Letter From The Field: The Heart Of American Music & Culture: Visiting Memphis and the Surrounding Area

Booker T.  and Arnie GoodmanWhen you say “Memphis,” most people think Elvis Presley; however, it is much more than that. Elvis’ greatness had a lot to do with the area, the richest place in America for music. Right down the road from Memphis is Tupelo, Mississippi, where Elvis grew up. Mississippi produced the men who built the foundation for American music: Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf, BB King, Albert King, John Lee Hooker and Sonny Boy Williamson, to name a few. Over the years Mississippi has revived blues history and Clarksdale has turned into a real destination spot; with Morgan Freeman’s fine blues club Ground Zero, the Delta Blues Museum (which houses Muddy Waters’ log cabin), and of course the famous “Crossroads” where 61 crosses 49 and the legend of Robert Johnson was born. But the real gem of the town is “Reds,” an authentic juke joint that really transports you back into the past. You can take the blues trail right through Mississippi.

The beat of the area comes from the Sam Phillips Memphis Recording Service, Sun Studio at 706 Union Ave, Memphis. The first rock and roll song came out of there, “Rocket 88,” by Jackie Brenston and the young Ike Turner. Sam Phillips brought you all kinds of music and artists, from Elvis, Roscoe Gordon,

Howlin’ Wolf, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Charlie Rich, Roy Orbison to Rufus Thomas, and the list goes on. It is still an active studio and one of the most famous addresses in the USA.

Clothes and style are well represented at 126 Beale Street, home of the Lansky Brothers Men Shop, which clothed Elvis and all the musicians who set the style of the ’50s. It is still in business today inside the legendary Peabody Hotel. Go in and ask for Hal; he will give you a history on the store and sell you some great clothes.

If you like barbecue, Memphis is the place—there is only great barbecue in Memphis. I have barbecue every meal when I’m in town, and bring cases of barbecue sauce back home with me. Recommended places to check out include Blues City, Rib Rendezvous, Corky’s BBQ Shop, Interstate, and Neely’s.

The soul of the area is found at Stax Studios (the feature story in Elmore). Today, Stax is a museum built on the original spot at 926 East McLemore Ave. It is truly the best museum of its kind, as it brings you back to the days of Otis Redding, Booker T. & the MG’s, Albert King, Isaac Hayes, and Sam and Dave.

The Memphis Area is the past, present and future of American Music. Anybody who wants to get a good look at real American culture must pay a visit to the area; this is only a small taste of the region.

Oh, by the way, the most famous music shrine in the world is in Memphis: Graceland.

—Arnie Goodman

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