West Memphis, Arkansas
There's a lot to see in Memphis, Tennessee, and on Wednesday we choose two places focused on the history of American music.
First stop is the Rock and Soul Museum. Opened in 2000, it became part of the FedEx Forum, home to the NBA Memphis Grizzlies, on the corner of famous Beale Street and "the Blues Highway" in 2004.
We start with a short movie, and then receive headsets and audio devices for our self-guided tour. For the 90 minutes we're here, we only see a handful of others, making it easy to see everything at our own pace.
Covering the "rural field hollers and sharecroppers of the 1930's, through the explosion of Sun, Stax and Hi Records, and Memphis' musical heyday in the '70's, to its global musical influence", the exhibits lead us through the magical power that is music.
|Long hours singing in the fields, strumming and stomping shared by neighbors on hundreds of front porches, gospel singers rockin' community churches on Sunday - the roots of music run deep in the South.|
|WDIA Radio, the first station programmed by and for African Americans, sponsored the Teen Town Singers. Established in 1947, the station is still broadcasting from Memphis.|
|In 1955 Sam Phillips, the owner of WDIA, established WHER, a women-only, radio station in Memphis. Not only on air, women made all sales calls and represented the company in every area.|
|Blues artist "Pinetop" Perkins taught Ike Turner to play on this piano.|
|No music museum is complete without Elvis, especially one in Memphis!|
|In the '60's and '70's the music with soul became Soul Music|
|The "Fine Art of Rock" exhibit includes this mixing board from Ardent Studios, used from 1966-1972.|
Just out the front door we pick up the free shuttle to our second stop, Sun Studios. On the top of our list, this is a must-see spot in Memphis for us. It is said that "If music were a religion, Memphis would be its Jerusalem, and Sun Studio its most holy shrine."
The tour starts upstairs where the restored Control Room C of WHBQ Studios is surrounded by music recording memorabilia. From 1953-1959 the broadcast room was home to Dewey Phillips' "Red, Hot and Blue" radio show. It was excavated from the abandoned Hotel Chisca in 2013 and includes the original acoustic tiles, thermostat, door, and even the two large studio windows.
Although Dewey was known as an upbeat and happy guy, if he played a record by an artist that he thought was crap, he made his opinion clear by scratching the needle across the record, then smashing the disc on the floor as soon as it finished playing - sometimes sooner.....
Our guide, Tiffany, is a delightful young woman who is so proud to be part of this incredible place, and shares the information with great joy. It's contagious.
|Although Sam wasn't impressed with the first demo record that Elvis cut (My Happiness on July 18, 1953), Marion liked the kid and kept it. It is here on the left.|
|Looking much as it did in the 1950's, this is where Marion greeted some of the biggest names (to-be) in music history|
|I love this old soda machine.|
In 1959 the studio moved to larger space and this property changed owners numerous times. Gary Hardy purchased the building in 1987, opening his own recording studio, and the museum recognizing the significance of the location. Music is still recorded here on most evenings. The drum set we sit behind was left by U2 when they recorded here about 20 years ago.
Although it took on many other uses, the original acoustic tiles on the walls and ceiling are still here. The floor is the same one that Elvis stood on, and the X where he stood with the microphone (also saved and now part of the room) is marked for others to "imitate".
|Instruments are not props, they are played weekly here. See the 'X' on the floor?|
|Tiffany at "the" mic.|
|History-making, music-making iconic sound studio.|
It is finally released in 1981 in Europe with 17 tracks, and then in the US in 1990 as Elvis Presley - the Million Dollar Quartet with an additional 3 tracks which were found later. A fun note is that Elvis' girlfriend at the time, Marilyn Evans, was seated on the top of the piano but cropped out for the final photo.
|And the rest is history....|