2021 Walking In Memphis Adventure

I had the most amazing adventure this past week. This will be the first of several posts I will write telling you all about it through photos and stories. Of course, if you found my blog after I finish all the posts for this trip, it will actually be the LAST one you scroll through, but you get the idea….I’m starting here and will add posts that will be specific to various parts of the trip.

To summarize……I spent a week (Monday – Saturday – 9/27 – 10/2) in Memphis. I stayed at the Guest House at Graceland – the wonderful hotel that is located on Graceland property. Throughout the week, I toured Graceland and the complex of things to do and see as part of the whole Graceland Experience, I took a Memphis City Tour, spent an “on my own” day walking around downtown Memphis, took a day trip via bus to Tupelo, Mississippi, and saw the Monkees in concert! It was one of the most amazing weeks I’ve had on an adventure…..of course, I don’t really have “favorites” when looking back at my adventures…they are all awesome in their own way, but some do stick out as more memorable than some of the others and I am absolutely sure this will be one of those.

So, this post will focus on Memphis…..I titled this post “Walking In Memphis” because of the song!

My plan for this trip was to do “all things Elvis”, which is why I stayed at Graceland. I wasn’t sure what else I would do. But, because of some of my core plans, I had a couple extra days to fill, so I searched for other tours and points of interest I may be interested in. I found out there is so much to see and do in Memphis!

First…..when I arrived I fell in love with the Memphis International Airport logo…….a plane at the end of a musical note! So cool…..really sets up your expectations about Memphis in general…..the birthplace of Rock and Soul music.

I got my bag and called the hotel for the shuttle…..imagine the smile on my face when it pulled up to pick me up and there was Elvis on the side of the bus waiting to welcome me aboard! More about Elvis and Graceland, later in another post.

On Wednesday, I took a bus tour with Memphis Best Tours. It included a City Tour and offered add ons of Sun Studios and a River Boat Cruise…..both of which I added on. It was a great tour!

The first thing I want to say about Memphis is that the entire city smells like BBQ!!! Wherever you are in Memphis, you can smell a big ole pig roasting nice and slow over a pit…..and that is definitely NOT a bad thing!!! The aroma kept me hungry the whole time I was there — I could have just ate and get a whiff of that heavenly smell and I wanted to scootch up to another plate full and chow down! I can honestly say I ate “like a pig” while I was there……I was scared to death of getting on the scales when I got home…..luckily, I walked so much that I was exactly the same as the morning I left! WHEW!!!

Our first stop on the tour was the Memphis Welcome Center for photo ops with statues of two of the Memphis greats – Elvis and BB King:

When we got back on the bus, Sam – our tour guide – asked us if we thought the Elvis statue looked like Elvis. We said, yes! But, then he told us that most ladies tell him that the Elvis statue really DOESN’T look like him….in the face! Hahaha – I went back and looked at my photo and thought, “I’ll be darned – it really doesn’t look like him….but, then I didn’t notice, cause I guess I didn’t actually look at his FACE!” hahahaha Then, Sam told us about a private tour he recently gave to a group of ladies and they wanted a group photo, but asked if he would take it with them gathered around BEHIND the statue – when he asked why, they said that it only looks like Elvis from the back side!!! LOL But…. I had my photo taken in front of it:

From there, we drove by several beautiful mansions built in the 1800’s…..I won’t try to make you believe I remember what each house represents – some important rich person in the history of Memphis, but I can tell you that they were all quite handsome buildings! Here are just a few of them.

The tour usually includes time to go inside and tour the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, but, of course, Covid restrictions prevents any public tours or visitors to the hospital. It was disappointing, but totally understandable……protecting the vulnerable children from this horrible virus is of utmost importance. We will survive it being dropped from the tour. We did, however, drive by it and our guide pulled over to give us the whole “tour speech”. What an impressive and huge place that is! Danny Thomas….and, now, Marlo Thomas…..have so much to be proud of. I hope that someday, I will have another opportunity to get to see more of it.

Statue of St. Jude

We drove by the Pyramid — more on that later when I get to the things I did on my “on my own” day. And, we also saw the big bridge that goes across the Mississippi between Memphis and Arkansas. Some say it looks like a big “M” for Mississippi or for Memphis (since the arches are on the Tennessee side). But, our guide said it actually was supposed to have two more arches that were never completed on the Arkansas side, so the “M” was not originally intentional. He also told us a story of when Mel Tillis was playing a concert at the Pyramid arena and went outside for a smoke break. He looked out over the river and gazed at the bridge and told the people with him that it reminds him of his good friend, Dolly Parton!!! LOL Apparently, it was a true story because Dolly was on a late night talk show after that and the host (forget which one) asked her about it and she confirmed that yes, she heard that her friend Mel did say that, but she didn’t know why!!! hahaha

After a few more drive by sights, we stopped at the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis. This is a world renowned luxury hotel — huge and simply gorgeous!!! But, the reason we stopped there was to see the Peabody Ducks!!! Basically, the story goes that in 1932 the general manager of the Peabody and one of his hunting buddies returned from a hunting trip and thought it would be funny to put their live duck decoys in the fountain in the lobby. It was supposed to be a prank, but the ducks became so popular with guests that they were replaced with five mallard ducks. In 1940, a bellman named Edward Pembroke offered to help train the ducks to march. He became the official Peabody Duckmaster until he retired in 1991. And, the tradition still goes on. Every day at 11:00 am, a red carpet is rolled out from the golden elevator to the fountain, an announcement is made introducing the ducks, the elevator door opens, and the ducks march down the red carpet and into the fountain where they swim all day until 5:00 pm when they march back to the elevator on the red carpet and are taken up the elevator back to their home on the roof of the hotel.

The Peabody ducks live in their Royal Duck Palace on the hotel’s rooftop. The $200,000 house is made of marble and glass and features a duck fountain. The palace is a replica of the hotel where the ducks can nest. It comes complete with a grassy front yard. Guests can go to the top of the Peabody to take in the views of the city and see the Royal Duck Palace – I didn’t do that, but wish I had…..next time I’m in Memphis, I definitely will. Here are some photos I took of the March of the Peabody Ducks……it was so much fun to watch!!!

A little blurry, but there they are exiting the elevator with their Duckmaster all decked out in a red bellman’s coat and cane.

After we were done at the Peabody, we were on our own for lunch. Our guide gave us a few suggestions that we could get served quickly, depending on what we had scheduled for the rest of the tour – some of us had to be back at the bus by 12:20 to make it to Sun Studios by 12:30, some didn’t have to be back to the bus till later to get to the Riverboat Cruise or be dropped off at hotels, if they weren’t doing either. So, I took advantage of one of his recommendations that was just up the street from where we were and had to be back to. I had my lunch at Huey’s……it is a family owned restaurant that is famous for southern comfort food. I had the shrimp po’boy with onion straws and sweet tea…..and it was amazingly delicious!!!

I made it back to the bus in time to move on to Sun Studios……WOW — what a wonderful tour that was!!! I am so glad I added it on to this tour. If ever in Memphis, that is one place (among many I’ll be telling you about) that you definitely want to be sure not to miss out on!!!

Sun Studios is the recording studio owned by Sam Phillips. Many of the original Rock and Roll and Soul greats recorded their records there……including, of course, Elvis Presley…….and, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and many, many more!!! To think we were standing in the very spot where so many legendary musicians stood gave me goose bumps and brought me to tears! It started out as the Memphis Recording Service – they allowed unknown artists to come in and record a record and it would be cut and ready for them to take home with them. At that time, it was not a formal recording label, so they couldn’t actually sell any of the records – it was a service for starting artists to get their talent on vinyl. Sam Phillips soon realized he should become a record label, which was when he turned Memphis Recording Service into Sun Studios……and, the rest is history!

The tour started upstairs in what was a boarding house back in the day – it is now a wonderful museum with displays of most of the pioneers of Rock and Soul. The guide told us stories and played snippets of music that was recorded right there. Then, we went downstairs into the studio, which is still exactly as it was when history was being made and has some of the same equipment and instruments available to view. There is also a gift shop in what used to be a restaurant next door.

The studio is still used by some artists – some very well known. But, the main studio has moved to another location and is the primary location for recordings, today. Here are some photos of the original Sun Studios:

Sam Phillips

The piano and spot where this fabulous quartet – the Million Dollar Quarter – got together by chance (Carl Perkins was just finishing a recording session when the others happened to stop in for one reason or another) and hung out for a few hours for an impromptu jam session on December 4, 1956……Elvis Presley (who had already left Sun for RCA at that time), Jerry Lee Lewis (who at the time was an unknown session musician), Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Sam Phillips recognized what was happening, called some local reporters and photographers, turned on the recording equipment – without the guys knowing they were being recorded, and it became a major event in American music history!

We weren’t allowed to touch anything…..except this microphone!!! It is the original microphone used by all the greats – they held it and sang into it!!! Sam Phillips left it in the original studio under the condition that it NOT be put behind glass and that it be out where people could take photos with it and touch it and feel the history it represents……so, I did just that!!!

After we left Sun Studios, some of us got on a Riverboat for an hour and a half cruise down the Mississippi River into Arkansas and back. It was a very nice cruise — not a lot of photos, cause there wasn’t a lot to look at on the banks of the river, but the captain did an amazing job of giving us a great history lesson and it was a gorgeous day to be out on the river.

We got dropped off back at our various hotels about 4:30 or so…..dinner time! So, I decided to take advantage of a tip I got first from a friend who told me Marlowe’s had great BBQ and then from our guide from earlier who was giving out suggestions for dinner. He said they had good BBQ, but also said that if we were staying at a hotel within a 1 mile radius of the restaurant (which The Guest House is included), that they would come to the hotel and pick us up in a pink Cadillac limousine for FREE!!! OK — I couldn’t pass that up!!! So, Marlowe’s for dinner…….I called and arranged a pick up time. The ride was super fun……and the dinner was AWESOME!!! I’ll tell you what I had when I get to the photo of my dinner!

My ride……

Not sure, but I think this is their food truck for events…..

They had an Elvis favorite – Peanut Butter and Banana sandwich as an appetizer….I thought – that’s cool and assumed it’d be bite-sized pieces (appetizer, right?) so I ordered it cause, well – it’s yet another “Elvis” experience…..but – they brought it out and it was TWO FULL sandwiches – with bacon on the side!!! WHAT??? I didn’t want to spoil my dinner, so I ate a couple bites just to say I ate Elvis’s favorite sandwich while I was in Memphis – can’t NOT, right? – and left the rest!!!

Then – for the main course – I had 1/2 rack of the most awesome ribs I’ve ever had with beans, slaw, a roll, and sweet tea…..I cleaned every hint of meat and sauce off those bones!!!!! It was soooooo good!!!

I got back to my room with a super full belly and an exhausted body…….I watched some TV to unwind and went to bed so I could rest up for the next day!

On Thursday, I took a taxi cab to downtown to “wander around” and see what I could find to do……I had a rough plan, but it was a totally unstructured day. Of course, the only day I was going to literally be walking around downtown Memphis, it decided to rain!!! I had checked the weather before I left Albion and it showed the forecast to be sunny and hot every day I was going to be there…..so, like an idiot, I didn’t pack an umbrella! I ALWAYS pack an umbrella, cause you never know what the weather is going to do……but, this time I didn’t……and I ended up having to buy one in the hotel gift shop! I got my umbrella, got the taxi, and off I went! I had been told to NOT go off on my own in Memphis……but, do I ever listen to good advice? Hahaha……actually, to be fair to myself, I wasn’t going to do that – I heard it wasn’t a good idea, so it was not in my plans. But, I talked to the shuttle drivers, the tour guide the day before, and the information desk at the hotel — they all told me I would be safe – to just be careful and stay in the main areas of town. They all also said that between being off season and Covid impacts, the city was fairly quiet and slow right now – no huge crowds – and I saw that on the tour the day before — everything looked very safe and comfortable. So, I went.

I had the taxi drop me off at the Civil Rights Museum – the museum is located at the Lorraine Motel – the site where Martin Luther King was shot. This museum is so incredible…..it not only marks the spot and details of that horrible day in our history, but it also serves as a museum of the history of the civil rights movement from slavery in America through to MLK becoming a leader in the movement and a voice of peaceful change and beyond his assassination. Very emotional……very somber……interesting and educational. An absolute MUST SEE when in Memphis.

Room 306 in the Lorraine Motel – a suite where King and his entourage stayed often when in Memphis – restored to look exactly as it did on April 4, 1968.

On April 3, 1968, King addressed a rally at a Memphis church in support of sanitation workers on strike – he gave his “I’ve been to the mountain top” speech and those who heard the speech said he clearly predicted his own death.

The evening of April 4, 1968, King stepped out onto this balcony and was fatally shot by James Earl Ray using a high powered rifle from the bathroom window of his room at the boarding house across the street. I believe the small window above the white doors is the window in the next photo.

The bathroom window in the boarding house where they believe James Earl Ray stood when he shot Martin Luther King on April 4, 1968.

The view from a window next to the bathroom where James Earl Ray stood looking across the street to the balcony where Martin Luther King stood when he was shot.

After I finished the Civil Right Museum tour, I asked the gentleman at the entrance which way should I head to walk to the Rock and Soul Museum. He said…..oh, don’t walk it….it’s pretty far! I said, but I thought it was like a block and a half……he responded that it was more like two blocks, but it is raining…..I said I have an umbrella —- I thought, two blocks with an umbrella isn’t a big deal – it wasn’t going to be the last I’d be out in the rain for the day! So, he said “OK, be careful” and pointed in the direction I needed to go and said to just go straight down that way. So, I started walking……after about three blocks, it didn’t look like I was headed to anything remotely like where I wanted to be and it wasn’t a very pleasant part of town. So, I took out my phone and opened my maps app and plugged in the Rock and Soul Museum address……it said I was still a ways away, but I was committed, now, so on I walked — down a few more blocks that way, turned and a couple blocks that way, and turned again and there it was another block down!!! I was pretty wet and winded when I got to the Rock and Soul Museum and went inside and sat down……I told the guy at the desk that I needed to sit a minute cause I just walked from the Civil Rights Museum! He looked at me wide-eyed and said, “that’s quite a walk”! I told him I was told it was two blocks – he shook his head…..and, I joked that if that was two blocks, than I must be 9 feet tall, instead of 5 feet! LOL Anyway — I got there — it was probably a better idea to take the trolley, but it didn’t seem like a problem based on what I was told…..but, you know what they say about hindsight…….and, all those who told me it wasn’t safe downtown were giving me little “I told you so’s” in my head!!! LOL But…..it all worked out!

So….the Rock and Soul Museum is another amazing museum — a MUST SEE!!! It was crammed full of the history of Rock and Soul music! I got a audio thing that let me plug in a number for whatever exhibit I wanted to learn more about and I got a detailed story and clip of music. There were also several vintage jukeboxes throughout that represented various decades that you could plug in numbers and sit to listen to all the songs you wanted to! It was amazing!!!

Just one of several vintage jukeboxes with songs from each decade

Instruments and exhibits from all the greats…..and opportunities to listen to their music

And lots of costumes actually worn by various legends…..like this one from Sam The Sham – that’s his motorcycle, too! I was excited to see this exhibit — I loved Sam The Sham and the Pharohs!!! Wooly Bully…..Little Red Riding Hood…..and more!!!

After I got done with this museum, I walked another block to Beale Street and wandered around there for a while…..it was pretty quiet for a Thursday afternoon, but it was a rainy day!

Corner of BB King Blvd and Beale Street

Like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, all along Beale Street are these brass music notes embedded in the cement with the names of all the legendary musicians that got their start in Memphis.

And, I stopped for lunch at BB King’s Blues Club……highly recommended!!!

I called a few days before I left on the trip to ask if they required reservations and if they were open for late lunch / early dinner. The guy that answered was super nice with a strong southern accent……he said they always take walk-ins and yes they were open for lunch. I told him I was wondering because the website was a bit confusing and I hoped I wouldn’t need a reservation because I wasn’t exactly sure when I wanted to go. He was so cute — he responded with “well, I recommend you come when you’re hungry and I recommend the ribs”!!! LOL

Legend has it that the reason BB King names all his guitars “Lucille” was because of a brawl he witnessed in 1949 in a downtown Arkansas bar. As he performed apparently two men began fighting over a woman named “Lucille” causing a burning barrel to be knocked over and setting the bar ablaze. He left the bar, but realized he left his $30 Gibson guitar inside, so he went back in to retrieve it. He not only decided to name THAT guitar Lucille, he gave all his guitars from that point forward the name.

I had the fried dill pickles, the rib sandwich which was meat stripped from slow cooked ribs and topped with slaw, seasoned fries, sweet onion hush puppies, and sweet tea. It was amazing!!! Sooooo good!!! I think Marlowe’s ribs were just a tad better, but the ribs in both places were the best I’ve ever had and it would be hard for me to prove my theory that one “might” be just a bit better!

Then, I went to a few gift shops to just look around and went to the trolley station. I was told that the Bass Pro Shop Pyramid was something I shouldn’t miss out on seeing. My first thought was – WHY??? I wasn’t interested in anything a Bass Pro Shop had to offer. But – multiple people told me to go see it, so I did! It was on the River Front, so I had to take the trolley — it is a wonderful public transportation around downtown with three routes and only $1 per ride or you can get a day pass for $2! Can’t beat that! And, it gave me yet another Memphis experience!

This was taken from the Riverboat Cruise from the day before……

Apparently, this was built in 1991 as a huge 20,142 seat arena – it is 321 feet tall (about 32 stories) and has base sides of 591 feet. It is the 10th tallest pyramid in the world!!! It was originally used as a sports and entertainment venue, but hadn’t been regularly used since 2004. In 2015, the Pyramid re-opened as a Bass Pro Shops “megastore”, which includes shopping, a hotel, restaurants, a bowling alley, and an archery range, with an outdoor observation deck adjacent to its apex. The hotel – Big Cyprus Lodge – boasts an indoor camping experience like being in a swamp. The decor of the entire pyramid is very swamp-like and even has live alligators swimming under the walkways. It’s all pretty incredible!

I asked how to get to the observation deck and I was directed to the elevator — he said “if you miss it, you’re probably blind because it is the tallest free standing elevator in the world!!! I got on the elevator – that you could see out of to overlook all the cabins and camping areas of the lodge on the way up – and walked out onto the observation deck. The views of Memphis and the Mississippi River from up there were amazing……too bad it was raining and cloudy – it could have been even more incredible!!!

I called for the taxi to come back to get me from the Bass Pro Shop and take me back to the Guest House to end my day in downtown.

I absolutely LOVED downtown Memphis and am sooooo glad I took the tour and then did an “on my own” deeper dive into a few points of interest. It was an amazing two days. And, it was perfectly safe…..well, other than that one not so wise decision of walking from the Civil Rights Museum instead of taking the trolley, but even that worked out just fine. If I hadn’t gone, I might have missed out on some incredible experiences.

That’s all you get, for now……I know this was a LOT — but, it was only two days of my week in Memphis!!! No way I could have done it all in one post — probably should have broke this one up into more than one, but wanted to keep the “Memphis” parts in one place. I’ll probably do three more posts – one of Graceland and one of Tupelo and one of the Monkees concert……don’t hold me to that, though – I may decide to consolidate or break them down into more……we’ll see how they go when I get to them!

Keep an eye out for “The REST of the Story”…….hahaha!!!

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