After all these years, we’re off to Graceland to meet Elvis. Unfortunately, while he still resides there, getting to see him created a bit of a problem!
Arriving at Graceland
we found ourselves in queue lines for the first time on this trip; first to buy our “platinum” tour tickets (we’d have opted for the regular package except for the fact it didn’t include his two aircraft)and then for the jitney bus to take us across the street to Elvis’ Graceland mansion, which he purchased in 1957 for $102,000. When he purchased the house, it was 10,266 sf but it was expanded in later years by Elvis to 17,552 sf.
While not our taste … and obviously a reflection of his eccentricities … the interior of his home (the second floor is not open for public tours) and grounds give you the feeling a family really lived here!
In one of the outbuildings, used as a business office during his lifetime, there are several collections of memorabilia.
Finally, there is lounge area of the racquet ball building where Elvis played the piano during the last hours of his life.
A pathway leads from there to the family plot where Elvis, his Mother, Father, and Grandmother are interred and a plaque memorializes his stillborn twin brother.
While touring Graceland, we were saddened to learn that Bob Foster, a former neighbor, good friend and person with whom I coached youth baseball and basketball and took Cub Scout Webelos on hikes in the White Mountains when we lived in Amherst, NH, died while hiking in southern New Hampshire.
Traveling back across Elvis Presley Boulevard, we took a trip through the Auto Museum, which included
Then we toured his two airplanes
The Lisa Marie
After two other short movies on “The King”, we left for Sun Studio … where Elvis was actually “discovered”.
THE BIRTHPLACE OF ROCK ‘N ROLL
Radio Engineer Sam Phillips
opened Sun Studio as the Memphis Recording Service in January, 1950 to record the blues greats from the region who had no place else to record in the south. Legendary bluesmen like B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Bobby Blue Bland, Rufus Thomas and Junior Parker recorded their first records here.
Working with the slogan “We Record Anything-Anywhere-Anytime,” Phillips opened the doors of the Memphis Recording Service in January 1950.
In March, 1951 Jackie Brenston
and the Delta Cats, with Ike Turner on piano recorded, ROCKET 88 at Sun Studio. ROCKET 88 is considered by most music historians and by Sam Phillips himself to be the first Rock ‘N’ Roll song. The success of ROCKET 88 led Phillips to start his own record label in 1952; the Sun Label.
Sam shared the tiny office with Marion Keisker, who took care of most of the non-music end of the business. She also greeted the teenaged Elvis Presley when he came here in 1953 to make a personal recording for his mother’s birthday (paying $4.00 to do so), noting in the studio log that he was a “good ballad singer”. However, Phillips was uninterested in another ballard singer at that time.
A year later, when looking for a singer to accompany two of Phillips instrumentalists, Marion suggested he call Elvis. Phillips agreed … but the first part of the recording session was less than impressive; then the group took a break. “All of a sudden,” recalled Scotty Moore, “Elvis started singing a song, jumping around, acting the fool, and then Bill picked up his bass and started acting the fool too, and I started playing with ’em. Sam had the door to the control booth open . . . he was either editing some tape or something, and he stuck his head out and said, “What’re you doing?” We said, ‘We don’t know.’ ‘Well, back up,’ he said, ‘try to find a place to start and do it again.'”
The song that Presley was fooling around with was “That’s All Right (Mama),” a song that had been on his mind for possibly seven years.
In less than two years Sam Phillips took Elvis from a complete unknown who had never played in public to the most sought after singer in the country. The five records that Elvis recorded at Sun Studio fused country, blues and gospel music into a new sound that would literally change music forever.
Soon the studio would be filled with musicians hoping that Phillips could work the same magic for them. “Blue Suede Shoes” became Rock ‘N’ Roll’s first major hit, topping the pop, country and blues charts. Johnny Cash became Sun’s most consistent hitmaker. Roy Orbison, Warren Smith, Billy Lee Riley, Charlie rich and dozens more carried on the Rockabilly tradition Elvis had begun. And Jerry Lee Lewis and his pumpin’ piano set the music world on fire, recording Sun’s biggest hits; “Whole Lot of Shakin'” and “Great Balls of Fire.”
Just for fun, can you identify the following legends who became stars while recording at Sum … and who among these was the biggest money-maker for Sun?
And one of the most legendary photos of the mid-1950s
In 1960, needing bigger quarters, Phillips closed the studio and for the next 25 years barbers and businessmen replaced the Rock ‘N’ Rollers. Then in 1985 Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis returned to the then empty studio to record the Class of ’55 album and Sun Studio’s second era of greatness began.
The studio was restored with Sam Phillips’ help and in 1987 opened its doors as both a tourist attraction and a working recording studio.
Today,while it houses circa 1950s recording and record-making equipment
and period Coke dispensing machine,
the recording studio,
and even the ceiling,
look much the same as it did when some of the greatest legends of the early days of Rock ‘N Roll cut their first records at Sun.
In more recent times, Ringo Starr, Def Leppard, John Fogerty, Tom Petty, U2, The Spin Doctors, Def Leppard, The Tractors, Malcolm Yelvington, Michelle Shocked, Gatemouth Brown, The Indigo Girls, Keith Sykes, Dennis Quaid, Bonnie Raitt, Billy Swan, and The Gibson Brothers are only some of the music greats who have come to record at Sun Studio since it reopened.
Answers to Above Photo Quiz
- A – BB King
- B – Carl Perkins
- C – Elvis Presley
- D – Ike Turner
- E – Conway Twitty
- F – Jerry Lee Lewis
- G – Roy Orbison
- H – Johnny Cash
- I – Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash
- J – He’s still waiting for his first break-thru!
- Jerry Lee Lewis was Sun’s biggest money-maker
THE NATIONAL CIVIL RIGHTS MUSEUM
The National Civil Rights Museum is located at the site of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.
While it does cover the shooting of Dr. King by James Earl Ray, it depicts the history of the progress of American blacks from their first forcible immigration to the United States in 1619 up through the election of the nation’s first African American president in an extremely graphic and poignant way.
Perhaps its impact is greater as much of the depicted history is a period I lived through.
Three dimensional collages cover different periods of the civil rights movement, with sometimes explicit photographs of the indignities and, sometimes horrible tortures suffered by certain Americans solely on the basis of their skin color.
Actual artifacts and photographs from the tumultuous 1950s and 1960s are also on display.
There is also a history and video footage of the Memphis garbage strike
You can view the room he spent the day in prior to emerging onto the hotel’s balcony to leave for dinner at the home friends.
Across the parking lot and street behind the Lorraine Hotel, you can look into the boardinghouse room James Earl Ray rented,
and the view Ray had of Martin Luther King’s room at the Lorraine.
James Earl Ray’s escape Mustang is also now housed in the Museum
There is also a section dedicated to an examination of the evidence pointing to James Earl Ray and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s killer … as well as addressing any number of conspiracy theories which have and continue to circulate.
This evening, we got an opportunity to watch several barges on the Mississippi.
It was interesting to note the structure of the bows of the tugs which guide 20 or more barges down the river at a time which are vastly different from the harbor tugs with which we are familiar.