Memphis Moments

It’s taken almost ten months to create all the posts from my road trip last summer, but I’ve enjoyed spreading out the memories, and I hope you have, too. Last stop on the journey was Memphis. Roger had booked us rooms at a hotel within walking distance of Beale Street where we planned to spend our last evening.

While checking in, I noticed that the pleasant young man at the counter was wearing a green and white Michigan State sweatshirt. Mentioning my status as an Ohio State Buckeye, I commented on the historic rivalry among OSU and MSU as well as the University of Michigan. He smiled and said, “Yeah, but you guys win.” Of course, that conversation occurred before this last football season!

My family divided during college years. I chose Ohio State, and my brother chose Michigan State.

The sun was just setting when we ventured out on foot in search of dinner and some music with a beat. The sky was pink and purple and everything in between with bright neon all up and down Beale Street adding to a balmy glow.

Beale Street’s heyday was the 1920s, and I could almost hear echoes and see ghosts from that time as we sauntered along—wandering bluesmen playing for small change, Machine Gun Kelly peddling bottled whiskey from a clothes basket before he ventured into big-time crime, Little Ora plying her pickpocket skills, and Mary the Wonder offering voodoo protection.

Beale Street just after sunset

After poking our noses into several establishments booming out every imaginable variation of blues and soul and rock ‘n roll, we chose BB King’s Blues Club where we settled in at a table not far from where the Jason Foree band was playing. Over Memphis ribs and Creole blackened catfish, we listened, munched, tapped our toes, and just enjoyed.

Next morning, after checking out, we headed over to Sam Phillips’ Sun Record Company building on Union Avenue. Talk about echoes and ghosts, this studio—now a museum—offers more than its share as you move past the various displays of vintage photos and spinning vinyl LPs by the likes of Muddy Waters, Louis Armstrong, and on and on. The highlight of the tour was our trip back in time to a cold December afternoon in 1956 when four music icons joined together in an impromptu jam session, which Sam Phillips recorded. We stood in the middle of that studio listening to the music and staring at a black and white photo of Elvis at the piano surrounded by Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash.

Then it was on to Graceland. I’d been in Memphis several times but never made that pilgrimage. Elvis’s music had been a backdrop to my life ever since my friend Joy Scouten’s father drove four of us newly minted teenage girls from Solon over to Shaker Square in Shaker Heights, Ohio (setting for the recent novel and movie Little Fires Everywhere) so we could watch the movie Love Me Tender in 1956. My dad picked us up when it was over. We loved the movie and the music, though at times it was difficult to see and hear at all because of all the swooning and screaming.

 I found Graceland depressing in some ways—a lovely home with rooms decorated in the most ostentatious ways—one even having pleated fabric walls and ceiling like a harem. It seemed almost as if maybe Elvis had tried too hard to make it elegant.  The memorabilia from his career was interesting, along with the early family photographs and the collections of cars and musical instruments. We ambled through the two private planes parked outside the museum, then headed down the highway towards home.

I am so thankful for this wonderful trip. Not too often do we get the chance to spend quality time on the road with our young-uns when they’re in their fifties.  Great memories.

Am incredible recreation

POSTSCRIPT: Just a week later, the three of us attended a wonderful performance of “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Virginia Samford Theater in Birmingham. When we entered the theater, we were amazed at the set—a literally exact recreation of the studio we had stood in just a week earlier in Memphis.

I’ve been attending plays in Birmingham since the early 1970s and have seen some fantastic performances, and this was one of the best. Jared Freiburg (Jerry Lee Lewis), Stephen Hardy (Johnny Cash), Alex Swindle (Elvis Presley), and Christopher Wren (Carl Perkins) truly became their characters and had the audience tapping and swaying and even humming all the way through. It was also fun to see Kyle Holman all grown up and playing Sam Phillips. He and Director Norton Dill were part of many fun performances on the stage at Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church many, many years ago.

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