The ‘King’ is dead but which one? Elvis or BB King – Memphis has loved and looked after some music greats and both ‘Kings’ are now ‘jamming’ away in heaven. Our trip to Memphis was like a pilgrimage for me, I have ‘loved’ Elvis for many years, too many to remember! I collected his fan club books, any memorabilia I could find and bought his wonderful records, and wasn’t he handsome! Now I was here fresh from my Amtrak journey, straight to the only place an Elvis fan could go the Heartbreak Hotel.
Our trip included the Heart Break Hotel, which we knew was just outside Memphis, we drove by taxi to this iconic hotel and with ‘wall to wall’ Elvis I wasn’t disappointed, for any fan this is the second ‘holy-grail’ Grace Land being the first, which is just across the road from the Heartbreak Hotel. The entrance to the hotel plays Elvis music and has lots and lots of Elvis pictures and memorabilia, it is definitively in need of an upgrade, it is tired and dated, but plans are afoot to relocate the hotel and build a new one across the road in the near future.
The staff are friendly and helpful and our room, with the picture of Elvis over the bed was clean and comfortable, breakfast is included but it is a DIY breakfast. There is coffee, tea, only boiled eggs(cold) and cereal plus cakes and fruit, but with no service and plastic plates and cups, but don’t despair it is alright but certainly not a plus for the hotel. In the evening ‘fans’ can sit in the restaurant area and watch an Elvis film, not terribly comfortable but fans will ‘suffer’ for Elvis! The hotel runs a very successful shuttle bus at a cost of $5 per person taking you to the centre of Memphis, it runs throughout the day and night and the last shuttle is approximately 10.30 pm. There is also a Sun Studio shuttle which is free and takes you to the studio, you are not obliged to buy or stay there but the deal is arranged by the studio and it is not a place to miss.
The first day we decided to go to Sun Studio an amazing place for music lovers everywhere. Elvis, BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison are among the ‘greats’ that have stood and recorded music here. The memorabilia, records, tea-shirts are flying off the shelves for many fans of this renowned studio where Elvis recorded his first record. There is a small but fascinating museum of memorabilia very well presented by one of the staff, but downstairs is the studio and microphones, pianos and drums are all still in places where the ‘greats’ stood and played – a wonderful trip back in time.
Memphis has many places of interest the Rock and Roll museum which is full of memorabilia from the rock world, The Stax museum which has the Soul memorabilia, depending on the time you have in Memphis there are the base ball games at the Auto World Stadium, where the Memphis Red Birds play, the Zoo, and a trip on the Mississippi. Please note: The boat leaves at 1.30 pm every day, so get there early to enjoy a scenic trip up the river. If you are feeling romantic there is an evening dinner cruise, check the web site for details. Visit the Peabody Hotel to see the ducks, yes, ducks that come out of their ‘Royal Duck Palace’ on the top floor and come down in the lift to paddle around in the little fountain in the hotel lobby, I thought this sounded cruel, but the ducks seem to enjoy it and I was told they only do a short stint at the hotel then they go back to the farm. The hotel is beautiful and expensive but if you can afford it the hotel is situated well and has an amazing sunset view from the top floor, where sunset parties are held, and who knows you may see someone famous as stars are known to stay there when visiting Memphis.
Beale Street is the ‘in place’ to be, the aroma of barbecue cooking fills the air and the music pounds from every bar, the choice is amazing. Visit BB King’s bar (BB is from Beale St Boy shortened to BB), who sadly will not be dropping in again to play his legendary blues, it has a cover charge and that goes up the later you go into the bar but what the heck, you may never pass this way again. The restaurants are plentiful and if you make your way to the Peabody Hotel and go through the lobby to the rear of the hotel just ask anyone where the Rendevous Restaurant is, it is well worth the visit and it is famous for its Ribs. Every Wednesday evening Beale Street is closed off, except for the Bikers yes, hundreds of them from all over the State. Men and women stand and hover near their bikes cleaning and preening their precious machines, it is quite a sight to see and the city is buzzing. If you want to see the ‘old guys’ play then day time Beale Street is good too, we sat and listened to some amazing musicians just ‘jamming’ in the centre square a very pleasant experience with the sun-shining and a good glass of Bud.
From the Heart Break Hotel you can walk to the start of your Grace Land visit, but if not the shuttle will take you. Your entry fee costs approximately $45 but there are other deals which have different itineraries. The Shuttle bus takes you across the road – yes, across the road but it is the only way to go as the control of the tours is so well organised and it does control the amount of people going into the house. You are presented with a small tablet with earphones to ‘show’ you around this amazing building at your pace, a brilliant idea and very well done. The house is ‘dated’ but it was right for the time that Elvis lived there. Flash and tawdry are some words to explain the decoration but from the Jungle room to the Kitchen, you could imagine ‘The King’ laughing and enjoying his life in this beautiful mansion which was a long way from a shack in Tupelo Mississippi. There is so much to see costume rooms, gold disc rooms and many many more things that help you understand how the world changed Elvis into pop idol. His grave stone is the final thing to visit in his garden, by his swimming pool the graves of his mother, father, his twin brother and of course Elvis a short life, he died at the age of 42, tears can be seen on many faces and a hushed sadness hangs over the area giving respect to a legend.
The story goes on as you go back to the ticket area of Grace Land by shuttle, where restaurants and ice cream parlours tempt you to spend even more money than you have in the tourist shops. See more of Elvis’s cars,and motorcycles his two aeroplanes, stand lost in the glinting sun. It took us about 5 hours including lunch to ‘soak’ in the atmosphere of this iconic place but after waiting a ‘life time’ or so it seemed, I wasn’t going to miss a thing.
Our journey to Memphis was too short but we enjoyed every minute, it fulfilled a dream and gave us lots of good memories, our music tour was set to continue as we headed by Amtrak down to New Orleans. The ‘Kings’ maybe dead but the memories live on.
• Read The American Music Tour – Part 1
• Read The American Music Tour – Part 2
• Read The American Music Tour – Part 4