Lots of people told us that Memphis was dodgy and we shouldn’t even stop there. Nevertheless, we did stay for a couple of days and we thought it was rich in history and lovely. People were super friendly and there are tons of places very much worth a visit.
We were staying in Midtown, close to Overton Square which is a pretty popular area with plenty of bars and places to eat. After some shopping at Goner Records, we went to a country gig at Lafayette’s Music Room. It was pretty bad so we left for a punk gig supposedly at Murphy’s, a dive bar not too far. Well it turned out it wasn’t happening there but in another place, whoever put the event on the internet got it wrong. The locals at the bar were super helpful in directing us to the other place, Growlers.
Growlers is another pretty nice bar/venue, much bigger. When we got in, the first (one man) band, Slate Dump, had started already. Pretty good, then Hormonal Imbalance took over. Short set but very efficient, lot of energy. After them came Negro Terror, a 3 piece punk hardcore band, three black fellas, couldn’t help but think about Bad Brains. They were our favourite band that night, they killed it on stage. They did a couple of covers from fascist bands (check out Voice of Memphis, cover of Voice of Britain from Skrewdriver), changing the lyrics. It was obviously a political statement against racism and nazis in general. They had the largest crowd out of all the bands that night and I gotta say, it wasn’t that many people. The last band, Psychotic Reaction, sadly played in front of 4/5 people only. Shame cause they played some sweet 60s garage.
The days after, we checked out the Civil Rights Museum at the old Lorraine Motel, the place where Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated in 1968. Part of the Museum is about the life and accomplishments of Martin Luther King Jr, how he got killed and the investigation that followed. The largest part of the exhibit is about the Civil Rights Movement, from the times of slavery to modern days. It is extensive and super interesting, you could literally spend a full day there as there is so much information. It is a deeply moving exhibition and definitely a place to visit in Memphis. Also, just next is one of the Central BBQ restaurant. It is good, affordable Memphis style BBQ.
We checked Beale Street out and didn’t like it, just like every big touristy street in any city. Sun records however, was a lot of fun! Still a working recording studio at night, it is now a museum in the day time. Pretty interesting, the guide had plenty of anecdotes about what some would call the birth place of rock’n roll in the 50s. They also have on display the broken amplifier used to record Rocket 88, arguably the first rock’n roll song. That’s a funny story. In 1951, Ike Turner and the Kings of Rythmn were on their way to Sun Studio for a recording session when they got a flat tire. While dealing with this, the guitar amplifier fell off and got damaged. No time to replace or repair it so they just put some paper in the cracks to hold the cone. The distorted guitar sound was born, Sam Phillips liked it and kept it as is. You can listen to that song here. The guided tour ended in the studio itself, where some classics were recorded. We had the chance to stand by and hold an old microphone that was used by Sam Phillips to capture the voices of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and so on…
Another cool music place where we stopped at was the Stax Museum. It used to be a huge Soul label, one of the only place in that part of the country that was truly mixed with black and white musicians. Sadly, that kinda changed after Martin Luther King Jr assassination. Interesting place, full of original material and interviews.
Direction Nashville now, we had a great time in Memphis and got to learn a thing or two about American political and musical history…