I grew up on Elvis. My mom loved him and his music could often be heard playing around the house or in the car. Soon, I got to know all the lyrics and could sing along to his smooth, soulful voice. Even though he died before I was born, like many others whose parents who grew up listening to and loving Elvis Presley, I always felt like he was a singer for my generation as well.
So this summer, on a road trip to Tennessee, I decided to stop by a couple of Elvis Presley’s famous spots.
Our first stop was Sun Studios, where Elvis was first recorded. The studio is found in an old industrial area that looks pretty run down, but in 1950, Sam Phillips started the studio here. At first, he was just a recorder. He had a portable set up and would travel around recording anyone and everyone, but the new blues style of music was his favourite. He was doing all these recordings, but getting no credit, as the artists were taking their demos and getting signed by labels. This led to the decision to start Sun Studios. Elvis first came in to record a few songs for his mother at 18 years old. Sam didn’t like him, but the woman at the office, Marion Keisker, loved him. Over the year, he kept coming back to record songs and speak with Marion, and eventually sang something Sam liked. In 1953, he signed him. Over the next two years, Elvis recorded 5 hits before being sold to RCA. Sam needed money at the time for one of his many lawsuits to save the studio and knew Elvis would do well with RCA. For 25 years, the studio sat empty. Then in 1984, they started recording there again at night. During the day you can take a tour, and at night everyone from U2 to Maroon 5 comes in to record. The recording studio is still exactly the same as it was when Elvis recorded there. It was also where Million Dollar Quartet was secretly recorded on December 4, 1956. Elvis liked to stop by and see how things were going when he could and one night he was there with some Sun Studio artists – Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis. They all started jamming, and Sam secretly recorded this session, but legally couldn’t use it for anything as Elvis was under contract with RCA. So it remained a secret until the 1980s, after Sam sold the studio.
The tour here was interesting. There was so much memorabilia from the start of blues and rock and roll, the recording industry in Memphis, recording equipment over the years, and then of course Elvis Presley and other big names like Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Down in the studio, all the instruments were left just as they were – the old microphone, the same lights and tiles, right down to the X on the floor where Elvis and others stood to be recorded here. Everything has remained frozen in time. It was a very cool place to explore and get some photos with the famous mic!
You can check out more from my time at Sun Studios here:
From here, we continued on with our Elvis tour of Memphis by heading over to Graceland! Here, you need to book your tickets and wait for your tour to begin. So as we waited, we wandered around the plaza, filled with souvenir shops and restaurants. We grabbed lunch at the Rockabilly Cafe. I ordered the grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich, one of Elvis’ favourites – and it was delicious!
The tour is an interactive one. You get a tablet and headphones as you board the bus to cross the street and enter the gates of Graceland. It wasn’t as big as I had imagined – not like the mansions today’s superstars buy, but it was a nice home. He bought it in 1957 when he was 22 for $100,000. We turned on our tablets to start the tour and were greeted by John Stamos – Elvis superfan Uncle Jesse! This made the tour even better. So Uncle Jesse guided us through the house, telling us about each of the rooms on the main floor and in the basement. The tour didn’t go upstairs, as that was their private family area and they’ve decided to keep it that way. Both Priscilla and Lisa Marie Presley also talk and share memories of their time in the home and with Elvis. There are lots of home movies, photos and news clips included as well.
After making your way through the house (which still looks like something from the 1960s as the decor was never changed), you head out to the backyard, carport, into Vernon’s office, past the stables and into a building all about his career. It’s packed with gold records, awards, photos, movie posters from his 31 films, costumes and clips from various stages of his career. Such a talented man. While he received a number of Grammy nominations, he never won one for Rock and Roll – only for his Gospel albums. There were also bits about his time in the army, meeting Priscilla and their wedding, and then baby Lisa Marie. There was also a plaque that mentioned all his charity work. He gave to over 100 charities and was always helping those who needed it, paying debts, medical bills etc. Just a good, caring man. Moving on, we headed into the racquet ball court where there were more records and a collection of his famous jumpsuits. The last stop on the tour was the meditation garden, where Elvis is buried alongside his parents and grandmother.
Seeing him smiling down from all the photos, with that sexy one-sided smile, listening to him talk about his life, his music and his family, and seeing clips of him performing live to adoring crowds definitely made me understand more what all the fuss about Elvis was (and still is!) He certainly earned his title – King of Rock N’ Roll.
Plan your own Elvis Tour of Memphis
Graceland– For more information or to book your own tour of Elvis’ famous home visit www.graceland.com . Hours vary depending on time of year.
There are numerous packages to choose from when visiting Graceland, from the regular tour to a VIP entourage tour, ranging in price from $38.75- $80.
Sun Studios tour – $12. Open 10am-6pm, tours are given at the bottom half of every hour from 10:30am-5:30pm. Free shuttle to Graceland & The Rock N’ Roll Soul Museum and free parking behind Sun Studios. For more info visit www.sunstudio.com