Where Rock Got Its Groove On

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June 21, 2019, Crossville, TN-

No, this little city in east central Tennessee has its charms, but rock’s birthplace is not its claim to fame.  That, of course, is a claim to be made by Memphis.

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I visited Sun Studio, one of my “gap” goals from years past.  In the early 1950’s, one Sam Phillips, an eager young musical production visionary, began this studio, on a shoe string budget. He had an idea that Gospel, Country and Blues, when blended together, would produce an amazing new sound. Sam was all about music as a means of expressing personal emotional power and he wanted to hear some rawness in the voices of those he auditioned.

Elvis Presley, happening by from his hometown of Tupelo, MS, was NOT one of those voices, initially.  He crooned, stuck to a mellow vibe-and bored Sam Phillips to tears.  After several auditions, Elvis’ mood changed, he rocked on out with a tune and got Sam and his crew running into the sound room, to see what was happening.  The rest is musical history.  Other musical greats, among them Johnny Cash, Ike and Tina Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Howlin’Wolf, BB King and Roy Orbison got their big breaks with Sam and Sun Studio.

Here is Elvis, visiting Sun whilst on leave from the Army, doing a set with three of his contemporaries.  This session became known as The Million Dollar Quartet.

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Below, our host, Lahna, is recounting one of many stories about Sam and his vision of musical fusion.  You can spot a photo of Sam Phillips on the lower right.

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Here are some promos for Howlin’Wolf and Ike Turner (before Tina).  Ike was the pianist on the first-ever Rock n’Roll tune:  “Rocket 88”.

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Fun fact: If Sam DIDN’T like a demo record, this is what happened to it. (See floor).

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He was all about the base.

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Marion MacInnes was Sam’s office manager, and his faithful right hand.  Is anyone familiar with the contraption on the left?

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Lahna is giving her wrap-up for the tour, in front of the sound room window.  Another fun fact:  Larry Mullen, Jr., of the band U2, donated a set of drums to Sun Studio-for display purposes.

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This was an awesome bit of musical history, made all the more enjoyable by a woman who clearly knows her rock stuff.

I took a bit of a ride eastward, well before actually leaving Memphis, and found La Ceiba, the area’s only Honduran restaurant.  Its forte seems to be seafood, yet I was in the mood for chicken.  I ordered the first item on the menu, which puzzled the hostess.  It turned out to be fairly recognizable:  Lightly battered fried chicken, apparently not the hostess’s favourite, but good-tasting, nonetheless.  I also found the chips and sauce, (not salsa), potentially addicting.  La Ceiba is well worth a try.

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A long drive around the fringe of Nashville ensued, as it was getting late and I wanted to get here to my friends’ house, before they needed to turn in.

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NEXT:  Reflections on Three Days By A Pond

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2018 Road, Day 38: Memphis, Part 3-Resolute, Whilst Sitting On A Beale Street Sidewalk

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July 2, 2018, Memphis-

The man to whom I am referring, in the above subtitle, was one of a relative few who were sitting in various spots, along Memphis’ touristy and bustling Beale Street, “Birthplace of the Blues”.  I had no green in my wallet, and so gave him a few quarters-though I generally avoid such donations.  He is a man my age, though, and probably served in “the Nam”, which tends to be more of a bond than many might understand. So, I dug in my pocket.  Of course, it was something of an insult and he yelled in protest, as I made my way back towards my car, parked just off the riverfront.  He struck me as being altogether determined to survive and maintain his place in that particular spot.

There is, in Memphis, a publication called The Bridge, which is sold in tourist areas.  I bought one, from a man working the parking lot of the National Civil Rights Museum.  Ironically, the lead article was about the last regular occupant of Lorraine Motel, who was evicted to make way for its conversion into a tourist venue.  She stands, most days, across the street from the Museum, holding a protest sign and calling for more humane treatment of the very people for whom Dr. King fought.

I did notice, as well, there was a certain hardness about the people, mainly African-American, who were working in the Museum. As cogent and compelling as the subject matter was to me, to them, it seemed like just a job-from the no-nonsense ticket seller to the bored young lady sitting in a nearly empty gift shop, in the annex, across from Lorraine Motel.

I carefully parked my Hyundai in a lot one block from Beale Street.  The place is a sanitized version of the place known by W.C. Handy and B.B. King, and tourists, many of whom perhaps have buried their own Blues, were in full force on this Monday afternoon.  I contented myself with buying one t-shirt, actually one of two trinkets I’ve picked up, this journey.  (The other was a “Moose” t-shirt from Ausable Chasm.) I might have dropped into one of the several restaurants that line the five-block area, but Arcade took care of my hunger, very well.  Beale Street is an area that is worth visiting, at least once. On another trip this way, I would figure to spend more time in places like Sun Studios.

Here are some Beale Street scenes.

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Above, is the west entrance to the entertainment district.  Below, the Orpheum Theater has hosted a good many musical events, for nine decades.

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The name, itself, tells all.

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Here is a view of the heart of Beale Street.

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I got my t-shirt at Beale Street Gifts, an unpretentious and very busy little shop. In the background is the east entrance to the district.

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I came across this sculpture, in Beale Street’s small park, just after my encounter with the leonine man on the sidewalk.

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The widely revered, but tortured, Elvis Presley will always be a part of Memphis.

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Leaving Beale Street, I spent a short time on Memphis’ Riverwalk, paying my respects to the Big Muddy.

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On the river, many visitors took in the sights from one of two river boats.  Here is the Memphis Queen.

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A smaller vessel took visitors further upriver, to the north side of downtown, near Mud Island.

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As I prepared to head towards Arkansas, one last look uptown was in order.  The Pyramid will be on a future itinerary-if for no other reason than that it is there.  Pyramids, even commercial ones, are symbols of hope and unity.

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I crossed the I-55 bridge, wending my way past West Memphis and cruising through Arkansas, stopping only for a light convenience store supper, in Conway.  Sallisaw, OK offered the night’s lodging, at Sallisaw Inn.  The town seems to have grown a bit, since I was here in 2016.