4/8/14 Tuesday in Middleton,TN (Cherokee Landing-TT)
Naturally we wanted to see the studio that gave Elvis his big break, Memphis Recording Studio (and Sun Records). It’s a small brick building, easy to fly by. Which we did. So it took some circling to find their free parking. Inside there is a cafe! Great images and records on the walls. Of course we needed to use the restroom before the tour ($12/person). I loved the sign over the toilet.
It was really Sam Phillips who was looking for new talent and managing his studio on a shoestring. After graduating in 1953 from High School (the first in his family) Elvis got a job delivering appliances. He came here to make a custom recording (for the great price of $3). We’ve heard it was for this mother’s birthday but that’s unlikely because her birthday was months before and at this point in their lives they were too poor to own a record player. Elvis recorded a song called “My Happiness”. Sam was totally unimpressed. Elvis hung out at the studio for over a year until Sam finally let him make a professional recording. After a long night of country ballads, nothing excited Sam. As the guys were taking a break Elvis began to fool around with a “Crudop blues” song called “That’s All Right.” Sam thought he had something. This was like no blues song he’d heard before. (Blues was his real interest as well). On to our tour of the upstairs. Excellent tour guide, well worth the ticket price. The upstairs is like a museum of artifacts of the early years at Memphis Recording Studio (later also Sun Record Studio). Then we were taken downstairs to the actual recording studio – used by Elvis and even people today like U2. Yes, anyone can still record here.
To survive, Sam would record anything – funerals, bar mitzahs. He found other blues talents prior to Elvis: Ike Turner (Rocket 68) was a breakout song. Notice there are 2 holes in it.
The recording studio, just as Sam built it. The man is posing by the original mike that Elvis used (now in retirement):
Time for lunch so we took the shuttle to the Rock and Soul Museum, then searched (via an Urban Spoon app on my phone) for a good place to eat. We got it at Miss Polly’s Soul City Food. Downtown seemed pretty empty (this is the famous Beale Street) so I figured everyone was still sleeping in from playing/listening to music all the night long. The food was great: I had fried chicken, navy beans, black eyed peas and cornbread. John had a pulled pork sandwich and sweet potato fries.
Back to the Museum. We had audio devices to listen to as we walked around looking at the various exhibits. Oh yes, the Gibson guitar factory is right across the street. Guess this is a crossroads for lots of music. The story is that the poor white tenant farmers and black farmers sang of their sorrows and lived near one another – a patchwork of farms. Rock and Roll put the 2 kinds of singing together. Music was one thing they could all enjoy – with radios that had batteries. This was their only entertainment, including the Grand Old Opry. It took a long time for electricity to reach the rural areas (FDR began such a program). There were black radio stations and all women radio stations. Dewey Phillips was a wild disc jockey- well loved by his audience. He first played Elvis’ “That’s All Right” recording. He got so many calls he played it all that day long.
That’s all for today, folks!