Music flows through Memphis as deep as the mighty Mississippi. As the de facto capital of the Delta Region, the Blues made its way into town, settled in, and is still hanging around today. I suppose we could mark the official entry at just over one hundred years ago, when W. C. Handy arrived and started playing in the clubs on Beale Street.
The birthplace of Rock & Roll
The clubs along Beale Street have long been a hot spot for traveling bands since just after the Civil War, but Handy was the first to preserve the music by writing it down. Musical legends like Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters and B. B. King were regulars on this little stretch of road.
The Beale Street we found on our trip was drastically different from the funky nightclubs and juke joints that gave birth to the Memphis Blues, but the history lives on. A new generation grew up breathing in that sound, added a dash of hillbilly twang and a backbeat and Rock & Roll was born.
We’re going to Graceland
It was the unique blend of cultures in the Bluff City that spawned Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and The King himself, Elvis Presley. Elvis became synonymous with Memphis, and to be perfectly honest, he was our main reason for coming. We wanted to make a pilgrimage to Graceland.
We were married on Elvis’ birthday. Don’t go jumping to any conclusions, we’re not crazy, it was just a coincidence. We didn’t even realize it until later, but maybe it has given us a cosmic connection with The King. So we took a drive out to Elvis Presley Boulevard and pulled up to those famous gates of the most visited home in the nation.
We had heard all the stories about the royal residence, and inside we found everything we expected and more. Every bit of the interior is covered in classic 1960s tacky opulence. The dining room decor can best be described as early Southern grandma but, hands down, the highlight of these first few rooms was Mama’s purple poodle bathroom. Headed down the hall, past the conventional kitchen, into the heart of The King’s lair, the feel of the house shifted from southern comfort to Hillbilly Cat.
Every living area has a bar — Elvis liked to entertain. The groovy, mod style TV room, all yellow and black with mirrored ceilings, set the tempo, and the Indian-inspired billiard room had us clapping along, finally, we couldn’t help falling in love with The Jungle Room. The King went completely “Blue Hawaii” tiki-tacky, green shag carpet native – even on the ceiling. Let’s call it Paradise, Hawaiian Style.
Ashes to Ashes
Photo by Marko Forsten
We finished up in the Meditation Garden that Elvis built for quiet reflection back in the sixties; it now serves as the Presley family private cemetery. This is the final resting place for Daddy Vernon, Mother Gladys, Grandmother Minnie May, and of course, Elvis himself, along with a memorial to his twin brother Jessie Garon, who died at birth.
A collection fit for a King
From that solemn spot we headed back across Elvis Presley Boulevard to check out the King’s collection of cars and airplanes. As Rock & Roll royalty, The King had to have a couple of Cadillacs and Rolls Royce Silver Clouds, but he also had a 1971 Stutz Blackhawk (the first Stutz ever brought into the United States), a 1975 Ferrari Dino and two Mercedes, a limo and convertible 280 SL, bought before most Americans knew what a Mercedes even was.
All gold everything
Next we passed through a faux airport gate and “Elvis Fan Detector” security checkpoint, and up the jet way to board The King’s “Flying Graceland” the Lisa Marie. The interior is less gaudy than the ground-based home, with a lounge area and corporate style meeting room. Even with the mandatory wet bars, things seemed pretty tame, but Elvis’ private quarters stepped things up a notch. The bathroom sports 24 karat gold-plated fixtures, and then we realized that gold plating is a theme running throughout the aircraft, right down to the seatbelt buckles and sink basins. Even the required belt across the… wait for it… king-sized bed.
Thank you, thank you very much.
What kind of Memphis inspired music is your favorite?