Monday, April 6, 2015

Memphis,Tennessee and the Home of Rock and Soul

Our final stop on our winter trip was at Tom Sawyer's Mississippi River RV Park in West Memphis, Arkansas, where we spent a week.  It is right across the river from downtown Memphis, Tennessee.

When we arrived all we could see was flooding.

While the Captain went into the office I starting taking pictures.  Concerned, because I'm the Safety Director, I went into the office to find the Captain filling out the paperwork.  I voiced my concern and was told that the Mississippi had already crested and the area we would park in was on higher ground.  I mentioned it was supposed to rain again tomorrow and was shushed because rain has nothing to do with cresting rivers.   This was all coming from the manager of the park.  The Captain only said, "You make the call".

We decided to drive over to the parking area for our rig and saw this building on the left with an informational placard.  That made me feel good!

The roadway to our parking spot had areas under water along with small (newly formed) lakes on the sides.

As we got closer we saw a barge going down the Mississippi River.  Note where the road ends and the river begins.

Parked next to our spot were Dalton and Sharon Hill from Iroquois Falls, Ontario.  We chatted for awhile with Dalton and he felt the park was safe to stay at since they had arrived the day before.   As it turned out, we got to spend a nice afternoon with them over a bottle of wine and made more new friends from Canada.

Barges were going up and down the Mississippi.  The ones going up the river lumbered along, the ones coming down the river flew past our park. 

This buoy had been flung out of the water onto land.  See our rig (upper left corner) on the higher ground in the park! 

After the first night, with me waking up often because it felt like we were floating, the park looked the same.  The weather was spotty with rain and wind so we decided to do some reconnoitering of downtown Memphis.  We stopped at the visitors center to find out about the different attractions in the city.

Crossing the Mississippi.  The drive to Memphis is about six miles from where we were staying so it was a quick trip back and forth.

While in Memphis we stopped at a dog friendly restaurant called the Fuel Cafe.

It was a renovated garage with a menu of all natural foods including vegetarian, vegan and grass fed meats.  

I had a grilled walnut meatloaf sandwich.  It was delicious and much better than any veggie burger I've had in the past. 

The Captain had red bean and quinoa chili and he thought it was delicious.  We've bought quinoa before but never quite knew what to do with it.  Now we have a splendid idea.

This beautiful old church in the neighborhood had trees in bloom and our skies had turned blue.

Downtown Memphis could be seen in the distance.

We took the pups on a walk down Beale Street to see some of the local sights.

This building has a brick facade on the front and behind it is an open air restaurant serving drinks and food.

Beale Street is only a few blocks long and they have closed off most of the traffic so it is easy to walk through.
On the street are music notes representing all the great musicians in Memphis past.

How's this for a carriage ride.

Jerry Lee Lewis has a club there........

and the Captain and pups got their picture taken in front of one of his towne cars.

A band was starting to set up on the street.

Right off  Beale Street is the home of the NBA basketball team, the Memphis Grizzles,    

and a Minor League Baseball team, the Memphis Redbirds.

How's this for a stretch limo.

The next day the weather turned wet and cooler (again) so we decided to go to Graceland, the home of Elvis Presley.  OMG!!!

Waiting in line to take the shuttle across the street to tour Graceland along with all the other masses.

Each visitor is given headphones and an iPad for the tour.  The cost of the tour is an average of $40 per person and the mansion has over 600,000 guests per year.  You do the math.
Graceland is on 13.8 acres in a more established area of the city about 9 miles from downtown.

The house was built in 1939 and was 10,266 square feet.  Elvis Presley bought it in 1957 for $100,000 and  eventually expanded it to 17, 255 square feet.

This is the living room.  All the furniture was made especially for the house and was used by Presley for 20 years while he was alive.

Many of the rooms have mirrors on the walls so the rooms look larger.

On the first floor is the bedroom for his parents, Gladys and Vernon Presley. Shortly after Presley's mother died his father remarried.  His new wife started moving furniture around in the mansion and changing curtains and things that Presley's mother had originally chosen.  Elvis got so upset that one day a moving van showed up and took all of the belongings of his dad and his new wife and had it moved to another house away from Graceland.

The staircase to the second floor features Elvis' bedroom and two others.  The second floor is not open to visitors out of respect for the Presley family and partially to avoid any improper focus on the bathroom which was the site of his death.  The floor has been untouched since the day Elvis died  on August 16, 1977.

The dining room where Elvis entertained his friends.  Every room in the house had at least one TV.

The kitchen was fully equipped and always stocked with the items Elvis liked.

In the basement there is an entertainment center with multiple TVs.  The ceiling has glass tiles.

There is also a craft room with the walls and ceiling covered in the same cloth material.  It took professionals three weeks to decorate the room.  Presley had a pool table added for friends.

His 'jungle room' has green carpeting on the ceiling and floor.

The crafted furniture is in animal motifs because it reminded him of Hawaii.

It also has a little waterfall in the corner.

Outside are stables and pasture for his horses.

Horses are still on the property today.

One of the wings Elvis added is now used to display all of his music awards.

There are clothes from his wedding to Priscilla and

outfits from when he performed.

Another area was a workout and relaxation room alongside a racquetball court. 

When Elvis passed away his estate went to his underage daughter, Lisa Marie.  His father, Vernon, was assigned to handle the estate for Lisa Marie.  Two years later Vernon Presley died and Priscilla was placed in charge of the estate.  She found that there was only one million dollars left and back taxes were due.  It also cost $500,000 per year to keep Graceland going. Not wanting to sell Graceland, Priscilla hired a professional to manage and build on what Elvis had accomplished through his career.  Today the estate is worth over 300 million dollars and growing. 

The racquetball court houses more artifacts.

One of the additions to Graceland was a Meditation Garden that was used by Elvis to reflect on any problems or situations that arose during his life.  Today it is where Elvis, his mother, his father, and several other family members are buried.

The tour of the mansion was crowded and it pretty much felt like a cattle drive with all the rules and security people watching everyone. We had purchased the PLATINUM PASS which allowed us to also look at another building which housed recording studio memorabilia and an additional building that housed all his cars.  Mind you, there were other more expensive passes that allowed you to tour his two jet planes (one named Lisa Marie) AND if you really went for the big bucks you could get a special VIP tour of it all.  I was Elvis'd out after touring Graceland and decided we needed a drink so we left and found a nice brewery a few miles away.

This area of Memphis is called Overton Square and it is very trendy.

It was a cool area, we had some local beer and a good meal, and headed back home to the rig.  

After several days we finally got some nicer weather and were able to get these sunrises over the Mississippi.

The picture shows the detritus that was continually floating down the river.  

While I was taking pictures of the sunrise in a very strange outfit :) the Captain took this picture of me.  Thank goodness it wasn't a close-up.........I should probably break his camera.........

We picked another day to go see the Rock 'n' Soul Museum in Memphis which is very close to Beale Street.  The museum documents the life of the poor farmers and how the city of Memphis developed and grew into a music center because of their musical influence.  In the 1940's, most farm families in the countryside around Memphis were sharecroppers who grew and picked cotton.  On weekends, the sharecroppers, black and white, would mingle by sitting on the porch playing guitar and singing the blues.

Most sharecroppers' houses had no electricity so a battery operated radio was the family's connection to a larger world but the cost of batteries limited the use of the radio.

After World War II many sharecroppers left their farms looking for work and a better way of life. Despite segregation laws that limited interracial contact in daily life, blues, gospel, and country music could not be totally segregated because the appeal of this music crossed the color line.

Hand-crank record player from the 1930's.

Beale Street was at the heart of African American life and culture in the city of Memphis.  It was home to businesses that catered to blacks and served as a haven from the hostile places in other parts of the city.  As the city grew, many black institutions and businesses operated on or near Beale Street. It became the center of black music from clubs and cafes and street performers. A stunning variety of music played on Beale Street bringing attention to performers such as B.B. King and Fats Domino.

Wurlitzer Jukebox ca. 1946.
By 1955, rock 'n' roll music was emerging across America.  Musicians in the city mixed rural and urban blues, country, gospel, bluegrass, jazz, and rhythm and blues to create music that is still enjoyed today.  Sam Phillips recorded an amazing number of important performers at his Memphis recording studio, Sun Records, including the first Elvis Presley sessions, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Billy Lee Riley, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Riley B King (B.B. King) became a well known blues artist and in Memphis he honed his guitar style as he worked with local jazz musicians.  King named his guitars 'Lucille' and there is a story behind it.  In his early years he was playing in a jazz club that used a kerosene heater to heat it.  Two men got into a fight one night and kicked the heater over causing a fire. Everyone escaped the building but King raced back inside to fetch his guitar.  He found out later the two men were fighting over a women named Lucille so after that he put the name on all his guitars.  It was to remind himself to not be stupid and run back inside a burning building ever again.

Ike Turner was a gifted young musician who became a disc jockey as a teenager.  He used this piano to perfect his style and play his first national hit, Rocket 88, which was produced at a Memphis recording studio.  

Memphis is known by many as the birthplace of Rock 'n' Roll.  On July 5, 1954, Elvis Presley, a 19 year old truck driver from Tupelo, Mississippi, recorded "That's All Right" as his first commercially released single.  The song was aired two days later by DJ Dewey Phillips on Memphis WHBQ black radio station and released two weeks later.

In September, 1956, Elvis Presley performed on the Ed Sullivan Show.  Initially refusing to have Presley on the show, Sullivan compromised by only allowing him to be filmed from the waist up. Over 60 million people, 82.6% of the television watching audience tuned in to watch the show.  How many of us reading this blog remember that performance :)

The television program, American Bandstand, did more to domesticate rock 'n' roll in America than any other institution.  Due to southern segregation and influence over national programming, blacks and whites could not be portrayed as equals in social space.  The show did not integrate its dance floor until the mid-1960's.

One of the wildest rockers was Jerry Lee Lewis.  Accompanying him on a trip to England was his new wife, Myra Gale.  The international press soon learned that she was only 13 years old plus he still hadn't divorced his first wife.

A stage costume worn by Jerry Lee Lewis.

The diamond and emerald encrusted wrist watch designed and owned by Issac Hayes features his initials atop the piano in emeralds.  The piano lid raises to reveal the watch face.

In the 1950's the Civil Rights Movement generated social movements in the United States to end racial segregation and discrimination against blacks.  Surprisingly, there was less violence and visible resistance in Memphis than in many other areas of the South.  When Black Memphians staged sit-ins and protested school segregation whites grudgingly desegregated schools, polling places, and ended segregation in restaurants, parks buses, sporting contests,

But the leaders of Memphis refused to desegregate the unions so in 1968 the African American sanitation workers staged a walkout over unequal wages and working conditions imposed by the then-mayor.  Martin Luther King, Jr. had been to Memphis many times working with the Civil Rights Movement so he returned to participate in a peaceful demonstration.

Martin Luther King, Jr  was assassinated on this hotel balcony in Memphis on April 4, 1968, by James Earl Ray.

Since we were staying for a week, we decided to have an adults only (sans pups) evening in Memphis so we could go to the famous Peabody Hotel to see the duck walk and the nightlife of Beale Street.

It's a very beautiful hotel.

The mallard ducks live in the hotel and swim in the little fountain from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm each day.  The gentlemen in the red coat is the duck master.  There are huge crowds of people who come to see this duck walk , have a drink, and enjoy the moment.  The ducks walk to and from an elevator and reside in the hotel for three months until they are released to the wild.  

Below is a short video the Captain took showing the march of the ducks.  We were up in the mezzanine because that was the closest we could get and we arrived a good thirty minutes before the duck walk.

Just a disclaimer, we are not sure if either of the videos we added to this blog will work because Google Blogger says the blog has to be in Publish mode before they can be seen.  Apologizes, in advance if you can't see them......

After the duck walk we went over to Beale Street to check out the action.  It is a bustling place with people and music everywhere.  We walked along the street and stopped into a few places for a drink. Afterwards we looked for a restaurant that had an opening.  The first two we got into right away but we were never approached by a waiter so we finally left. The third restaurant was better and had a singer but it was still crowded.

The first place we stopped at for a drink.

We skipped this one.....

Young street performers entertained the crowds with their gymnastic performances.  They were really good!  The Captain also got a video of this one........with me almost in it :)

Near the end of our week we went to the Gibson Guitar Factory where they make some of the famous guitars.  You have to pay to go on the tour and we were disappointed when we found out you were not allowed to use cell phones or cameras during the tour.  But the work they perform is very intricate and flashing lights could cause injuries so we understand.  

The main lobby of the Gibson Guitar Company.

There were many beautiful guitars on sale.

I loved this advertisement.

They weren't giving them away.

The company also owns Baldwin Piano and this beauty was sitting in the showroom.

We took the pups on a walk along the riverfront park in Memphis and it was a neat area. 

On a bluff above the park and overlooking the Mississippi River were some very expensive homes.

In the distance is a pyramid that used to be a sports venue for the University of Memphis and another team but now it is being turned into a mega-Bass Pro Shop. 

This messy area shows how high the Mississippi River had recently crested.

One of the long bridges spanning the Mississippi River into Memphis.

Barges moving under another bridge.

People were getting on board for a river ride.

This building is called Beale Street Landing.

The roof of the building is made of grass and you can walk up it along the river walk.

The Captain walked up to the top with the pups.

Coming down the other side.

They had exercise equipment along the riverwalk and I've seen this exercise on 'The Biggest Loser' so I gave it a try.  You can really feel it in your arms but I got to 50 so that's not so bad.  

The next morning we got an early start heading home and caught this sunrise coming over the Mississippi River with Memphis in the forefront.  

And finally......two days later and a nasty storm in Alabama, we made it home with the pups and a sigh of relief.  It was a strange winter trip this year.  Losing one pup and gaining another who desperately needed a home, and uncooperative weather for the most part.  But we still got to see some RVing friends, make new friends, share many adventures with our blog readers, and have a safe and happy trip.  What more can you ask for.  Peace! 

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