“I’m going to Graceland,” those famous words from the Paul Simon song, were excitedly sung randomly here and there as we ate breakfast on our last day in Memphis. Yes, indeed, we were going to Graceland where, it is said, Elvis lives. A beautiful estate that would have been relatively private during his twenty years there would not have been as restful in this day of paparazzi and social media, however Elvis crafted a home that had all of the components he needed to work and play without having to leave the grounds. From the carpeted ceiling in one of the main floor living spaces to a racquetball court and stables, Elvis lived the life with his family and closest friends. These days the estate is a mecca to young and old alike who come to walk in his shoes.
Our trip mascot was a mini-Elvis knitted for us by Sandy Robilliard. He went everywhere and was photographed here and there throughout the trip, but what better place for him to shine than at Graceland!
Next on our agenda was lunch at what has become a mecca for our band. The Four Way Grill was recommended to us by the people at Stax when we were here five years ago and the memories of the food cooked with love by Willie Earl Bates and his family have stayed with us so, of course, we had to make sure we visited this time. Southern Fried Chicken, Turkey, Burgers and the best Mac & Cheese you’ll ever eat were topped off by cobblers, cake and pie that none of us had room for but ate nonetheless because it just couldn’t be left behind. It’s no wonder this restaurant was a favourite of Dr. Martin Luther King and has been visited by famous people from far and wide. Their pictures decorate the walls along with memorabilia from another time making any visit an experience.
Last but certainly not least was a visit to the National Civil Rights Museum. Tying together several important components of music history as the world changed with the Civil Rights Movement, this visit was poignant and overwhelming in many ways. It’s difficult for our generation to understand a world so close to home that was so divided but going on the journey as we saw the story graphically displayed in articles, statues, posters, film and recordings beginning in the 17th century was a thought-provoking experience. The tour ends in the two rooms of the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King spent his last hours on April 4, 1968.
Back on the bus, we set up camp for the long ride home. One more band trip in the history books with memories of several recording studios from Detroit to Memphis, a music exchange at the Stax Academy, meeting Wayne and Amy Jackson, Boo Mitchell and Jody Stephens, the Jazz Combo’s once in a lifetime recording session with Boo, Graceland and the National Civil Rights Museum along with some of the best food ever. It’s a lot to take in but along with the large memories, the little details will come out over time as we remember a truly terrific band trip!
We’ve safely delivered our band kids home to their parents, tired but loaded with stories to tell. Enjoy your Mother’s Day together and catching up on some well-deserved sleep!
The term ‘fangirling’ is defined in the urban dictionary as “the reaction a fangirl has to any mention or sighting of the object of her "affection." These reactions include shortness of breath, fainting, high-pitched noises, shaking …” This Memphis trip has seen many of us use the term fangirling on a regular basis as one adventure leads to another equally fascinating adventure.
This morning began with a tour of Ardent Studios led by yet another icon of the Memphis music scene, Jody Stephens, formerly the drummer for Big Star and now part owner of Ardent Studios. We cruised through the studios hearing stories of who recorded in each studio, some of the challenges that needed to be overcome and listening to explanations surrounding equipment all delivered by a man who belonged to a band that became an important contributor to the growth of the music industry. Despite his busy schedule, he answered every question in a quiet, measured fashion and was happy to pose for a group photo before dashing off to his next meeting.
Next came a little retail therapy on Beale Street before a tour of Sun Studio where the likes of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash grew and developed into the artists we remember. A museum on the second floor houses pictures, clothing and recording equipment from back in the day while on the main floor, the still-functioning recording studio holds a treasure trove of memories that our tour guide was happy to share.
Last but not least on today’s itinerary was a return visit with the students of the Stax Academy. After a pizza dinner, students from SHDHS played for students from the Stax Academy before the tables were turned and we heard from the talented Stax students. Students from both schools happily sat in with each other as the performances continued under the watchful eye of Wayne and Amy Jackson who enjoyed every note of each piece. Several of the pieces performed by both groups were live streamed on Facebook so be sure to head over to our Facebook page and listen to the archived copies.
Back at the hotel, we prepare for one last day in Memphis.
Our second day in Memphis started out with a city tour with a twist. Our tour guide was a musician who entertained our group with live music as we toured we heard about the city’s history as well as the impact of the great musical history that built Memphis in so many ways.
Once completed we had lunch at The Arcade, the famous restaurant where Elvis was known to nosh on his favourite grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Many of us followed his example while others chose chicken fingers, pizza or club sandwiches. We took advantage of some good wifi to broadcast our first Facebook Live of the trip. Check out our Facebook page to see the archived copy.
Next up was a tour of the Stax Museum and a return visit with Wayne Jackson and his wife Amy. Wayne was one of the Memphis Horns, a duo that played on most of the huge catalogue of Stax recordings. A previous band trip was fortunate to connect with Wayne and Amy and enjoyed hearing about the fabulous history of Stax recordings so much that a visit to Memphis had to include a return visit with them. Wayne loves to connect with music students and never tires of telling stories about the heyday of Stax Records. We learned today that the famous ‘baa, baa, baaaah’ from Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline was Wayne playing his famous trumpet.
A quick, unplanned stop at the house made famous for Big Star’s record, “Keep An Eye on the Sky” provided a great opportunity for another group photo and a few questions from curious neighbours! Tomorrow’s agenda includes a tour of Ardent Studios led by Big Star drummer, Jody Stephens, so this provided a little tickle to carry us into that part of our day.
Dinner at B.B. King’s Blues Club was followed by a visit to Royal Studios where Boo Mitchell, the studio’s owner and producer of artists such as John Mayer, Snoop Dog, and Boz Scaggs, personally took us around the studio, played for us and told wonderful stories about artists who have recorded at Royal Studios not only during his tenure but during that of his father, Willie Mitchell. While most of our group returned to our hotel for some pool fun, the Jazz Combo stayed at the studio to record a session produced by Boo. What an enormous opportunity!
Bed will feel good tonight but everyone will have big smiles on their faces remembering so many details from today’s adventures. Stay tuned to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages to keep up with tomorrow’s activities.
Our tour started out with a whirlwind tour of three iconic locations in the Motor City. Things began - as they did 'back in the day' - at United Sound Systems Recording Studios (USSRS), the oldest independent recording studio in the United States, and a catalyst for change in the industry as we know it. Just being in the various studio spaces, and hearing about the unbelievable history in this building was incredible. Unfortunately, the building is in danger of being torn down to make way for an expanded highway, but there are a number of people who are fighting this action. United Sound Systems Recording Studios has a number of good friends including SHDHS Music Director Isaac Moore. Together with Carleton Gholz and a group of like-minded individuals in the Detroit Sound Conservancy, advocacy and preservation action has been ongoing over the few past years to historically designate the building and help save it from demolition. We will hopefully see the highway restructuring take a different path and spare the deep history that is United Sound Systems.
Our group had a terrific tour of the various studios inside USSRS. These rooms have seen artists such as Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Parliament- Funkadelic and the Red Hot Chili Peppers record hit after hit, and the spaces are still available for recording today. For more information about United Sound, visit unitedsoundsystemsrecordingstudios.com and for more information on the work of the Detroit Sound Conservancy, visit www.detroitsoundconservancy.org.
Next we were off to Hitsville, USA! Also known as Motown’s Studio “A”, where we watched a film detailing the history of how Berry Gordy built his multi-million-dollar business from an $800 loan. The original house in which Gordy lived and worked, grew to involve a block of houses before moving into a commercial building that could accommodate all of the functions that had been divided up in that block. Motown eventually relocated to Los Angeles, but not before recording and releasing hundreds of hit records that were recorded in the “Snakepit” in Hitsville, USA. “My Girl”, “Dancing in the Streets”, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted” and many, many more hits came from that little house on West Grand Boulevard. It was an honour to visit such an important place, and even do a little dancing and singing on the studio floor.
Before taking on the longest part of our journey we had a special visit to Third Man Records. Jack White, a native of Detroit and part of the famous White Stripes, opened the original Third Man Records in Nashville and then came home to open a large location in the Cass Corridor in Detroit that houses recording facilities, merchandise and performance space for music, poetry as well as art shows. The attention to detail, colour and function in the building made for a fascinating visit, and we all came away with a few goodies courtesy of Third Man’s staff. Some students even got to play guitar through the same amps that Jack White used on the Grammy awards in 2004!
A huge thanks to these places for making us feel so welcome, and sharing their incredible stories with us!
Ahead of us lies a long drive which should see us arrive in Memphis around 1:30 or 2:00 AM on Thursday. Stay tuned for our adventures on this blog and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We are having an amazing trip so far.