My First time in Memphis

Even though I spent four years in Nashville, somehow I never made it over to visit Memphis. No good reason why not, but I just didn’t. Not to worry, that deficiency would be remedied shortly.

Getting there by Hwy 61
I was advised that Highway 61 through the Mississippi delta was a worthwhile detour on my drive from New Orleans to Memphis, so I cut over to Vicksburg and then headed up 61 to Memphis.
MS sign (it’s hard to focus at 75 MPH)

View on Hwy 61
(shot of 61)
I guess the scenery was a little more enriching than the major highway would have been, but maybe I didn’t make the right stops or the right turns along the way. For the most part there wasn’t really all that much to see along highway 61. Oh, I did see this cool formation of birds flying across the sky:

birds(click for full size)

Dry Ribs at Rendezvous

rendezvous sign
I think I have tried dry ribs before – ribs that are coated with a dry rub of spices rather than a wet sauce. When I had them before, I was not impressed. Several people I asked listed Rendezvous as the #1 “must do” thing in Memphis, and their words were wise:

rendezvous ribs

WOW, these were just amazing. I think I shook my head several times while eating them – simply in disbelief at how good they were. My waiter up-sold me from a small order to a full order, and I am grateful he did so. I reiterate what my friends had told me, if you go to Memphis, eat these ribs!!

I sat at the counter while there, and wound up chatting with both of the guys who sat next to me. Both guys were friendly, but the second guy named Skip (from Charlotte) would enter the story again.

Beale Street
After dinner, I went to wander around Beale Street. It’s the happening area near downtown Memphis, even if it’s a little bit touristy. Well this was a Thursday night, and it happened to be Valentine’s night and after I had wandered down and halfway back up Bealle, I was about to conclude that it was pretty dead.

…then I ran into Skip again. Skip said there was a good blues band at one of the bars and offered to buy me a beer. I wound up hanging out with Skip for a few hours, checking out 3 different venues on Beale street and taking in some really good bands.

Venue 1: a straight-up blues band consisting of very talented musicians. They were doing a cool cover of “hey Joe” when we walked in, but promptly took a set break.
blues band 1
Skip & Flips
Before we left that bar, Skip recognized one of the guys who is a street performer and tipped him to give us a little performance of his flipping skills:
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Venue 2: Fat Elvis impersonator. A must-see when in Memphis
Fat Elvis

Venue 3: B.B. King’s Blues Club

BBs painting

Fantastic blues band, and the singer was really a great entertainer. She got a random assortment of people from the crowd up on stage to turn around and “shake their tail feathers.”

band at BBs

Back to Venue 1, where some of the members of the band had changed. I love that only the drummer is wearing a Tux:

venue 1 pt. 2

Here the guitarist on the left actually paused after the first song I heard to ask if anyone had a guitar pick. Such a Haber moment 🙂

Back to Venue 2:

It seems like nobody ever covers Prince, but this band did, and they did a great job with “raspberry beret”

prince cover

I called it a night after that one. I wound up having two late nights in New Orleans, and this one snuck up on me too, but I had to get some sleep.

Ducks at the Peabody

My brother-in-law gave me a post-it note with some Memphis “to do’s” and one of them simply said “ducks at the Peabody.” I didn’t really know what he meant, but I lucked out by walking through the Peabody hotel shortly before 11 AM. Apparently for years they’ve had trained ducks that walk across the lobby at 11 AM every day and then hang out in the fountain until 5 PM when they walk back. I timed it perfectly and saw the 11 AM duck parade. It was all over with pretty quickly, but it was an entertaining novelty and I’m glad I saw it while I was in Memphis:

duck parade

ducks in the fountain

Fried Chicken:

So many of my aspirations in these cities revolve around food. When I was at Rendezvous, I asked my waiter which of the restaurants remaining on my list I should try to hit. He stopped me mid list when I got to Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken, and said “go there.” So I did:

gus sign

the sign suggests no frills, the interior won’t change that impression:

gus interior

but the spicy fried chicken needs no frills – it was fantastic on its own merit. I imagined this would be the case, since Gus’s was packed.


Oh yeah, guess who I ran into at Gus’s?  Yup – Skip.  This wasn’t really a bizarre coincidence though – Skip had heard our waiter at Rendezvous raving about how good Gus’s was, so it’s not that surprising that we both wound up there again.  Thanks for lunch Skip!!

I had planned on heading on to Atlanta sometime that day, but there were still a couple of things that needed doing in Memphis:

Sun Studio

Sun Studio Outside

This is the famous studio where Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins (among others) have all recorded. When I got there, it was surprisingly small. I got there about 45 minutes before the next tour and figured I needed to miss it if I was going to make it to Graceland and then to Atlanta today. After I looked around and left, I had a change of heart and went back for the tour and it was an excellent decision.

I didn’t take many pictures in there ( you couldn’t use a flash for much of it), but the tour guide is what made the tour so great. He did an excellent job of explaining the significance of the studio to the industry (not Studios – just one room to record in). He also did a great job of playing snippets of various songs and explaining how they fit into the story of the studio. Here’s a picture of some old-school recording equipment:

recording equip

Elvis the Music Fan

Maybe my favorite part of the tour was when he talked about the Million Dollar Quartet. This was when Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins were all in the studio at the same time for a recording session. There are a couple of tracks where there is a dialogue of Elvis talking about how he went to see another musician named Billy Wharton who played “Don’t Be Cruel,” and how Elvis liked Billy’s version much better. I LOVED hearing Elvis break down the details of what he liked about this version. I hope Elvis’s lawyers don’t come after me, but here are the tracks in question. You’ll have to turn them up loud to hear the dialogue, but it’s worth it:

Don’t Be Cruel 1

Don’t Be Cruel 2

Don’t Be Cruel 3

MDQ pic

You can buy the whole “Million Dollar Quartet” album on iTunes for $9.99. I got caught up in the moment like a chump and bought it at Sun Studio for $21.

On to Graceland

Graceland sign

After how much I enjoyed the tour at Sun Studio, I decided that a trip to Graceland was a must. Tangent: If you’re a Flight of the Conchords fan, you might be familiar with one of the tourism posters hanging in Murry’s office. I think it says something like “New Zealand: don’t expect too much and you’ll love it!” This is about the same caution that I had heard from friends who had been to Graceland.

I’ll start with the good: I didn’t know much about Elvis before I went, and I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge Elvis fan. The tour of Graceland really did give you a feel for how Elvis was larger than life, and that he seemed like a genuinely good guy who deserved all the fame he found. The house is barely a mansion by today’s standards. It’s big and it’s nice, but it’s not really overwhelming. Also Elvis seemed to be a big fan of monkeys, so that raised his stock in my book:


The Bad: The tour was $32, and parking was $8. I don’t know how long this has been the case, but someone told me that Graceland was sold a little while ago to someone who has been trying to turn it into a money maker. I could definitely feel the cold hand of an MBA mindset here and I didn’t like it. There were several components to the tour beyond just the tour of the mansion, but they all seemed like up-sells to me. The overall vibe was just a little too much like Disney and too little like insight into a person’s life. The Sun Studio tour felt kind of intimate, the Graceland tour not at all.

So while I’m glad I can check Graceland off my life’s “to do” list, I would definitely advise that the Sun Studio tour is not only a better experience, it is a vastly better economical proposition. With all that said, here are some other pics from Graceland:

living room

Elvis’s Grave

More Ribs

By the time I was done at Graceland, it was like 5:30 and I knew I didn’t want to do the drive all the way to Atlanta that night. I was also hungry, so I figured I better eat some more ribs while I had the chance.

Corky’s Sign

My brother-in-law said Rendezvous is all about dry ribs, and time-permitting I should try the wet ribs at Corky’s. Ok.

wet at Corky’s

These were also really really good. Still there was no competition – Rendezvous wins hands down in my book. And I felt disgustingly full after Corky’s, but that’s not really their fault. It was just another piece of poor planning on my part as I was about to get back in the car for hours.

After dinner, I didn’t want to do the whole drive to Atlanta and arrive after midnight. I also didn’t want to stay another night in Memphis and have to drive all 7 hours on Saturday. After looking at a map I decided that Birmingham would be a good place for a pit stop. I made it to Birmingham before 11 PM and slept at a Holiday Inn. There are no stories or pictures from Birmingham, and I got on the road to Atlanta after breakfast in the AM.

Closing Time

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” I’m writing this from Atlanta now. The road trip is over, and my life in Atlanta has begun. I’ll follow up with some “closing thoughts” on the road trip and the “10 things I’m looking forward to in Atlanta” that I promised a while ago.

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