I pride myself in being a rather intelligent guy, although, some may question my intelligence. My wife, in particular, falls in the questioning camp. You see, this year for my birthday, all she gave me was an envelope that said, go pack your things, we’re going on a trip. All the way to the airport I guessed our destination, but it wasn’t until I saw MEM at the gate that I realized we were headed to Memphis, Tennessee. Why was she questioning my intelligence you may ask? While, for starters, she had been humming the tune to “Walking in Memphis” for the previous week.
If you’re reading this, chances are, you’re a musician and you totally get why we’d want to go to Memphis. If you’re not a musician, you’re probably reading this with a puzzled look on your face and wondering, why Memphis? So, here’s a CliffsNotes version of why you should care (I’ll elaborate in the following paragraphs). Memphis was the home of The Gibson Guitar Factory (well,
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on the music-related locations we visited, but seriously, if you visit Memphis, go to the Civil Right Museum and order BBQ Nachos and Banana Pudding from Central BBQ which happens to be right across the street. You’re welcome.
We landed in Memphis late in the evening, so we headed straight from the airport to Beale Street which is essentially the main strip through downtown. It’s full of clubs where you will hear some of the best live blues in the world. We literally spent the evening walking down the street and popping into a dozen different clubs to check out the music. Listening to the incredibly talented guitarist gave me such an appreciation for all of the blues greats who came out of the Memphis scene. In fact, for most of the trip, I made wife listen to the Beale Street Blues Boy, AKA B.B. King.
The next morning, we headed out to Graceland in a torrential downpour. The rain let up a bit shortly after we arrived, but the overcast was fitting for the somber feeling you get when visiting the home and burial site of The King. While the home is 70s gorgeous and somewhat eccentric, I was most fascinated by the millions of messages and signatures that adorn the rock wall around the perimeter of Graceland. Messages from all over the globe are being added daily to honor and remember Elvis.
From Graceland, we headed to the Gibson Factory. At the time, this was my most anticipated activity on the trip. I have been a Gibson fanboy ever since I purchased my first Les Paul when I was 17. In fact, if you’ve watched any of my demo videos here on L2P, you’ve probably seen it. I have toured several guitar factories over the years and the thing that most impressed me about Gibson is how hands-on they are. Most of the other factories I have been to use CNC machines for nearly everything. Gibson, on the other hand, is full of craftsman with templates and bandsaws. Sadly, Gibson doesn’t allow you to take pictures inside, so I don’t have much to show other than the hat I purchased in the gift shop. The tour is about 45 minutes long. It starts with wood blanks and takes you through every step required to turn that blank into a gorgeous instrument. We actually took the tour one week before Gibson filed bankruptcy. While I don’t know what the future holds for the brand, I’m extremely grateful I was able to tour the factory in its current state.
Our final musical destination in Memphis was Sun Studio. The tour is relatively short, you really only walk through three rooms, not counting the foyer/gift shop, but it was mind blowingly awesome! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but since coming home, have been bidding on Sun Studio 45s on eBay to decorate my office with.
The first room of the tour walks you through the history of Sun Studio and is full of memorabilia from various musicians who called Sun home. You then enter the studio. While it’s small, and really hasn’t been updated at all, it oozes with mojo. So much so, that the studio drum kit is the same kit that Larry Mullen Jr. used for Rattle and Hum. There are marks on th floor where Elvis used to stand when he recorded. His mic is also there to use or to pose with. Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Ringo Starr, the list of greats who recorded there goes on and on and on.
In conclusion, there are two things I want you to take away from this article. First, my wife is freaking amazing. Second, if you haven’t been to Memphis, go find cheap tickets on Frontier Airlines (that’s what we did) and go spend a few days immersing yourself in music history. I promise, you won’t regret it.