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Sunday, 5 January 2014

The Glebe in the USA 2013 - Memphis - Sun Studios

Still heading for Memphis
Here's a collage of I-75 trucks I meant to put up on the last post.
It's Thursday morning on the 5th of December somewhere near Birmingham, Alabama.
Dawn is almost breaking as I head the last 30 or so miles towards the city. It's busy enough as I head through the city, but I'm getting cracking views of it's outline and the skyscrapers. I daren't take any pictures, there might just be a camera on me. I'm looking for highway 78 which will take me all the way to Memphis. My mind must have been elsewhere because ten miles further along the I-20 I realize I've gone passed it. No problem I think since the road's gone of at roughly 45 degrees, I can cut across country. Ha Ha who's the idiot again. After getting another ten miles into the country thinking I'm heading the right way I end up at a fairly remote garage where the cashier's working on her nails. When I ask the way to Jasper, she sends me in the back to talk to the boss, cause she doesn't know. He's a big fella and with two other guys he's working on a pick up. He say's "well you can get to Jasper from here, but if you don't know these country roads, I'd suggest you go back to Birmingham, there are road junctions with no signposts heading in all directions". I took his advice. (I also since learned that the Black Warrior River was between me and Jasper, and If I'd missed finding a crossing I'd have been in deep trouble)
So I'm back on the I-20 and I'm looking for Arkadelphia road.
It's so straight forward I don't know how I missed it. I also learned later that an upgrade had been finished recently to access it from the I-65 North, it's a pity I didn't know that earlier.
I'm soon passing Jasper albeit almost two hours after I should have. It's a strange thing, but of all the Interstates and major routes, this one from Birmingham to Memphis is the quietest.
Traffic does pick up as I approach Tupelo with large hoardings inviting you to 'Visit Elvis's Birthplace' .
If I'd not gone wrong earlier I could probably have taken a break in Tupelo, as it was, time was getting on and I wanted to make Memphis before it got too late to do anything.
So continuing on I passed signs for New Albany, Holly Springs National Forest and Wall Doxey State Park. Driving here along Highway 68 is a pleasure and it's beautiful looking countryside.
Now I'm entering Memphis and I'm looking for Airways Blvd. Of course I miss it !. I end up going too far into the city and having to double back along Union Avenue. I soon found my digs on N.Willetts Street.

 (I was lucky to find it as I got lost later by the confusing layout of streets. Take Jefferson Ave and Court Ave for example. They are not continuous and one part of either can be separated by up to five or six streets, and not necessarily in line. So I can be on Court Ave where I want to be and there's no turn for N.Willets Street, I'm on the wrong section of Court Avenue. It dawned on me on Friday after a mystery tour of the area)
My host Ryan is in and makes me welcome, shows me around the apartment and generally gives me directions around the city and printing me a map. I get a quick shower and head out.
I'm heading to my top of the list, number one, ultimate high spot of my whole trip..............I'm going to Sun Studios . (Back in 1956 as a 13 year old, my cousins, pals and the whole school couldn't get enough of this, exciting new sound, the music revolution has begun, Elvis Presley was on everyone's lips).
This shouldn't be hard to find, Ryan tells me that I head along Union Avenue until I see Marshall Avenue going off to the right at a 45 degree angle.
I find it no problem, I'd seen a big guitar back at the junction.
After parking up on Monroe Avenue I make my way back to Marshall Avenue where I spot Heartbreak Hotel. The Ben M. Hogan isn't the golfer but a Tennessee road builder.

I'm soon back on the corner of Union.

There's a guy waiting for someone to come along and take his picture. That's handy as he can take mine in return. He's just done the tour and he's a Dutchman, says he can now go back to Holland a happy man. 

I'll go in once I've taken what I can outside.

Now I'm inside I find I'm in a cafe and souvenir shop of Aladdin's cave proportions. I'm told that the tour will start in around fifteen minutes and to have a look around.

A Kindle Selfie !

Sorry guys, I forgot your names.

No matter how I position myself, the famous "Million Dollar Quartet" picture always has a bright reflection on it. I'm told that everyone has the same problem and to accept the fact that it's the Big 'O', Roy Orbison
Well !, Why not......hiya Roy.

I'm not sure if the Juke Box is a working model, I should have asked.

Though the records are mostly the well known artists, there are some cracking lesser known ones such as Ubangi Stomp by Warren Smith.

After scraping a living, It must have been an amazing time for these early rockers to suddenly find they had no more money worries.

Carl, Jerry Lee, Roy and Johnny
In 1986, four original Sun recording artists got back together here to record 

The above image mentions genius, well one things for sure he changed the music scene for ever.

My one regret of my visit to Memphis is that I only paid one visit to this place.
Perhaps I'm destined to return.

There's a wall full of originals, many signed by the artiste.

Elvis's 1955 R.C.A contract. I should have visited Studio 'B' back in Nashville.

The 'Colonel' takes charge of the contract cheque.

Elvis's school diploma

Though Howlin Wolf's Smokestack Lightning was out around the same time as Elvis was starting, I never became aware of him until I was with H.M. Forces over in Germany in the 60's. Then he was never off the radio.

Memorabilia, posters and pictures fill the walls.

There isn't the time to look at it all.

Now it's time for our tour to begin. We're taken through the back.

Our tour guide is Lahna, she introduces herself and explains how the tour will be conducted.
(After the tour I talk to Lahna and find out she herself is a recording artiste as one half of Deering and Down. She has one very listen-able voice. Lahna, I love your mellifluous tones !) 

We're in the studio back room where Sam Phillips is still in charge.
Incidentally he was born 91 years ago today, January the 5th. He died in 2003.
Lahna begins to tell us the history of Sam Philips, Sun Studios and the singers he started on the road to fame. She tells the story of Elvis's first recording and how on the 18th of July 1953 he walked in here to pay for a recording. He wanted to hear how he sounded and gave the record 'My Happiness' to his mother as a belated birthday present. 
There's more valuable memorabilia and museum items behind the glass.
Lahna tells us the story of Johnny Cash wanting to record gospel songs and Sam telling him to go out and "Sin a bit then come back", he'd had it up to his neck with gospel songs

Widely regarded as the first Rock and Roll song, Lahna tells us the story of Rocket 88 as it plays through the sound system.

Elvis in the 8th grade on the programme as the 'Guitarist'.
The counterfeiters reproduce this programme, give it some rigorous treatment and then sell it as an original for up to $2000 dollars.

Here's a thing, not far from Memphis is Little Rock, Arkansas the beginning of the civil rights in schools, while here Sam was already heavily involved in black music.

Sam's partner Marion. It was Marion who persuaded Sam that Elvis should be called in to the studio, she saw his potential. 

The label says it !

We're enthralled by the 'Million Dollar Quartet' story. Sam decided to keep the tape running during this jam session. The whole one hour eight minute section makes good listening on Youtube. 
I remember Whispering Bob Harris enthusing about this being released in the early 80's.
My copy of this is on it's way too ! I'm becoming a fifties throwback.

Another look at the museum pieces. 

Now we make our way down to the actual recording room. 

Here, Lahna is in her element as she invites us to feel the vibes.

I took a very short bit of video.

There was something magical going on here ! 

We're invited to stand on the original black marks where the artistes stood. (Call me a sceptic, but I think they must touch these up occasionally)

Now we can have our pictures taken. Who's the immortal now ?
'Aint that some smile !

The tour is now over, but we can stay for a while longer to take pictures and get a feel for this shrine of Rock and Roll.

There's another picture of the Million Dollar Quartet on the wall.
This picture is iconic, but it's a cropped photo. There's a whole other story of who's missing from the picture.
Below is a copy of the picture freely available on the internet.

Image by
The girl in the picture is Marilyn Evans who was dating Elvis at the time. 
Here's a Guardian Newspaper Item of how she was tracked down in 2008.

A picture of Roy brings back memories of his recording of Ooby Dooby recorded here.
Not everyone's favourite Big 'O' track, but the one that got him started.

This is the letter that Marion Keisker MacInnes wrote to her son David after the legendary jam session.
I've hopefully made it readable below.

Marilyn did eventually split up with Sam and at the age of forty plus she'd be a captain in the U.S. Air Force.
One notable occasion would be when Captain Marion (Keisker) MacInnes was stationed in Germany. Elvis said to her, 'I don't know whether to kiss you or salute!' She replied, 'In that order'. She was reprimanded by an army captain for over-familiarity with a noncom. Elvis defended her and said, ..' we wouldn't be having a press conference if it weren't for this lady'. 

I take one last look around before heading to buy the T.Shirt(s) and other stuff.
This has been an absolutely brilliant afternoon.
Thank you Lahna, you were a great guide. 
If there's a Rock and Roll heaven I've just had a preview.

Graceland next stop.


  1. Hey Jim, looks & sounds like your having a wonderful time! I'm glad you are enjoying your travels.. Cheers, Happy New Year!

  2. Ah Jim, your whole trip to the US has been in daughter and son-in-laws trip of two years ago, it's totally amazing how many similar photos you have both taken! I've really enjoyed your tour.
    PS I love that song....
    A R for my R...
    (I've managed to grab a little while on another computer) I think my drama will be sorted very soon!
    Have a wonderful week.
    PPS - I love the trucks! Having driven them in the army, I have a soft spot for them.

  3. What a great tour, Jim! I especially love the vintage stuff...and you at the microphone!

  4. It takes a lot of bottle to hire a car and do a road trip like that solo. Well Done Jim.
    Now I know you like blues and country I might post a couple of my favourites on if I can find good versions with interesting visuals.
    I've got Great Balls of Fire and Walk the Line films and while they are both good, G.B.O.F seemed to capture the fun and excitement of those times more.

  5. Cheers Bob, it would have been Elvis's 79th birthday today Jan.8th
    Jerry Lee was certainly the fireball of the up and coming rock n roll stars. My favourite of his got to number 8 in the U.K Charts in 58, but very rarely gets airplay on the radio. "Breathless"


Thanks for all your comments. I may not get to reply to them all, but you may be sure they'll be appreciated.

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