Tag Archives: Memphis

Lux Interior (1946-2009)

Found out late last week that Lux Interior, the “Godfather of Psychobilly”, and lead singer of The Cramps died at the age of 62 in Glendale, California. Yes, that Glendale, California. Who knew that a rocking dude like Interior lived and died a few blocks from the place my brother calls home. Crazy…

Crazier still was the fact that it was my brother, Ryan, who first introduced me to Interior and The Cramps’ strange brew of classic rockabilly, punk, and straight up hilarity. I kid you not, amigos, the distinctive sound he created with founding bandmate, wife, and only permanent Cramp member, Poison Ivy, was insane.

RIP Lux Interior!

RIP Lux Interior #2!

Their music was gritty, raw, beautifully written, and filthy as the day is long. And though I loved a lot of the stuff my brother was grooving on in the mid-to-late-80’s (and still do…long live Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds!) The Cramps had a sense of humor that truly set them apart from some of the other dark-ass shit Ryan listened to back then.

I think he probably has all their best albums on vinyl or, horror of horrors, on…cassette tape, but the one Cramps CD I have is “A Date With Elvis”, and it rocks! I’m sure hardcore Cramps fans would tell you that “Elvis” was the band’s sell-out record, and maybe it is, but to me it was their most polished, lushly musical album and if you haven’t heard it, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Christine and I have spent the whole weekend rediscovering it and, trust me, “A Date With Elvis” still packs a serious punch. From the jangly opening chords of “How Far Can Too Far Go?” to the children’s chorus is “People Ain’t No Good” and the swinging “South Pacific” vibe of the hilarious “Kizmiaz”, Interior and company prove themselves to be masters of not just the psychobilly genre, but straight up rockabilly as well.

And the way they recall some of the early Sun Studios work by fellow madmen like Rufus Thomas and The King himself in such songs as “It’s Just That Song”, “Cornfed Dames”, and “Can Your Pussy Do The Dog?” is freaking ingenious. And best of all, it’s just really good music. Seriously, you could dance all night to these songs. Hell, we did!

I guess the thing I found most shocking about Interior’s death was that he was so young, I mean, Joe Strummer, most of The Ramones, and then this…what the hell? Why all the good punk rockers gotta die so young, man? Sad…

Our thoughts go out to Interior’s widow, Poison Ivy, right now. I know it’s small consolation at a time like this, but here’s hoping you know what a huge impact you and your husband’s music had on these three impressionable youths. RIP, Lux Interior…long may you rock!

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Graceland pic on “Ribs Paradise”

A couple months back we got a Flickr e-mail from a producer at the Travel Channel asking if he could use one of our Graceland pics on an upcoming special on the best ribs in America. Thinking nothing would come of it, I said yes and signed the release he forwarded me a few days later.

Well, guess what? Last week the picture I took of the bright blue sign in the Graceland parking lot (below) was featured front and center on the Travel Channel special “Ribs Paradise”! Cool, huh?

Graceland pic used on "Ribs Paradise"

My picture appears about 19 minutes into the show, just before the segment on Memphis’ rocking Rendezvous dry-rub ribs. If you’re a huge nerd, like me, and wanna see the pic onscreen for yourself, check your local listings and set your Tivo’s accordingly.

The Travel Channel has been playing “Ribs Paradise” pretty much non-stop since last week’s original airing, so it shouldn’t be hard to find, but make sure you eat something before you watch, because that crazy-ass show will definitely leave you jonesing for some sweet, spicy ribs!

Que viva la Travel Channel!

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A sad day in Memphis…

Today marks the 31st anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. And though we didn’t get to travel to Memphis this year for Elvis Week, Christine and I did sign up for a free three-day membership to Sirius Radio so we could listen to the live broadcast of the candlelight vigil last night from Graceland.

And let me tell ya, not a dry eye in our living room. I know it sounds crazy, but that candlelight vigil is way up there on our list of life-changing events. It was just beautiful, and even hearing it on the internet feed this year was awesome.

Not only could you hear the crowd singing along with the music on Elvis Presley Blvd., but they also took some time to interview fans, friends and even an ex-girlfriend of The King as well. Touching stuff, baby!

And since no Elvis Week celebration would be complete without some major Elvis announcements, this year’s celebration has two really cool Elvis-related surprises up their sleeve.

One, is the upcoming release of Elvis Presley’s first duets album, “Christmas Duets” featuring current stars like Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride and Anne Murray — whose own Christmas album is one of our favorites! — singing along with Elvis’ old tracks. Hmmm…normally, I frown on this kind of thing, but hello, it’s Elvis. So it could be either really cool or really creepy. I’m hoping for more cool than creepy, but you never know…

And the other major announcement from Elvis Presley Enterprises is the upcoming release of a Graceland-approved Elvis and Priscilla Wedding Day Barbie set. Holy crap! Could anything be cooler than that? Two words: Amazon wish list. Actually, I think that’s three words…

In any case, just glad to have some new Elvis stuff to buy in the months to come. And with Lisa Marie rumored to be expecting twins sometime soon — bringing the grand total of Elvis grandkids to four! — wow…this really is a good week to be an Elvis fan. Long live “The King”!

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Martin Luther King (1929-1968)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. And oddly enough, it was just last week when I received an e-mail (via Flickr) from a Memphis author requesting permission to use the photo below in her latest book.

Lorraine Motel balcony where Dr. King was shot (August 2008)

Longtime blog readers will recognize the pic as a B&W version of the one I took outside the National Civil Rights Museum last August in Memphis, but even if you don’t recognize the pic, you’ll have another chance to check it out (in book form!) when it appears in Teresa R. Simpson’s forthcoming History Press release: “Memphis Murder & Mayhem”.

I won’t get paid or anything, but I will get a photo credit and Simpson has promised to send me a copy of the book after it is published, so, that’s payment enough to me. And wow, Dr. King’s tragic assassination aside, the title sounds kind of juicy, so, I’m sure it’ll be a pretty good read.

Anyway, I know it’s not much of a tribute to Dr. King’s mighty legacy, but I did find it kind of strange that all this activity centering around a picture of the site where he breathed his last went down in the week leading up to the 40th anniversary of his death. Kind of strange timing…

So, even though he’s sadly not around to appreciate the tribute, this one’s for you, Dr. King…

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Happy Birthday, Elvis!

Today would have been Elvis Presley’s 73rd birthday, and since Christine and I are still in our first full year of crazy Elvis fandom, we were a little unsure of how to celebrate. There was never a question of celebrating, mind you, just what exactly to do?

Elvis Presley birthday shrine! (Jan. 8, 2008)
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So, just after midnight last night, I gathered all the Elvis paraphernalia I could find in our place, set up a shrine to The King and finally lit that rocking “Forever Elvis” prayer candle we bought last August at Graceland.

And that’s just the beginning…Christine has toyed with the idea of making a cake later tonight and possibly even peanut butter and banana sandwiches — done Cali-style, with crunchy peanut butter NOT smooth — but trust me, nothing we could do, could possibly compare to the celebration happening today at Graceland.

Elvis paraphernalia on parade! (Jan. 8, 2008)
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Apparently not as well attended as the Elvis Week festivities held each August (culminating on August 16th, the day he died in 1977) the annual Elvis Presley birthday celebration at Graceland is nothing to scoff at.

According to Elvis.com, the annual cake cutting on the front lawn will be even more festive this year with the appearance (for the first time EVER at this event) of none other than the ex-Mrs. Elvis herself, Priscilla Presley. Very cool!

Then, complimentary birthday cake and coffee will be served at the Chrome Cafe across the street from the mansion! Wow…we didn’t get no free coffee for Elvis Week! And even cooler still, the cake is being designed by the “culinary artists” at the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis, so it should be pretty cool looking.

Anyway, wherever you are and however you chose to celebrate Elvis Presley’s 73rd birthday, have a good one…and long live The King!

Elvis Presley birthday vignette by T. Romero! (Jan. 8, 2008)

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Legendary Sun Studios

We tried coming here the day before and were told that every tour that day was sold out…every single tour! Wow. So, Christine and I came back first thing the next morning and managed to score tickets for the 9:40am tour. I know…early.

Legendary Sun Studios, Memphis

But, hey, early or not, there was no way we were gonna miss out on a visit to Sun Records Recording Studio, home away from home to many of music’s most iconic figures and quite literally the birthplace of Rock ‘n’ Rock.

Our rockabilly tour guide put it best when she said: “It’s been written that if music was a religion, then Memphis would be Jerusalem, and Sun Studio would be it’s most sacred shrine.” And man, was she right. Being here was truly a religious experience for us both.

Wall outside Sun Studio

Even before an 18 year-old Elvis stepped through the front door to record a couple of songs for his Momma’s birthday, pioneering producer/Sun Records founder Sam Phillips was making music history at Sun with blues artists like Howling Wolf, Rufus Thomas, B.B. King and Ike Turner’s former band, Jackie Brenston And His Delta Cats, who recorded the first true rock ‘n’ roll song, “Rocket 88″here in March of 1951.

Bean @ Sun!

Originally known as the Memphis Recording Service — a place where anyone who paid their $3.25 could make a record — Phillips turned the tiny building on the corner into a world-class recording studio that is still in operation today with acts like REM, U2, Paul Simon and Beck lining up to record on the hallowed ground where Elvis Presley first stepped behind a microphone to record his seminal rock ‘n’ roll hit, “That’s All Right (Mama)”.

Memphis Recording Studio Neon

Aside from Elvis’ brief stay at the label (Phillips sold Presley’s contract to RCA in the fall of 1955 to settle an unrelated lawsuit that had nearly bankrupted the company) Sun Records was also home to legends like Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Carl Perkins.

Inside Sun Records Recording Booth

Legend has it that when Elvis (his star already well on the rise) stopped by Sun to visit Phillips one December day in 1956, he heard Perkins recording in the studio and decided to join him in an impromptu jam session. When Jerry Lee Lewis joined the pair, Phillips immediately called Johnny Cash at home and told him to hurry down to the studio, where the foursome joked around on tape and recorded together for the rest of the afternoon.

Labeled by the media-savvy Phillips as the Million Dollar Quartet, this one time gathering of the greats was immortalized in the now famous photograph shown behind my head in the picture below.

The Million Dollar Quintet

The tour (a steal at $10 per person) begins upstairs in a small room above the studio that is full of super cool stuff that, sadly, does not photograph well sans flash (they have a pretty strict no-flash-photography rule, upstairs at least).

But the loot up there is first rate — they have some of Elvis’ suits, dozens of original records and promo posters from various Sun artists and a treasure trove of instruments — the coolest thing is that everything the tour guide tells you is punctuated with the actual recordings she is talking about. And the music just chills you, baby. Seriously, the goosebump factor was off the charts.

Elvis & Roy!

Cool Wall Of Fame Stuff

Moving downstairs, you stop just outside the recording studio at the old front office. Here they have meticulously preserved the desk of Sam Phillip’s secretary, Marion Keisker. The first person to hear Elvis’ voice on tape, Keisker (pictured below with Elvis and Phillips) did the actual recording the day Elvis, the “White kid who sings Black” walked in off the street to make a record for Momma.

Pretty cool, huh? Just wait…it gets even better.

Marion Keisker’s Desk

Sam, Elvis & Marion

Stepping inside the studio, the first thing you see is a small “X” marked on the floor with tape. This folks, is the exact spot where Elvis Presley stood to record “That’s All Right (Mama)” in 1954. Whoa!

If you had told me the day before that a worn old piece of black tape would give me the chills, I would not have believed you. But it did. Big time! Hallowed ground indeed.

The exact spot where Elvis stood!

And then, the true highlight of the tour…just beyond the tape is the actual microphone Elvis used to record. And not only can you pose with it — which, as you can see we both eagerly did — but you can actually TOUCH it too.

I thought Christine was gonna faint. Seriously, she is kind of a fainter.

Christine @ Elvis’ Mic!

Tom @ Elvis’ Mic

All in all, the tour was spectacular. And after fighting off the crowds (there were already two packed tour buses there at 9:00am!) to buy some Sun gear, we somehow snagged a table at the original Sun Cafe — which is little more than a lunch counter and two small booths nestled inside the store — where we shared a coffee and a fantastic chocolate malt for breakfast.

Surely, Elvis would approve…

Me & Mr. Malty

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Graceland: Part V

The sun setting over Graceland, we enjoyed the remarkably good Elvis “tribute artists” in the plaza — practically all of whom were non-native English speakers! — and mingled with the crowd of super cool Elvis look alikes. My favorites were the late-Elvis super fan couple pictured below.

Me and the Elvis Couple!

This dude was so devoted that he was braving the crowds and the heat (in costume!) while toting an oxygen tank!

Unfortunately, he disconnected from his tank for the picture, but he was really cool and when I asked his wife if she was hot in that plastic wig she had on, she answered: “Yeah, but it’s for the King.” Awesome!

Christine, Italian Elvis and bad-wig Elvis!

Christine loved the Chris-Isaak-ish Italian Elvis (pictured above) and then just before I snapped the pic, that old grizzled Elvis in the blue jumpsuit appeared. Wow, two Presleys for the price of one!

Snuggled up behind the girls in the next pic was the best singer of the bunch, another Italian Elvis who really rocked the tent!

The girls and the best singing Italian Elvis @ Graceland!

But I think our favorite guy there was the Indian Elvis (not pictured) who kept checking his hair in a mirror. Hilarious!

Despite the withering heat — Courtney and Mom tried to sit down on the curb and actually burned their butts! Seriously! — we were enjoying the Elvis parade in the plaza and then, before we knew it, 8:15pm was upon us. The candlelight vigil, arguably the defining moment of Elvis Week 2007, was about to begin outside the mansion!

An annual event for years, the candlelight vigil begins at nightfall, on the eve of the King’s death on August 16th, 1977, with the closing of Elvis Presley Blvd. to thru traffic. Almost instantly, the street floods with candle-toting fans who gather around the gates for a series of speeches by specially-selected members of Elvis’ many international fan clubs.

The candlelight vigil begins!

The speeches were surprisingly moving but the kicker was when they started playing actual Elvis songs over the deluxe speakers on the lawn. I’m not kidding you, not a dry eye on the boulevard!

Lighting our candles — generously supplied for free at little tables all up and down the block — we held them over our heads and began to sing along.

Honestly, you haven’t lived till you’ve heard 75,000 weeping, candle-toting Elvis fans singing along to “If I Can Dream”. Probably one of the coolest things any of us has ever experienced…really, profoundly beautiful!

Candlelight vigil @ Graceland!

So, holding our candles high, we sang along through “Love Me Tender” and “The Wonder Of You” before finally succumbing to the heat — not to mention the frenzied emotion! — and making our way back to the car.

The vigil continued throughout the night with the snaking line outside the gates making their way onto the property to pay their respects at Elvis’ grave. We didn’t stay for that, but the sight of all those flickering candles in the rearview mirror as we drove off was really something to behold.

A fitting end to a truly amazing day at Graceland. Thank you, Elvis!

Our last emotional pic @ Graceland!

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