Memphis invented rock and roll. This statement may sound simple, but I have spent a lot of time and energy obscuring this fact, as most Ohio natives do. I repeated Cleveland’s statement once to a friend who grew up in Memphis. He shook his head in disgust. “Uh, no,” was all he said, letting out a coughing chuckle that hits my ear as peculiar to that part of Tennessee, where centuries of southern cuteness have been ruffled by grain and the grind of recent decades.
Cleveland’s claim involves a convoluted story surrounding a canceled concert. At Sun Studios in Memphis, they show you the room where it happened. It’s a simple story: the people of the cities of the Delta had fun with an evolving style of aggressive jump blues. A guy named Ike came over from Clarksdale to put it on wax, with simple lyrics on the Oldsmobile that he drove to the studio.
Nashville is called Music City, but when it comes to shaping the sound of modern American music, no mid-sized city can touch Memphis. For those who want to eat dumpster patties at Husk and have tea at the Hermitage, go two hundred miles east. For the rock, blues and soul students who will take a city on its own terms – from studios on tour until you can play a few chords and eat smoked meat with every meal – Memphis is a treasure.
Get your benchmarks
Memphis is on the east bank of the Mississippi. Main Street, which is now a pedestrian mall with a streetcar line, runs parallel to the river. On this trip, we stayed at the Big Cypress Lodge, which is inside the iconic Memphis Pyramid at the north end of downtown. The north side, across from a peninsula known as Mud Island, is a quieter part of town. Big Cypress accentuates this with decor that includes lots of dark wood and lighting that preserves perpetual twilight. The thirty-two-story pyramid was originally a venue, but was remodeled by Johnny Morris of Missouri to include a Bass Pro Shop megastore plus the hotel, bowling alley, spa, and gun stand. The property includes the country’s tallest free-standing elevator with sweeping views of the city, which you can take for free if you stay there ($ 10 otherwise).
Gain the edge at Loflin Yard
If you go to Memphis this summer, there’s a good chance the trip through the mighty Mississip was affected by the closure of the Interstate 40 bridge, which left a single seventy-year passage for a hundred miles. of river. Lucky for you, there is a large relaxed patio bar just outside the “old bridge” exit. Loflin Court (7 avenue W. Carolina, Memphis) has a half acre shaded patio with a bayou fed waterfall and frozen drinks. They also make some of the best cocktails in town, including a Staten Island with Old Overholt Rye, White Lillet, and Amaro Averna.
Buy records from Goner and Shangri-La
Memphis is home to two of the best record stores you’ll ever set foot in, Goner (2152 Young Avenue, Memphis) and Shangri-La (1916 Madison Avenue, Memphis) which are only about a mile and a half apart. Goner is a mainstay of garage rock gen-X, known for his associate label, which is home to the late Jay Reatard. And Shangri-La is… well, as the name suggests. It has a medium-sized but extremely well-organized collection of records, CDs and memorabilia. The emphasis is on Memphis music, but you’ll also notice a stack of yellowed NMEs featuring young Beach Boys.
Beale Street is not, to its credit, a wax museum. This historic party district is a very active party district. Expect as much Power & Light as 18th and Vine, with a young and vibrant crowd drinking party cash-only drinks ordered in response to “red or blue?” For the older ones, the trick is to go upstairs – the leather sofas in the den-like absinthe room (166 Beale Street, Memphis) are an excellent perch for observing the events below.
Shuffleboard in Longshot
Longshot (477 S. Main St., Memphis) is a shuffleboard bar with five full-size tables under the Arrive hotel. The classic cocktails are stiff, the cabins are sumptuous, and the menu is rich and heartwarming. It’s a great place to end the night.
Breakfast at the arcade
A few blocks after the pedestrian Main Street gives way to traffic, you will find The Arcade (540 S. Main St., Memphis). It is the oldest cafe in Memphis, founded by a Greek immigrant over a century ago. It remains a great spot for a traditional southern breakfast – country ham, cookies and gravy and sweet potato pancakes all impressed.
If you are going to Memphis, there is probably nothing that will put you off going to Graceland. It’s an American rite of passage – as the Authentic Brands Group, the company licensed to offer tours of Graceland (3734 Elvis Presley Blvd., Memphis) understands very well.
Lisa Marie Presley still owns her late father’s mansion, and according to John Stamos – you might remember him from Full House, and he’ll be doing your audio tour – she always stays upstairs when she’s in town. A sprawling complex of gift shops, galleries and themed restaurants across the street is owned by Authentic Brands Group, which expanded and renovated it in 2017.
The cheapest tour that takes you inside the Graceland Mansion is $ 75, and you won’t learn much about Elvis from Uncle Jesse, as the tour was carefully staged by Lisa Marie and is focused mainly on how much Elvis loved his family, horses and racquetball. There is a lot of information about horses. There are a few photos on the wall – all of them feature Elvis in his prime, sometimes tight with pretty blondes that go unidentified. Allow yourself two and a half hours for the well-scripted tour.
Lunch at the cozy corner
Cozy corner (735 North Pkwy, Memphis) is not particularly cozy, but it is singular. This barbecue institution is famous for its barbecue spaghetti and dark ribs, but soul food desserts are where it really shines.
On March 3 or 5 – no one knows exactly which one, but not on March 4 – of 1951, rock’n’roll music was invented at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee. The details surrounding the recording of “Rocket 88” are best told by a guide to this historic studio where Sam Phillips presided over the early works of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King and Roy Orbison. The Sun Studio tour lasts about an hour and is full of interesting information and humorous anecdotes. If you’re only doing one thing in Memphis, do this.
Stax Museum of American Soul Music
There is a lot more to Memphis than rock and rockabilly, as is very evident in the old Stax Studios (926 avenue E. McLemore, Memphis) where Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Isaac Hayes, among others, recorded. The museum opens with a historic church transported from the Mississippi Delta and continues through a working dance floor and the gold-plated Cadillac El Dorado, the studio rented for Hayes at its height.
Dinner at the rendezvous of Charlie Vergos
Charlie Vergos was a legend in Memphis. He developed the city’s spare ribs, which are cooked over hard charcoal for just an hour and fifteen minutes. He also ignored calls to leave his iconic underground restaurant in an alleyway (52 S. Second St., Memphis) after the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King exposed the tensions in the city center. The restaurant exudes broken charm and while the ribs are or not to KC’s taste, you won’t leave unhappy.
Walk along the river
The northern half of Memphis is separated from the main Mississippi Canal by Mud Island, a peninsula populated by bourgeois housing. Even with the island as a barrier, spring river flows can increase enough to require a massive flood wall. Step out of the wall at dusk on a hot summer night, and the only sounds are the rustling of bushes, a barge pushing hard against the tide around the bend, and the distant crackle of fireworks. You find yourself a full ten minutes from the nearest human, as you watch rabbits rush through brush so thick you’d have a hard time getting your arm through. There is a pedestrian walkway with a people transporter to take you to Mud Island from downtown, but it has seen better days. Instead, head north from the Pyramid to the AW Willis Bridge and enjoy great views of the nightly light show on the New Bridge (currently closed) from peaceful Greenbelt Park.
Memphis Sunrise Breakfast
Memphis Sunrise (670 Jefferson Ave, Memphis) is an offshoot of Central BBQ, one of the city’s most prominent stalls, and you’ll see that stamp on items like a breakfast sandwich made with homemade smoked bologna. Whatever you get, make sure it comes with a cookie.
National Civil Rights Museum
Throughout your stay in Memphis, you will frequently hear references to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in April 1968. In some ways, the history of the city is “before” and after. ” The man who murdered Dr King was a vagrant raised in rural Missouri who arrived in town the day before, but the stain remained. The subject comes back subtly in unexpected places, even in Graceland, where you’ll hear excerpts from Elvis Presley’s tribute, “If I Can Dream,” which wrapped up his special 1968 comeback. The place to hear these important stories is the National Civil Rights Museum, which was built around the Lorraine Motel. Also note the protest outside, a thirty-year vigil led by anti-gentrification activist Jacqueline Smith, who was kicked out of the motel when it became a museum and has remained outside ever since.