Tag Archives: Tennessee

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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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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Graceland: Part III

Since we lacked the foresight (or the space in the back of Mom’s car for that matter) to actually bring a cool homemade memorial wreath with us to Graceland, I begin this post with something I created after our visit.

Red Elvis #1

Featured above is my lovingly-rendered comic book-ized tribute to Elvis Week 2007. I call it RED ELVIS #1, and yes, I know I am a total nerd bird. All I can say in my defense is that perhaps once you experience the genuine outpouring of crazy fan love and devotion at Graceland for yourself, you’ll be moved to create some Elvis “art” of your own as well. Or…maybe not, who knows?

Flowers For Elvis #1

In any case, the rest of the pics here are of the actual arrangements, wreaths, cards and photo collages that fans from around the world sent to Graceland in honor of the King’s passing.

Imagine the shipping costs on some of these things…yikes.

Flowers For Elvis #2

The groundskeepers at Graceland (who are legion) said massive floral arrangements like these arrive every day of the week all year long.

Flowers For Elvis #3

Flowers For Elvis #5

Flowers For Elvis #4

Of course, the number of arrangements arriving increases dramatically during Elvis Week and around his birthday in January, but regardless of the time of year, whatever floral craziness arrives at the front gates is immediately put on display and tended to until it fades and/or dies. Pretty amazing, huh?

Flowers For Elvis #6

Flowers For Elvis #7

Anyway, hope you dig the pics, my favorite is the last one, the swinging crown with the golden guitars on it…so cool!

And hey, if any of you cats have some Elvis “art” you’d like to add to the gallery here, send it my way and I’ll slap it up on the virtual wall next to my boy, RED ELVIS #1.

Flowers For Elvis #7

Flowers For Elvis #8

Flowers For Elvis #9

Flowers For Elvis #11

Flowers For Elvis #12

 

 

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Graceland: Part I

Before we left for our trip, we were warned by my brother Ryan — the only person we knew who had ever actually been there — to plan on spending a LOT of time at Graceland.

And man, he wasn’t kidding. One day wasn’t nearly enough!

Main Entrance to Graceland!

Everything we did at Graceland was so cool and fun that describing our experiences there could literally fill volumes, so in the interest of time, I’ll condense the visit down into small, bite-size chapters (hence the ominous “Part I” mentioned above) for your reading pleasure.

That said, let’s start at the beginning. We arrived at Graceland just after 1pm and were stunned by the totally rinky-dink infrastructure. The parking lot was tiny and not even remotely as organized as it could be — you know, “You are parked in Section H for ‘Hound Dog!'” like they used to do at Disneyland — I mean, even just numbered sections would be nice.

It was pretty much a hillbilly free for all, but somehow in the flood of cars surging through the gates, we found a sweet parking spot near the main entrance. Thank you, Elvis!

Graceland Parking Lot!

Armed with our cameras and Elvis fans (embossed with the slogan “#1 Fan”, they were Courtney and Christine’s saving grace since we couldn’t find matching t-shirts in our size range) we followed the scent of BBQ hamburgers towards the only restaurant around.

Which brings up another infrastructure problem, there is practically nowhere to eat at Graceland. Seriously, my inner Walt Disney was screaming to slap up a couple themed restaurants — you know, “Colonel Parker’s Chicken Shack”, “Priscilla’s Rib Hut”, etc. — but my dreams of modernizing the food court at Graceland would have to wait as we were absolutely starving!

The only place to eat @ Graceland!

Ducking into the only restaurant in the area, we were instantly overwhelmed by the crowd. The picture above does not do that joint justice…because, let me tell ya, that place was packed!

And with upwards of 50-to-70,000 people in attendance that day alone they actually ran out of food about ten minutes after we ordered. Yes, they literally ran out of food to sell. Insanity!

A couple of the surly waitresses locked the doors to keep the hungry throngs at bay, but I swear to God, I thought people were gonna riot.

The infamous fried Peanut Butter & Banana sandwich!

Lucky for us we had secured a safe haven (a row of four barstools at the back of the restaurant) so we were able to avoid the fireworks out front. And then, our lunch arrived!

Picture the most ordinary hamburger you’d find at any theme park and you have this place pegged. Nothing fancy, but here at this no name restaurant near the parking lot, with people banging on the doors out front, we experienced one of the true culinary highlights of our trip: Elvis’ late-night favorite, the legendary fried peanut butter and banana sandwich!

Pictured above with a side salad, though it usually comes with fries (!), this sandwich is so grease-tastic, you can almost hear yourself getting fatter as you eat it. And yes, that’s a compliment!

Elvis had the right idea, baby! This sandwich rocks!

The girls each had the obligatory bite, followed by the obligatory gag, but I thought it was pretty damn tasty…if not exactly marriage-worthy on my food scale, then surely worthy of a trip to the drive-in in my van.

My only complaint is that they used smooth peanut butter and mashed it together with the bananas. Chunky peanut butter and whole slices of banana would have been much better and way more rustic to boot.

Inside Elvis Presley’s favorite sandwich!

But hey, we were eating Elvis’ favorite fried food mere steps away from his final resting place…who were we to complain?

So, our bellies full, we checked in at the ticket booth (thankfully I had pre-ordered our tickets online weeks earlier, which allowed us to cut to the front of the reserved ticket line!) and joined the rabid fans waiting for the next Graceland shuttle bus.

Gigantic Graceland Ticket!

We purchased the mid-level Graceland Platinum Tour (a steal at $27.00 per person!) which includes an audio guided tour of the mansion and grounds along with a self-guided tour of Elvis’ two custom airplanes (yes, he had two!), Elvis’ automobile museum, the Sincerely Elvis Museum (mostly filled with his super cool jumpsuits!) and finally, the Elvis After Dark museum which I’ll tell you more about later.

Courtney, Christine & Mom in line @ Graceland!

And even though it was roasting outside — we later heard that the temperature peaked at 115 degrees that day! Yikes! — we were so excited to be waiting in line to see the home of the King, that the gentle Southern breeze generated by our matching Elvis fans was more than enough to keep us cool.

Courtney, Mom & Me in line @ Graceland!

Me & Christine in line @ Graceland!

Having finally reached the gates of Graceland, we were ready to step inside!

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