Memphis Music – Day 43

Memphis Music

Day 43 – May 13, 2003 – Tuesday

Since I had been scheduled to make it to Memphis last night, I chose the interstate at 7:15 am.  I wanted to get to Graceland.  Today marks the start of Week 7.  39,521 on the odometer.  That means 11,485 miles in the rearview mirror.


Sikeston has a Lambert’s Café, but it was early, and I wanted to get to Graceland.

I was surprised when I was welcomed to Arkansas.  I never planned to be on the interstate, so I didn’t look at the map to see that I would be passing through Arkansas a second time.  I stopped at the Arkansas Visitors’ Center to pick up a bag of brochures.  I knew Dean, Troy, and Steve would be pleased to know that I cared enough to do so.


When I crossed the Mississippi River at 10 am, I was in Tennessee – state #13.  I exited when I saw a sign for a Visitors Center, but there was no Visitors Center to be found.  I pulled over and read in one of our guidebooks that there was a Visitors Center on Beale Street, so I stopped and walked around a bit, but the Visitors Center was nowhere to be found.  I met a street hustler who gave me “Memphis” as his name – probably Ferrell’s cousin.  I finally gave up on getting any visitor’s help because I wanted to get to Graceland.  I figured out how to get there on a Memphis map obtained back in Arkansas.


Another rough drive.  The part of Memphis I found myself in was a pretty scary place – lots of unhappy-looking folks standing on street corners and driving around in groups.  I was hopelessly lost again, bit I finally spotted an interstate sign, and I finally found Graceland.


I took the Platinum Tour at Graceland.  $25.25.  That’s an audio headset guided tour of Graceland, a ticket to the Elvis Presley Car Museum, the Sincerely Elvis Museum, and the Lisa Marie Airplane exhibit.  Brenda was our tour bus driver.


Graceland was nicer than I expected it to be, and the headset tour was excellent.  There is a tremendous amount to see.  Elvis is buried there.  He wasn’t initially; Vernon had his body exhumed and moved to Graceland.  There are gold records everywhere.  Elvis had pretty bad taste in home décor, but I kept reminding myself that it was the 70’s when everyone seemed to have bad taste.  But Elvis had really bad interior décor taste, but what an incredible personality and talent.  I got some good photos.


The auto museum was enjoyable.  Elvis had a lot of cool cars.  I especially enjoyed the Pink Cadillac he gave his mother and the big assortment of golf carts and go-karts.  Elvis liked to dream up games he and his friends could play a Graceland using the carts.


The Sincerely Elvis Museum had more personal items in it.  The plane was a quick walk-through.  Not a lot to see – just a small jet with big couches and a bed in back.


I should have interviewed some real die-hard Elvis fans, but the opportunity never presented itself.


After three hours at Graceland, I headed for Sun Studio.  That’s where Elvis first recorded.  I very quickly got lost and decided Memphis probably has the worst lack of effective signage of any city we’ve been in yet.


I ultimately found Sun Studio.  I had to borrow an electrical outlet as I failed to charge my camera when I fell asleep unexpectedly last night.  The camera ran out of juice, and I wanted to take a lot more photos.  I skipped one tour while the camera charged, and I caught the tour an hour later.  I met Rhees, an Australian, and had a nice chat with him.  I had a real live Cherry Coke from the Sun Soda Fountain, and it was really good – fond memories of after-school Cherry Cokes at a soda fountain near the Lakeshore Junior High School in Shreveport, Louisiana.


Adrian was the guide for the tour.  There isn’t much to see at Sun Studio.  It’s a one room studio with a small office and a small control room, but some additional space next door has been turned into a little museum with very interesting displays.  While there wasn’t much to see, the information Adrian related and the musical excerpts that she played provided en enjoyable hour.  Sun Studio was the place where a lot of big stars first recorded – Elvis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis.  I stood where Elvis stood and held a microphone that he used.


Back to Beale Street for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  I wanted to get a Barbequed Bologna Sandwich at the Blues City Café.  I guess that’s only on their lunch menu, so I had ribs instead.  Outstanding!  I met a lot of people there.  Chef Myron Johnson chatted with me and took my card; and then I met three of the cooks – Danny, Chris, and Kenny; Don the waiter; and customers Ron, Andrew, and a fiber optic cable rep whose name I failed to write down.  Chef Myron told me he had a killer dessert, so despite the huge order of ribs and fries, I had the Apple Dumpling Dessert.  It was tremendous.  Served hot in a skillet with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.  One of the best “pies” on the trip for sure.


I waddled out of the Blues City Café and walked up and down Beale Street on a mission to find Elvis impersonators.  I never found one – big disappointment.  But I met a lot of nice folks.  Mandy and Amber at Alfred’s.  Andre, Cory, John, and Eric at Pat O’Brien’s.  And when Max at Pat O’Brien’s learned I was writing a book, he dressed in the Pat O’Brien’s hurricane costume in hopes his photo will make the book.


When I resigned myself to the fact that August 16 is THE time to see Elvis impersonators (Elvis Week – the date Elvis died), I began shopping for a club with karaoke.  I figured there had to be a lot of tourists in town at all times who see Graceland and hear all the great music in town, and feel they have a beautiful voice, too.


I landed at Wet Willie’s where I had an absolute ball listening to people sing.  I met Bill, Andrea, Stephen, Kristen, Darryl, Trease, Syreeta, Jimmy, Kenny, Rich, and a number of others who I was with but did not know by name.  I was surprised with how good the karaokeyers were.  There were only a few bad ones, and there were a lot of participants.


I’m not a good singer at all. I’ve got a decent voice in one key, but no range at all, so about all I can sing are songs that are in a monotone of sorts.  Seated next to me were Kristen and Darryl.  Kristen asked me if I was going to sing, and I assured her there was no way.  The next thing I knew she was turning my name in to sing “What’s Forever For,” a great Michael Martin Murphey country song that I love, but a song that requires a true singer.  The audience prodded me to get on stage, and there I was singing “What’s Forever For.”  I made Kristen come up to sing along with me, but I never heard her.  I’m sure I wasn’t any good, but a few couples did get up to dance, so I chose to take that as a compliment.  When the song was over, we got a big round of applause, but I noticed that folks tended to clap louder for the less-than-stellar performances.


One lady loved singing so much.  She was having a ball – kept getting up to sing.  She was really bad, but the audience always applauded loudly, and I’m sure insider her head, she sounded great to herself.  There were two who were worse – a guy in a flaming T-shirt who was just horrible, and a young man who unexplainedly sang “I Am Woman.”


When you sit and watch and listen to people for a few hours and they watch and listen to you, there becomes a kind of bond.  It was really nice to see.  I was afraid people would hoot and holler at those of us who weren’t any good.  I hated to leave at midnight, but I needed my beauty rest before driving to Nashville tomorrow.


Kenny Wayne, the owner of the karaoke company, told me I really needed to go to the Cottage Restaurant for Fudge Pie.  He even gave me a card for a free pie.  (Must have been my singing.)  So, I planned to hit the Cottage Restaurant when they opened at 10:30 before going to Nashville.

Despite the concerns for my safety at several times during the day, I thoroughly enjoyed the good stuff in Memphis – Graceland, Sun Studio, Blues City Café, Beale Street, Karaoke Night at Wet Willie’s, and all the nice people I met.


The lesson for the day is that life’s full of trade-offs.  Wherever we live, we’ve got to be happy and accept a little bad with all the good.