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Thread: Tennessee's Music Highway.

  1. #1
    Loving elvis
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    Tennessee's Music Highway.

    MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Knowing how obsessed Elvis fans can be, I wasn't surprised when my wife and I drove up to the Heartbreak Hotel and found, true to the song's lyrics, that it actually was ''down at the end of Lonely Street'' and that the desk clerk was ``dressed in black.''

    Our room was lined with photos of the King, and two TV channels were devoted 24/7 to Elvis Presley's music and movies. And, as expected, the souvenir shop contained Elvis novelties such as Love Me Tender tea sets and copies of the work shirt a teenage Presley wore when he drove a truck for Crown Electric. (Guess which one I bought.)

    But one thing that did surprise me on this, the first night of our five-day Memphis and Nashville music tour, was the Elvis look-alike chatting it up in the lobby. You might expect an official greeter in a Vegas skyscraper but hardly at a modest, 128-room place like this.

    It wasn't until I saw him chowing down on biscuits and gravy at the complimentary breakfast the next morning that I realized the laugh was on me. The guy wasn't a hotel employee but another guest, which brings us back to the point about obsessed Elvis fans.

    More than 50,000 flock to Memphis for Elvis Week each August for a candlelight vigil at Graceland marking the anniversary of Presley's death.

    But you don't have to wait until Elvis Week to get a dose of the King. He rules here year-round. For $100, at one of the official souvenir shops across from Graceland (Elvis' home), you can play pool on the same table that Presley and the Beatles used during their meeting in Los Angeles in 1965. And just 15 minutes away at the Arcade cafe, you can have one of Elvis' beloved peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Fried, of course.

    Once you get past the carnival atmosphere, you can find an inspiring story in the music history of Memphis and Nashville, linked by Interstate 40 -- the ''Music Highway.'' Thanks to nearly a dozen museums and historical sites, there is no richer, more illuminating showcase of musical roots in the country than in this 220-mile stretch of highway.

    And we're talking more than simply the land of Elvis. The region's heritage also includes landmark figures such as Hank Williams, Otis Redding, Patsy Cline and Al Green.

    When you follow the music trail through Tennessee, including a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum, you realize that the music was part of a wider social and cultural revolution that involved race, class and politics.

    Whether you're just after good-time nostalgia or pop-culture history, the trip is joyful and illuminating.

    But health-conscious pop fans, beware. I swore I would eat only one bite of that fried peanut butter and banana sandwich, but I didn't count on it being soooo good. I ended up using half my day's calorie allotment on just six bites.

    Funny. Years ago, I used to count my pennies on vacations. Now it's calories.

    Elvis might have been rock's greatest star, but I wouldn't want him decorating my house. Graceland's living room, with its 15-foot-long white sofa, is tasteful enough in a formal 1950s way, and the black baby grand piano adds a nice touch to the music room.

    But brace yourself before entering the den. The jungle theme, complete with a waterfall and an overload of wooden exotica, might have reminded Elvis of relaxed times in Hawaii, but the decor is more likely to remind visitors of dated scenes from a tacky '60s comedy. I felt dizzy after seeing the wildly conflicting patterns on the multicolored drapes covering the billiard-room ceiling and walls.

    While touring the Colonial Revival-style structure, which attracts 600,000 visitors a year, you'll see lots of Elvis' personal items as well as gold records and colorful jumpsuits from the Vegas years. Yet there's a more affecting side of Graceland: the rags-to-riches saga of the young man from the housing projects buying the home of his dreams, partly for his financially struggling parents.

    Looking at the garden (where he now rests) and the horses in the pasture, you understand how the property was a source of pride and a sanctuary.

    Figure on spending three to four hours at Graceland, the various museums and the souvenir shops, but skip the restaurants. There are better choices, including Neely's, a family barbecue operation, and, of course, the Arcade cafe.

    For some reason, those chunky peanut butter and banana sandwiches, which come with two pounds of steak fries, aren't on the menu at the informal Arcade; you have to ask for them. Cross your fingers when you do, because they're only available when the bananas are ripe.

    Next stop: Sun Records and, for rock fans, guaranteed goose bumps.

    It's easy to miss the Sun Studio as you head down Union Avenue toward downtown because it's in an ordinary, two-story brick structure that sits at an angle. Just start looking for tourists with cameras when you approach the 700 block of Union.

    The entrance to the museum is actually in an adjacent cafe where Sun owner Sam Phillips relaxed or held business meetings between recording duties. Sit in one of the booths, and you can imagine a young Johnny Cash telling you all about this song he has just written about a prison in California.

    The tour starts upstairs in a room detailing the history of the studio, which specialized in blues artists, including Ike Turner and Howlin' Wolf, before Phillips found Presley. But the heart of the tour is the 18-by-32-foot studio, pretty much untouched since the '50s.

    For me, in fact, the Memphis trip turned from Elvis fun to musical legacy when I looked at the tape on the floor marking the spot where the 19-year-old singer stood the night in 1954 he recorded That's All Right, the single that largely defined rock 'n' roll as we know it today. The Sun guide also told us that Jerry Lee Lewis recorded Whole Lot of Shakin' Goin' On in one take with the same primitive equipment, a reminder that great music is based more on imagination and passion than on technology and polish.

    The sense of musical mission was equally strong at our next stop, the home of Stax Records, whose '60s and '70s glory days are saluted in a run-down stretch of McLemore Avenue. This museum, with more than 2,000 artifacts, is much larger than the Sun site. It's also easy to spot, thanks to a large theater marquee.

    Stax's focus, oddly enough, was country and pop until co-founder Jim Stewart moved to the mostly black neighborhood on McLemore, where he converted an old movie theater into a studio and record shop. Not only did Stewart start stocking albums his customers requested, which meant R&B and soul, but he also began making records to appeal to those customers.

    Stax's classic sound was a gritty, Southern-fried R&B and funk served up by Redding, Isaac Hayes and the Staple Singers. The label folded in 1975 and the original building was razed. The new facility opened in 2003, and it conveys well the early spirit of brotherhood among the black and white artists at the label.

    If the Sun and Stax tours focus on what happened inside studios, two other essential museums in Memphis tell you about high-impact cultural and historical factors outside the studio.

    Start downtown with the Rock 'n' Soul Museum, across from the Gibson Guitar Factory (which offers yet another tour).

    Then head a few blocks southwest to the National Civil Rights Museum, which addresses the wider story of racial struggle in this country.

    The museum is at the site of the Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968. The first thing you see when you walk up to the museum is the balcony where the shooting occurred (the motel is closed and part of the museum).

    Inside, you can look through a window at the third-floor room where King spent his final hours. I'm betting it's a scene you'll never forget.

    For our second night in town, we stayed at the Peabody Memphis Hotel, a place with such a history that it has its own mini-museum, although the downtown hotel might be best known for its novelty ''duck walks.'' Twice daily, five or six ducks march through the hotel lobby as hundreds of tourists watch in amused fascination.

    The Peabody is just a block from the trolley line that takes you to the civil rights museum and the Arcade.

    We walked to Beale Street, which once hosted one of the most active black music scenes in the country. There are still blues and funk clubs galore, but the level of talent is pretty pedestrian.

  2. #2
    International Level malc07's Avatar
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    Fascinating read Jen.
    you always ammaze me at the indepth articles you post.
    Truely wonderful.
    Thanks so much...
    I Loved that
    Rosanne 4/27/59-7/22/09 Rest in Peace


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    My Radio shows every Thursday and Sunday at 7pm UK time

  3. #3
    ksimms2's Avatar
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    Jen, where does this article originate from? I've stayed at Heartbreak Hotel and it was wonderful with Elvis everywhere! I mean everywhere! On the speakers throughout the hotel - on the 24/7 Elvis channel on the tv in your rooms - also they have it in the lobby on a 50's style television - on the big projection screen in the "Jungle Room" lounge....my mom still makes fun of me because I couldn't get enough while I was there.....in the middle of the night I'd be in the jungle room watching his performances on that big projection screen.....it was amazing. Everyone there - atleast us true fans - were walking around singing the songs coming through the speakers - it was a great experience. I never felt so connected to someone as I did while there in Memphis at that hotel.......just like I feel here with you guys......you should all experience it atleast once in your lives there.

  4. #4
    Loving elvis
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    Quote Originally Posted by ksimms2 View Post
    Jen, where does this article originate from? I've stayed at Heartbreak Hotel and it was wonderful with Elvis everywhere! I mean everywhere! On the speakers throughout the hotel - on the 24/7 Elvis channel on the tv in your rooms - also they have it in the lobby on a 50's style television - on the big projection screen in the "Jungle Room" lounge....my mom still makes fun of me because I couldn't get enough while I was there.....in the middle of the night I'd be in the jungle room watching his performances on that big projection screen.....it was amazing. Everyone there - atleast us true fans - were walking around singing the songs coming through the speakers - it was a great experience. I never felt so connected to someone as I did while there in Memphis at that hotel.......just like I feel here with you guys......you should all experience it atleast once in your lives there.
    kelly it was the gold collectors news, l thought it was new news.

  5. #5
    Dovey's Avatar
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    I loved Heatbreak Hotel also, the pictures on the wall were awesome and there was Elvis everywhere... (Just could not get them off the wall into my suitcase LOL) Dovey
    Get Him, get him~~Hot D*** ~~ he's a Squirrel!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PI7WiBUN_Bw

  6. #6
    ksimms2's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Dovey View Post
    I loved Heatbreak Hotel also, the pictures on the wall were awesome and there was Elvis everywhere... (Just could not get them off the wall into my suitcase LOL) Dovey
    Dovey, me neither!!!! lol.....

  7. #7
    ksimms2's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by presley31 View Post
    kelly it was the gold collectors news, l thought it was new news.
    Jen it might be new, I've never read it myself.....was just sharing my Heart Break Hotel experience......I enjoyed the article. Thank you.

  8. #8
    PeacockLady Diane's Avatar
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    That was a great article Jen. Thanks so much for posting.

    Thank you Carole and Kelly for telling us your experiences at the Heartbreak Hotel. Sure hope I get there sometime.

    Diane

  9. #9
    TCB Mafia Princess franny's Avatar
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    I enjoyed reading that article! Thanks, Jen!

    franny

  10. #10
    Cadillac King TLC67's Avatar
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    Great article. I can't wait to go back!
    Maybe one day there will be a TCB-World gathering there.
    ...you're moving on the back roads, by the rivers of my memory and for hours you're just gentle on my mind.

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