Tuesday, December 13, 2016

More Music Magic - This Time in Memphis

December 7, 2017
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.

A fun fact - after the company's owner saw that a Dr Pepper salesman had placed a flashing advertisement on top of one of his Wurlitzer juke boxes, and liking the effect of the bright lights, he added them to all his juke boxes. And they're so pretty!

Blues artist "Pinetop" Perkins taught Ike Turner to play on this piano.

No music museum is complete without Elvis, especially one in Memphis!
Guess who?
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. 


We very much enjoyed this museum, and not because their card-reader wasn't working and we got in for free :-)

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.

Elvis recorded 10 singles with Sun Record Company, but when Sam started having money problems, he sold the contract to RCA. Instead it would be Johnny Cash who would become the star of the Memphis label. 

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.
Carl Perkins was recording on December 4, 1956. Jerry Lee Lewis was working as the studio's piano player. Johnny Cash had also stopped by to listen to Carl. And in walks Elvis Presley to say hi to Sam while he's in town. They started jamming, messing around, while the booth is still recording. Sam sees a great opportunity and calls the local paper who sends a photographer. Thus, the now famous photo which he calls the "Million Dollar Quartet" accompanies an article on the jam session the next day. However, because Elvis is under contract with RCA, the recording couldn't be released. 

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....




22 comments:

  1. Such great mementos that were saved from times gone by. We hope to head though Memphis in the spring and will file this under things to do.

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    1. Plan to spend a few days, there's lots to see!

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  2. I wish we had visited the museum. How nice that their card reader didn't work:) Interesting tidbit with the Dr. Pepper salesman! Sun Studios was very cool. Such a nondescript location. Your last photo was our favorite:)

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    1. They do a really great job with the audio tour, giving you as much or little information you want to hear at each location. Yeah, that's one of the all time great pics in music!!

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  3. Have loved soul music and motown all my life! How fabulous to be at Sun and see where those amazing four were just "fiddling around". On NPR tonight they did a long segment on how music row is being threatened by the housing boom and historic recording studios and other Nashville music spots are being torn down to build moneymaking high rise apartments. Are you seeing lots of cranes and construction around music row?

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    1. I don't know what it looked like before, but Music Row didn't have that many little studios. And there were larger buildings crowding in. Didn't notice the level of construction that we saw in Nashville, but there was some.

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  4. What fun! We loved Memphis but then again, doesn't everyone?

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  5. Wow. Just wow. We have to put this on our "must visit" list!

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    1. You'll love it!! Wish you'd been with me to visit the Civil Rights Museum.

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  6. We spent 3 days there and did not have time for this museum. Spent hours at the Blues Museum which we loved. Central BBQ was our fav. Tour of St Judes, Miss river cruise... a lot to do and we will be back to check out the rest. BTW just receiving your blogs after a few months hiatus. Not sure what happened but glad to get them back.

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    1. I'm glad the notices are finally going out again - welcome back :-)) We will return to Memphis for sure - there is just so much to see there!

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  7. Great history! Funny how plain the offices etc were back then. I just love Elvis!

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    1. Right?! Lots of gray desks and cabinets - and those weird chairs :-) Memphis is definitely an Elvis-lover's haven!

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  8. Wow Jodee! The history there is amazing!!! Btw this was my first alert that you published a new Blog. Lol yay!!

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    1. So much wonderful history here! Oh good - glad you're getting them now :)

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  9. Same as Laura, Jodee....we got the email!

    We have yet to get to Memphis..this looks great! Nothing like a good tour guide to bring the place alive. 😀

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    1. She was probably the best we've had in all the tours we've done. It was clearly personal to her, she really owned the place and its amazing history. Glad the stars have finally aligned to get the notices out again :))))))

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  10. Your new header shot is superb! So not only great music but way before the times.

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    1. Thanks Gaelyn - the forest here in Miss. is incredible! I agree those artists were brilliant.

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  11. What fun...we have to make this a stop one day! Love the music and all the history....

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    1. I think this is a great time of year to see this area - lots of things to see indoors!

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