Sunday, March 16, 2008


Got into Memphis Saturday early evening, left Sunday afternoon so there was no way enough time to see everything I wanted to.

Some of what I didn't get to on this trip (definitely going to have to get back to Memphis) Stax Records, Mississippi River museum, Graceland, the Dixon (art museum), Center for Souther Folklore, W. C. Hardy (father of blues) home and museum....

Beale Street
Got a hotel on the Arkansas side of the river--much cheaper than downtown and only five minutes away then went back downtown--headed to Beale Street. It was the night Memphis celebrated St. Patrick's Day.

The active part of Beale Street is only two blocks long but the second block is no where near as active as the fisrt block. Most of the block is blues clubs. This concentration REALLY results in a critical mass of activity. And lots of fun. Blues coming out of every door.

I ended up in BB King's Blues Club. 10 minute wait to get in. Great blind blus singer/harmonica player backed up by a stand-up base and electric guitar. Great music. They played a song titled Highway 61 (not Dylan's Hiway 61 Revisited--different song). I'll have to do some research to find out who the writer was. They ended their set with Sweet Home Chicago. In spite of being somewhat a tourist trap (routed you through the gift shop on the way out--I bough a Tee shirt), the music was great and the food was good. It was the first Mississippi River food I've had on the trip--southern fried catfish (corn meal breading) and hushpuppies. (I have my own deffinition of Mississippi River food--it includes New Orleans,cooking,walleye, corn fed beef, wild rice....)

After I left, walked by a small park with some live blues happening. Only down side was the new municipal parking ramp--it was very cheep--but why are all municipal parking ramps filthy?

Sunday morning I drove out to Graceland (10 minutes from downtown). Decided not to take the time or spend the money on this trip (It was Sunday and already kind of crowded).

Sun Records
The origional Sun Records studio is just east of downtown. Guided tour. Wait in the gift shop for it to start--good marketing move--bought up Howlin' Wolf and Jerry Lee Lewis CD's while waiting.

Tour started on 2nd floor with a room of glassed in cases. Some really cool old recording equipment. An old Ampex single track tape recorder, an RCA master disk lathe, an old electric guitar amp. And then there was the large center case--a shrine to Elvis Presley. Some great recordings used on the tour--including a video of Presley's first national TV appearance (before the censors banned showing his swinging hips). The studio itself is small. Hard to believe it played a major part in the carriers of Presley, BB King (by the way, BB stands for "Blues Boy"), Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash.

Waiting for the other museums to open at 1 PM--decided to have lunch on Beale Street. Silky O'Sullivans--Live blues to a small lunchtime group. And a great BBQ sandwich.

Memphis Rock n Soul Museum
This musem I'll have to get back to. Way too much to see. It does a GREAT job of tying the history of Blues, Country, Jazz and Rock to the history of the delta area--why all these musicians ended up in Memphis--why blues developed in the delta (Note, the delta refers to this reagion of the Mississippi--not the actual river delta south of New Orleans). Interesting displays on how the local music industry challenged the racial segregation of the time.

National Civil Rights Museum
Another museum that requires much more time. It is built around the Lorraine Motel--where Martin Luther King was shot--and the boarding house that Ray shot King from. The museum traces the history of the Civil Rights Movement from slavery to the present. It is one of the most powerful museums I've visited--ranking with Washington DC's Holocaust Museum.

They've replaced one wall of room 306 of the Lorraine Motel with glass so you can see the room King stayed with Ralf Abernathy the day he was shot. I had learned at the Rock N Soul museum that he had yelled down to a local sax player in the parking lot to ask him to play the gospel "Precious Lord, Take My Hand" right before he was shot. They had that song playing in the background.

In the boarding house part of the museum, you
could see Jame Earl Ray's room and the shared bathroom he shot King from. The museum even has a display explaining all the conspericy theories around King--was it someone else, was the FBI involved, was the Memphis police involved, was it an assassination planned by other black leaders? The display explains ALL sides--positive and negative--to these arguments.

All three of these museums tied back to Jim Crow and the civil rights movement.

Headed south to Clarksdale, Ms.

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