Friday, May 22, 2015

Adventures in the South - Memphis, Part 1

After a drive of about 3 hours from Nashville, soundtracked largely by a mega playlist of blues and country compiled on my iPod, we pitched up at our hotel in downtown Memphis, right across the street from the baseball park and a block away from the legendary Peabody Hotel, home of the Peabody Ducks (of whom more later).
After a brief wander around getting our bearings, our first stop was the Memphis RockN’Soul Museum.  Situated in the legendary Beale Street, and designed by the Smithsonian Institute, it’s . . . brilliant.  Especially in its early stages, it conveys brilliantly the overlapping, interweaving musical elements from gospel, blues, country and whatever else that that came together in the melting pot of the Mississippi Delta.  And it’s not just what it tells you and shows you – it’s what it lets you hear.  Like many museums, it provides a headset and headphones to guide you through the experience.  But in this case, it also allows you to select music from ‘juke boxes’ showcasing typical songs from each period. So as you progress through the museum you’re liable to encounter numerous people in ‘silent disco’ mode, getting on down to unheard music they’ve chosen to listen to.  Then next thing, you find yourself doing the same thing!
Homely decor in the Blues City Cafe
Closing time was approaching, and we were barely half done in the place.  But as we left one of the staff offered to endorse our tickets to enable us to come back the next day at no extra cost.  Now that’s customer service.
The evening began with ribs in the Blues City Café on Beale Street, before stepping next door to the Café’s ‘Band Box’ music venue, where we encountered a half decent Elvis tribute act – not an Elvis impersonator, but a young band serving up some energetic versions of the King’s hits.  Entertaining enough, and lapped up by some Elvis fans in the room, but it was time to explore.

A bit of wandering around the Beale Street environs ultimately brought us to Jerry Lee Lewis’s club, where we found a bunch of young guys doing a convincing job on a selection of blues, country and rock’n’roll – to an audience of about ten people.  The guitarist claimed to have played Carl Perkins in the recent Johnny Cash movie – whether he meant the acting part, or guitar on the soundtrack, I wasn’t sure.  But they put on a good show, with a degree of instrument swapping going on, and a cameo appearance from an off duty Elvis impersonator.  Pity the ambience was a bit dead, but a quiet night didn’t go entirely amiss, as we had lots planned for the next couple of days.

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