"I was walking in Memphis."
Without Elvis Presley, there wouldn't be very many tourists in Memphis. It does have the famous street of the blues on Beale street, but that's about it. We stayed downtown and the city seemed very down at heel. Many shops and even whole skyscrapers were boarded up. It was very quiet.
Elvis grew up in Tupelo a dirt poor town a little outside of Memphis. One day the young Elvis, working as a truck driver, turned up at Sun Recording Services in Old Memphis and recorded a song for his mothers birthday. It didn't inspire the owner, Sam Phillips, who had a distinct preference for the blues, but the office manageress thought that Elvis 'had something.' I think all the girls know what that was.
Elvis attempted a few other recordings at Sun but they didn't really make the grade until he tried "that's alright mama." The song became a hit and Elvis was signed to the Sun records label. Sam Phillips would later sell Elvis' contract to 'colonel' Tom Parker, an outright con-artist, as he needed the money to keep his studio running and he preferred blues music anyway. He wasn't to know at that time that Elvis would become the phenomena he was.
We visited Sun studios and did the tour. It's surprisingly small, but still functions as a recording studio. It was interesting to see and hear all the artists - before and after Elvis - who were discovered by Sam Phillips: Johnny lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and many others.
That evening we went to Beale Street, the home of blues. The street was on lockdown after a shooting earlier in the week so there was a heavy police presence. Beale Street is Memphis' Bourbon Street, but not quite as good. There's street drinking, cocktail stalls, tourist shops and, of course, blues bars. At least that's what they call themselves. Inside the music was simply FM radio rock and roll favourites. Even BB Kings' band was playing pub rock standards, albeit with a little more enthusiasm. This too was reminiscent of Bourbon Street - New Orleans is famous for jazz, but the bars all played boring ,rock standards. It's was all a little underwhelming to tell the truth so we retired to our dodgy hotel in downtown. We had an early morning appointment with the King.
Graceland, Graceland,... I'm going to Graceland
Let's be honest here - we'd only come to Memphis for Elvis. Shelly is a huge fan and this was a pilgrimage for her teenage idol. When Elvis hit the big time he bought Graceland, a suburban mansion on the outskirts of Memphis. The house had been built in the 1930s by a well-to-do doctor. The property came with acreage and was set back from the road so it offered the Presley's some privacy. He moved his parents into the house with him.
The house was modified over the years, especially out the back, where Elvis built a gym and studio. The house was decorated in excruciating 1970s style - not a good era at all - and this is all preserved as he left it. It's quite a museum of kitsch.
It's surprising how small the place really is, given today's stars live in multi million dollar mansions. It's really just a modest two storey suburban house by today's standards.
Elvis and his family are buried in the backyard, beside the pool. I still find it hard to believe he died at 42. That's so young really. But that's drugs for you.
Graceland is a tourism machine. It makes money like a casino and is a well oiled machine. Apart from Graceland itself there is Elvis' car collection, his planes, his clothes, his archives, a display of movie memorabilia, and much more. Every museum has a gift shop ("exit through the gift shop") and surprisingly every gift shop had differed products.
I am only a passing fan of Elvis but I found the whole thing fascinating. It's a must see in Memphis. Afterwards we ate a very late lunch at one of Elvis' favourite diners, Marlows Ribs and Burgers, which was filled with Elvis memorabilia and looked unchanged since the day Elvis died. It was excellent. Then we hit the road to Nashville.