Our first stop was in Memphis. There, we visited Sun Studios. This is the place where Blues artists were able to get “published” before blues became popular. It is also where Blues and Hillbilly music came together to become rock and roll.
Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis all started out here. These 4 were known as the millionaire quartet. You may have heard of the album they made together. Several other artists got their start at Sun Records, too many to mention here.
Oddly, it was selling Elvis’ contract to RCA that allowed Sam Phillips to keep Sun Studio open, clear his debts, and continue to discover new artists. After all, Memphis was the underground for racy blues and Rock.
From there we went to Jackson. Halfway between Nashville and Memphis on the old road, this city had a few gems for us also.
First, the cars from the movies. We were fortunate to find Rusty at the museum cleaning up. He showed us his prize possessions and told us which movie every one came from. There is a Delorian, Herbie, the Batmobile, General Lee, and many more.
Then we went to see the Rockabilly museum. That was an amazing two hour tour. Rockabilly was the term used in the early 1950’s for what we came to know as Rock and Roll. There is an incredible collection of 45’s, royalty certificates, newspapers, memorabilia, and wonderful stories from the volunteers who run the non profit museum.
If you know “the day the music died” made famous by Billy Joel, you will appreciate this gem. Of the Million Dollar Quartet, Carl Perkins was the one with experience and a great stage presence. So when came time for a debut TV appearance, he was the obvious choice. On the way to the show, his driver was distracted/tired and got into a bad accident. Carl suffered major injuries, but the show must go on. Number two choice was Elvis who made his TV debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. Had it not been for the accident, today we might remember more the Carl Perkins “original” version of Blue Suede Shoes.
Then we were off to Nashville to learn about Hillbilly music, as country western was called in its youth.
We went to RCA studio B. This is the bigger studio that Chet Atkins opened, after he started making big money with Elvis. Unfortunately, you can only see the studio if you take the full music city tour for which we did not have enough time. All we have are pictures of the outside
After that, we went to visit the Belmont Mansion. This is the largest city mansion open to the public. It used to be 20 rooms larger but the ends were cut off during major renovations. The estate used to span hundreds of acres, but now the house is surrounded by the university.
This was a tale of 3 marriages, several infant deaths, and a fortune that can only be imagined. Many parts of the mansion have been restored, undoing many years of so-called renovations to bring it back to its original condition. They were getting ready for a reenactment of the civil war battle of Nashville on the following day, so we got to see a few of those preparations.
No pictures are allowed inside so you will have to take a peek at their website above for a sample.
Then, we tried to find the Grand Ole Opry. Amidst all the commercialisation and Gaylord Opryland, the Opry is taking backstage to the Christmas fair going on at the moment. As we were not particularly interested /in the artists playing on that day, we went to visit Cooters and Willie Nelson instead. Those are two attractions immediately beside that take you back years in TV and music.
After that, we headed for the North Carolina border, completing 27,000 kilometres in our trip. Words of warning: check the topography before driving at night. The last 10 miles or so in Tennessee and the first 20 or so in North Carolina are in the mountains with sharp curves and long hills. These are best not taken tired at night. We found the first rest stop we could so we could finish that part of the trip refreshed in the daylight.