 18-year-old he was asked who he sounded like and he said "I don't sound like nobody".

He cut his first records here, he mixed the Blues with his own unique voice. When he sang Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup's That's All Right Mama, Presley style, the studios knew they had found their sound. He recorded his first hits and it's where rock 'n roll truly started. Sun Studios may be a shrine to the man who died 30 years ago next August but it's not glossy and glitzy. It's earthy and soulful, just as it was in the 1950s.

It's the first place rock 'n' roll pilgrims head for, including U2 who cut some tracks from their Rattle and Hum album there. And Stax, too, has its place in our rock and roll history as it created the link between the roots of rock at Sun Studios in the 1950s and the soul music of the 60s and 70s disco.

Go down into the basement of Sun Studios, into the recording studio, and you can stand on the very spot where Elvis first recorded and the guide will show you the microphone, although you'll be asked not to "lick it"! It is said that this tour gives you goosebumps, as the guide tells you stories of Johnny Cash, Howlin' Wolf, BB King, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison, whose voices still haunt this old place.

Second on the must-see list is Presley's Graceland, an elegant mansion with an ostentatious interior decorated in 1970s outrageous style. It's America's second most popular tourist spot after the White House. The digital-audio tour presentation features the voices of Elvis and Lisa Marie and includes parts of the house recently opened to the public. It could take a day to explore but even if time is tight do visit the Meditation garden, where Elvis' remains are buried with his mum and dad.

The Platinum tour gives visitors the chance to see his home, cars, go inside his planes (in which he watched Monty Python films) including the Lisa Marie which was customised by Elvis and reflects his unique style.

In the house you will see the many items reflecting his humble beginnings right through to the gold discs and weird and wonderful stage gear. The Elvis Auto museum features his legendary 1955 Pink Cadillac, his Harley Davidson motorbikes, and more than 20 other vehicles.

When he returned from the Army Elvis was asked what he'd missed about Memphis. He replied, "Everything". I know what he meant.


Stax Museum of American Soul Music, 926 East McLemore (Tel: 001 901 942 7685 www.soulsvilleusa.com) is open 9am - 5pm (Mon - Sat) 1 - 5pm (Sundays). Adults $9/£6 and children 9-12 $6/£4.

Smithsonian Rock 'n Soul museum is located in the Gibson Guitar building, Downtown Memphis at 145 Lt. George W. Lee Avenue $9 for under 60's reductions for over 60's and children open daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Graceland is 10 miles from downtown Memphis adults $6 children under 7 free, aged 7 - 12 $3, concessions for students and adults over 62. Open every day March to October 9 - 5, November to March open Monday,Wednesday and Sunday closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years Day.

Sun Studio 706 Union on the edge of Downtown Memphis, children under 12 free, there is free parking behind the studio and it's open every day from 10 a.m to 6 p.m.

Getting There

Headline Travel, the KM Group's travel subsidiary, has packages going to Memphis every month from November 1st through to May 2007. Click on to Headline Travel (in the panel on the left) to find full details, prices and dates.

America As You Like It could do a 5 night package with return flights on Continental Airlines from Gatwick, 5 days all inclusive economy car hire, 3 nights at the Sleep Inn at Court Square in Memphis and 2 nights at the Quality Inn in Tupelo from £730 per person, based on two people sharing.

Free tourist information: Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, Woodlands, Park Street, Hitchin, Herts, 5G4 9AH Tel: 01462 - 440784

Website: www.memphistravel.com

Close This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.Learn More