“For fans of Elvis, the Blues, and Rock ‘n’ Roll, a trip to Memphis, Tennessee is a must”
He’s here, on film. Dressed in full attire. White flared trousers, a gold studded belt, high collar, topped by jet black hair and side burns. The music starts and so does a journey back to Rock ‘n’ Roll music with the King!
Walking in Memphis
On arrival, Memphis was in full swing. My first experience of Beale Street, aka Home of the Blues, was similar to an ongoing street party, alive with the buzz and strum of live tunes packed with music lovers and revelry. But that’s no surprise. This is Memphis—the birthplace of the Blues, Rock ‘n’ Roll, and Soul and this world-famous street in the historic entertainment district is at the heart of the action and a cauldron of sights, sounds and calorific food.
The dance floor at BB King’s Blues Club is crammed. Bright signs advertise “Flipping, Dipping, Sipping Ribs”, and “DownHome Blues Cookin’” Each bar, each restaurant competes for attention. Drinking venues spill (literally) into the street while hidden gardens host bands of every type.
Fear not Elvis fans, you will always hear a rendition or two of your favorite track.
Elvis: Here,There & Everywhere
Anyone who loves Elvis makes a trip to Memphis. Though the legendary crooner was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, and didn’t move to Memphis until he was a teenager, the Tennessee city is inextricably linked to Elvis Presley.
Breakfast with Elvis? In downtown Memphis, make a visit to the Arcade Restaurant, the oldest café in town and made famous by its own legendary resident, Elvis. Here, he enjoyed his peanut butter and banana sandwich in the cubicle next to the back door, convenient for his many quick escapes from fans. This table can be reserved, so you can eat your stacked pancakes amongst the Elvis momentos around the table.
Sun Studio might be one of the most famous music recording studios in the world and launched the careers of musical legends such as Johnny Cash, BB King, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and The Million Dollar Quartet. In 1954, Elvis got his first start here when the owner, Sam Philips, believed in him as an artist who could perform with the energy of a blues artist but who could also reach across regional, musical and racial barriers. The museum is on the outskirts of Memphis and is very compact. Tours are timed as it gets very crowded but worth it especially to witness the exact microphone spot used by legendary artists to record their music.
A visit to Memphis’ Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum traces the birth of rock and soul music and the exhibition, created by the Smithsonian Institution, tells the story of great musical pioneers and the barriers they overcame to create the sounds that shook hips, the industry, and the changed the world.
Elvis was certainly a fashion icon. Studded suits, flared trousers, wide belts, high collars and draped cloaks in a range of colours. Visit the Peabody Hotel in the heart of Memphis for your own Elvis wardrobe. The Lansky family, renowned for designing Elvis’s signature style, still operates the tailoring store in the hotel. As a teenager, Elvis shopped at the original Lansky Bros shop at 126 Beale Street.
The shop is like a museum with signed guitars decorating the walls, while copies of Elvis’ jackets, flip-collared shirts and trousers fill the sales racks. There is a guided tour around the hotel that reveals its many connections with celebrities, including Elvis. It was in the hotel that Elvis attended his high school prom and where, in 1955, he signed his first recording contract on Peabody headed paper. Time your visit to the Peabody Hotel to arrive for the Duck March at 11am daily. This 50-year old tradition attracts international acclaim led by a dedicated Duck Master.
Coletta’s, a time capsule Italian restaurant that claims to have created the barbecue pizza Elvis loved. The private dining room of the South Parkway location has pictures and memorabilia.
Of anywhere in Memphis, it’s Graceland, Elvis’s beloved home, that reveals most about the private life of the man. This 14-acre Elvis amusement park-like estate is dedicated to the life and career the American legend. You’ll see his mansion, his gold records and bejeweled jumpsuits, the classic cars he love, and other interactive exhibits that let you peek into the life of the king
The stately colonial revival-style mansion is the home he had built for himself and his parents, which has been lovingly preserved. A tour of the mansion house comes with an audio-guide. I was provided with an iPad that displayed detailed images and footage of his life, with commentary by Elvis and his daughter, Lisa Marie. You can see where he relaxed with friends and family with a peek into his Jungle Room and into his Music Room. Most impressive, however, is his trophy room with endless record and album tributes while his movie career is also on show.
Elvis loved cars and his favorites are displayed in Graceland’s dedicated Automobile Museum. Here you can ogle at his colourful Cadillacs, Rolls Royce Sedans,1975 Dino Ferrari, Mercedes and his John Deere tractor amongst his other wheeled vehicles and bikes.
To top it all, the tour leads to two custom jets, kitted out just as you would expect of Elvis—with gold–plated seat belts, suede chairs, leather covered tables, private phones, and 24-carat gold flecked sinks. Viva Las Vegas, baby!
Of course, Graceland has gift shops where you can grab sunglasses, glitter T-shirts, mugs, pens in a range of colours and themes, and more.
There are also number of restaurants around Graceland, but try the Ice Cream Parlour, authentically designed in a typical diner style.
Graceland is around 20 minutes from downtown Memphis.
Long Live the King
Elvis lives on in Memphis, from the songs belting out along Beale Street to his palatial home in Graceland to a dedicated breakfast table in a downtown café. Back here in the UK, Elvis lives on in cinemas everywhere, kindling the beloved music of the legend. Even when the film fades to black, we can always count on Elvis impersonators to perpetuate his legacy, performing in theatres and pubs up and down the country, complete with his signature moves and unforgettable voice.
BeSeeingYou In: Memphis
Good to know: There are no direct flights from the UK to Memphis, but connecting flights allow for time to explore gateway cities such as New York, Atlanta and Philadelphia
WOW! Factor: Graceland is the second most visit house museum in America, after The White House
Tip: Backbeat Tours offers a 2.5-hour “Hound Dog” walking tour to places Elvis loved in Memphis
Author bio: Jane Wilson