Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Memphis, Part 1 - The National Civil Rights Museum, Sun Studio, Peabody Hotel, and Beale Street

On December 28th, we drove to Memphis, TN for a two-night, three-day stay.  Here's what we did the first day.

First of all, to fortify our bellies for the drive, we stopped at the Loveless Cafe outside of Nashville.

We came here last year, and we had been hungry for it ever since.

Around 11am, we rolled into rainy Memphis.

After we bought 1pm tickets for Sun Studio, we went down the street to the National Civil Rights Museum, at the Lorraine Hotel.

The Lorraine Hotel is, of course, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968.  

The wreath obviously marks the exact balcony location of the assassination, outside MLK's Room #306.

My in-laws observe the exhibits in the museum across the street from the hotel, in the building where the shot came from.

A diagram of the location of people other than the purported shooter James Earl Ray, moments before the murder.

The recreated bedroom that Ray stayed in.

A child looks across the street to the Lorraine Hotel.

The fatal shot was believed to have been fired from the bathroom.

Another part of the museum is inside the Lorraine Hotel, but it was closed for renovations.  The balcony was open, however (if you had a museum ticket).

The gun used for the assassination (sorry for the reflection).

The bullet extracted from Dr. King.

The building from which the shot was fired; the exact window is the shorter one in the center right.

It was time to explore the motel.

My brother-in-law led the way.

I almost felt sacrilegious walking where MLK was shot.  

Room 306, preserved to how it looked when MLK walked outside around 6pm.

The closed-off entrance to the Lorraine Hotel part of the museum.

Just before 1pm, we headed back down the street to Sun Studio, the birthplace of rock and roll (sorry, Cleveland).

A small sampling of the musicians that have recorded here.

Nothing much has changed, other than the tourist throngs.  The studio hasn't been consistently used (it was at one point owned by a plumbing company), but it has been open again as a studio since 1987.

The lobby, looking towards the street entrance.

Now that's a toilet.

U2 recorded Rattle and Hum on this AKAI 12 track recorder console at Sun Studio.

After starting the tour, we walked upstairs to a small, museum-like exhibit hall.

Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash = the Million Dollar Quartet, at Sun Studio in 1956.

I found it surprising that Sun Studio has Elvis Presley's high school diploma, and not Graceland (which we would visit two days later).

The highlight of the brief tour was going downstairs into the small, preserved (and still active) studio itself.

My wife, holding the same microphone that Elvis and others held.

Devoted fans have been known to literally lick the mic.

Inside the studio.

The studio.

This was our first time in Memphis, so we walked down to Beale Street in search of ribs.

We'd stop by here later in the evening.

A rainy Friday on Beale Street.

We realized that our desired ribs place was not actually on Beale Street, but two blocks away, in an alley across from the Peabody Hotel.

Charles Vergo's Rendezvous is probably the most famous ribs joint in Memphis, although locals seem to despise it.  We asked people (tourists like us) leaving if the ribs lived up to the hype, and they proclaimed "OH YEAH."

The interior, beneath the street level.

My father-in-law with a beer from local brewery Ghost River.  Great suds.

Yours truly and my lovely wife.

Ribs = before...

...and after (burp).

We then walked the half block down the alley to the Peabody Hotel, which is famous for having ducks swim in their fountain from 11am to 5pm.

The ducks are quite the tourist attraction, believe me... you'd think we'd never seen a duck before.  I'm as guilty as the next tourist!

Roughly a half dozen ducks are treated like royalty.

They even have their own full-time duck master.

Yes, that's right...

The ducks literally have their own red carpet.

Children line up eagerly to see the ducks leave for the day.

At 11am, the ducks come downstairs via elevator for a six hour swim, and at 5pm sharp they head back upstairs for the night.

If you want to see them, get there at least an hour ahead of time to get a drink and a good spot (preferably a bourbon and a couch like we had).

Nighttime in Memphis meant one thing = Beale Street.

We tried a few different places, starting with BB King's Blues Club, on the corner of Beale and Second (the "start" of Beale Street).

The house guitarist was quite the showman.

Later, we spent a good while at Mr. Handy's Blues Hall, where the cover band was quite talented.  The place reminded me of a blues version of Preservation Hall in New Orleans.

Lastly, we went to Silky O'Sullivans, a prominent Irish bar.

Unlike other Irish bars I've been in, they have a piece of the Blarney Stone (that off-color square above the sign).  

The singer got mixed reviews from our party - I really liked her (though she was intense), but I was essentially alone.  Ah well.

Coming up = a day-trip to the land of Clinton.  Stay tuned.

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