Memphis, Tennessee 9/1/2000-9/4/2000

Marc Cohn's "Walking in Memphis" could be the soundtrack to this trip. We saw many of the sights and people that he mentions in the song.

9/1/2000 - The Killer

Jerry Lee Lewis at Sam's Town River Palace Arena It was 102 degrees in Memphis. We stayed at the Best Western Benchmark Hotel on Union Avenue. It was a great location...walking distance to Beale St.. It was also very affordable ($75 per night). There was valet parking for a nominal daily fee, so we never had to worry about the rental car. The room was clean, but there weren't many amenities. It was fine for us, but if you want more luxurious accommodations in the same area, try the Radisson or the Peabody.

We drove to Tunica, Mississippi (about an hour ride) to Sam's Town casino. There is a strip of casinos in Tunica, and lots of big name stars perform there. We were lucky enough to be in the front row for a Jerry Lee Lewis concert at Sam's Town's River Palace Arena. Jerry Lee was on the verge of turning 65, but he could still rock and roll! He and his band delivered a wonderful set.

After the show, we headed over to Beale St. Being the Friday of a holiday weekend, it was packed. Two entire blocks were closed to traffic. There were bands inside the clubs as well as outside. There were also bars set up on the sidewalks. It was a huge party that didn't stop until 5 am. The Memphis Flyer has a good listing of the bands playing on Beale on any given night.

9/2/2000 - Memphis Music History

Sun Studios When we left the hotel in the morning, it was almost 11:00. We had heard about the "parade of the world-famous Peabody ducks" at the Peabody Hotel (right across the street from our Best Western) daily at 11:00. Not knowing quite what to expect, we walked into the lobby, which was mobbed. At 11:00, march music came on and an announcer welcomed everyone. The elevator doors opened, and the Peabody ducks paraded down a red carpet, arriving at a fountain for a swim. They spend the majority of their time on the hotel roof, but they are brought to the lobby fountain twice daily.

Steph posing with Elvis' microphone at Sun Studios (see Elvis pictured with same mic in the background) After that, we walked to Sun Studios. It was about a mile walk from our hotel. They give tours every hour on the half hour. It was very informative and entertaining. Although the studio is very small, they tell you a lot about its history, even playing some of the original recordings. Allow about 45 minutes for the tour.

After that, we walked back to our hotel. We ate lunch at Huey's on the corner of Union and South Second. Their menu boasts the best burgers in Memphis 16 years running. The ambiance is rather unique. Patrons put graffiti on just about every available surface, and use straws to shoot the toothpicks that hold their burgers together into the ceiling tiles.

We walked past Beale St. to the Memphis Rock 'N' Soul Museum. It had a great CD audio tour, and they had short films, antiques, and memorabilia relating to the history of rock, soul, and the blues in Memphis. You can go at your own pace (we pretty much saw and heard everything, and it took us about 3 1/2 hours).

After that, we walked down Beale St. and went into some of the shops. The most interesting was A. Schwab's Dry Goods Store, founded in 1876. They have overalls up to size 70.

We ate dinner at B.B. King's Blues Club on Beale, to the sound of the Killer Beez. The food was very good (meat loaf, biscuits and gravy, etc), and it was a fun atmosphere. People were dancing and trying to get others involved as well. They also don't rush you out when you are finished eating, so we stayed for several hours. We got there early enough to avoid a cover charge, and when we left they marked our hands so that we could return without a cover charge.

We then went out onto the street, and there were young men and boys doing gymnastics in the street. With no mats, they did flips for half the length of a block. The oldest one did one-handed flips. His grand finale was to line up ten kids side by side (squatting down). He did a backflip over all ten of them. It was amazing, and the crowd went wild.

9/3/2000 - Rev. Al Green, The Memphis Zoo, and a Riverboat Ride

Scan of bulletin from Full Gospel Tabernacle Entrance to the Memphis Zoo We drove down Elvis Presley Blvd. in search of breakfast. We went to a place called the Country Skillet (which we think was actually just over the Mississippi border). It was a very nice little diner, with great food, Southern hospitality, and great prices.

Then, we headed over to Hale St. in Memphis to see the Rev Al Green's Full Gospel Tabernacle church. The service was scheduled to start at 11 am We walked in at about 10:45. Visitors received a friendly welcome at the door, and we were urged to sign the guest book. We were then told to enter the church and sit wherever we wanted. We caught the last fifteen minutes of the adult Sunday school. One of the deacons came over and introduced himself to us. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. Then the band and choir began to play and sing. The band consisted of electric guitar, drums, and keyboard. A parishioner had brought along her tambourine, and played along as the choir belted out some beautiful gospel music. Everyone was on their feet singing and dancing. We had a wonderful time. Rev. Green sang so effortlessly, and he preached a wonderful sermon. He even refused to take offering money that Sunday, asking the congregation, "In what other church is the Word more important than the dollar?" At one point, all the visitors (about 20 of was even from Australia) were asked to stand, and the congregation applauded for us. At another point, Rev. Green asked for the guest book, and read the names of visitors and where they were from. "Where are Craig and Stephanie Smith from Craig and Steph on a Mississippi River cruise Peabody, Massachusetts?" He waved at us, we waved back, and then we got a round of applause. The service lasted for about 3 hours, but it absolutely flew by. It was wonderful.

After church, we went to the Memphis Zoo. It is really gorgeous. The zoo has an Egyptian theme. (Throughout the trip, I was wondering why so many things in Memphis have the Egypt theme (the zoo, the Pyramid Arena). I never made the connection between Memphis Tennessee and the city of the same name in Egypt). The habitats they have for the animals are unreal. The special attraction while we were there were a pair of young white tigers. They had great wildcat and primate exhibits. The gorillas are intimidating as that distance. Other highlights were meerkats and kimodo dragons.

After freshening up at the hotel (it was a hot day to be walking around the zoo) we drove the short distance down Union Ave. to the Mississippi River, to catch our Memphis Queen Riverboats barbecue dinner cruise. There were two enclosed, air-conditioned decks for eating. Each party was at a separate small table. The lower deck had a dixieland band playing, and the music was piped into the second deck as well. We ate a dinner of pulled pork, barbecue baked beans, and cole slaw, along with Frisbee-sized oatmeal raisin cookies. After dinner, we went to the open-air top deck, and enjoyed the night cruise down the Mississippi.The cruise lasted for two hours.

After that it was back to Beale St. to enjoy our last night in Memphis.

9/4/2000 - Departure

WDIA- first radio station with black on-air personalities Craig checked out while I walked down one block on Union Ave. to get a picture of WDIA which (as we learned at the Rock N Soul Museum) was the first black radio station. Interesting anecdote from the audio tour at the museum: all of the radio personalities were black, but they were not allowed to touch the controls. Rufus Thomas said that once in a while, when the sound engineer's girlfriend would show up, he would disappear for a while. Rufus Thomas took that opportunity to "turn the knobs" because he knew that someday African Americans would need to know how to do that as well.

Then we went in search of some authentic Tennessee barbecue for lunch. We found Noel's Bar B Que at 3024 S. 3rd St. Their menu consisted of "rib slab", "rib order", "rib tips", and "rib sandwich" (which turned out to be a rib order and two slices of Wonder Bread. There is a Wonder Bread factory on Union Ave., and it smelled like fried dough every time we passed it.) This barbecue was as authentic as it gets.

After that, it was off to the airport.

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