US Road Trip Travelog: 13th February 2005

Oh my head hurts. It hurts really bad. And I can't see straight. I think that Dyers burger must have been off. Nothing to do, then, with the amount of 'big ass' beers I had last night. I think a good long walk might be in order.

Sun Studio microphones
The Sun Studio in Memphis, home to the earliest recordings by Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and (my personal favourite) Charlie Rich. This will be the home of rock 'n roll, then.

The walk up to Sun Studios clears my head a bit and, as there's a wait til the next tour, I have time for a coffee in the cafe / gift shop. Though the building isn't very big the $9.50 tour, with guide, is very informative and funny. It certainly gives you an insight into where rock 'n roll came from. Sam Phillips, who ran Sun in the 50's, was a bit of a maverick and would record anyone or anything. He made some waves by recording black artists and, in his own way, left a legacy in Memphis which still exists.

Sun Studio microphones
Don't adjust your eyes, it just a really poor picture. I had the settings on the camera wrong.

The highlight of the tour is the recording studio itself, which is surprisingly tiny but very atmospheric as it's basically unaltered after 50 years. Even the - decaying - acoustic ceiling tiles are as put up by Sam Phillips himself. The recording studio is still in use in the evenings, for $75 an hour. What band wouldn't want to come here and record for that price? U2 and B.B. King recorded tracks here for the Rattle and Hum album.

Sun Studio pianos
I wonder if Jerry Lee or Charlie Rich ever pounded one of these?

After Sun Studio the plan was to walk to the Stax Records building. As I was walking, however, I was aware that the neighbourhoods were getting rougher and that more and more 'interesting' people approached me with 'interesting' propositions of all types. In the end I bottled-out and headed back to near Beale St and the Memphis Rock 'n Soul Museum.

This was highly recommended in one of my guide books and it really is excellent. It covers everything from the migration of the rural black blues singers to the city, white country music, local radio and how it blurred the difference between black and white, Sun, Stax and Hi Records and their multi-racial and very popular bands and even civil unrest and the assassination of Martin Luther King in Memphis. I've never been a big fan of audio guides to museums but this one was great - including juke boxes where you could choose locally-recorded songs to hear. I spent a few hours there and could easily have spent more. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, given the quality of the pictures above) photos are not allowed inside and the outside is a featureless modern building. Well worth $9 of anyone's money.

Beale St
Beale St in the afternoon. Looks quite innocuous, doesn't it? Don't be fooled.

Following a really nice dinner of Fettuccine & Cajun Chicken (better than it sounds) and I'm back in my motel wondering whether to risk going back to Beale St again tonight. Hmmm.

Of course, I didn't stay in. The B.B. King club was recommended in one of my guide books but I wasn't impressed - $3 to get in, $4 for a small beer and, worse of all, a band of older white guys with 3 saxophone players. It was like listening to James Last Plays the Blues. The place I'd started off in last night - Handy Bar - was closed (it's a Sunday Night) so I headed back to Mr Handy's Blues Hall Juke Joint, scene of my downfall last night. The same barman - Joe - is working tonight and greets me with a grin. He tells me that the band I watched in here last night were the Memphis Snake Doctors and tonight it's The Dr 'Feelgood' Potts Band - another multi-racial band with the added twist of an asian female bass player.

A great band, and they play up a storm. The Doctor (though somehow I doubt he has the credentials to prove it) plays a mean harmonica and the band are really tight. It's a surprise, then, when I'm chatting to the keyboard player at the intermission and he tells me they'd never met the bassist before tonight and the drummer is the landlady's boyfriend (who I was talking to last night). Toward the end of the set the landlady - she calls herself and signs an autograph for me as Mojo Queen - takes the stage for a rousing version of Proud Mary that would do Tina Turner proud. Another great night on Beale St.

US Road Trip Travelog: 14th February 2005 >