Memphis, Tennessee: Part 3

While we have a short break in our gigging schedule, and before we head back into the studio to record the final three tracks for our debut album, we figured we’d wrap up our little series of blog posts from our visit to Nashville and Memphis last September.

As reported in an earlier post on this site we were in Memphis to record four tracks at the legendary Sun Studio but we also took a few days to hang in Nashville and Caroline spent a few days of her own having a whale of a time at the Muddy Roots Festival in Cookeville, TN. With a stellar line up including the Del McCoury Band, The Melvins, Hootin Hallers, Hillbilly Casino and JD Wilkes Caroline was in heaven.

A very happy Caroline at Muddy Roots!
JD Wilkes, with Mark Robertson on bass, giving the Muddy Roots crowd Blood on the Bluegrass.

Meanwhile Stuart and Greg, along with Lisa and Nicole, hit Broadway in Music City and took in a storming rockabilly show from Hot Rod Walt and the Psycho-DeVilles at Layla’s. These cats tore it up and we had a ball, drank too much and partied ’till the wee hours!

Hot Rod Walt and the Psycho DeVilles

Next day we slept late but eventually got up and about and went back down to the Strip to check out the Ernest Tubb Record Shop and the Johnny Cash Museum…and of course had a hair of the dog beer or three.

Ernest Tubb Record Shop at 417 Broadway

Ernest Tubb first opened his record shop in May of 1947 at 720 Commerce Street but moved it to it’s current Broadway location in 1951. Tubb operated the store as a mail order record business as well as a retail outlet and sold records here that were advertised on the Grand Ol’ Opry. The advertising time that he bought on the Opry broadcasts eventually turned into the live broadcast “Midnight Jamboree” shows at the store.

ernest-tubb-stage  This is the stage at the back of the Ernest Tubb Record Store where dozens of Opry legends performed over the years on the “Midnight Jamboree”…everyone from Ernest Tubb himself, Patsy Cline, George Jones, Hank Williams and even Elvis Presley. The stage outfits on display here belonged to a Who’s Who of Opry greats.

Going to the Johnny Cash Museum was a must. After all, The Wheelgrinders play four of Johnny’s Sun Records songs in our set…and we’ll most likely be adding “Hey Porter” and “Walk The Line”….so going to see the exhibits at the museum was amazing, everything from guitars and amps used on the Sun recordings, to stage clothes and contracts.

Johnny’s guitar, Luther Perkins’ Fender Esquire and amp and Marshall Grant’s bass.
Stage clothes worn by the great Carl Perkins
W.S. “Fluke” Holland’s Gretsch drum kit used on “Blue Suede Shoes”

On Saturday afternoon we went to Centennial Park where Emmylou Harris was performing a free show as a fundraiser for a local dog rescue charity. The show was great and it was fantastic to see so many people there enjoying the early fall sunshine with their dogs.

Emmylou Harris performing at Musician’s Corner

Stuart and Lisa hit the road for Memphis right after the show while Greg and Nicole hooked up for dinner with Duane and Deed Eddy. There’s a fantastic Indian restaurant called the Bombay Palace right by Centennial Park where they had a great dinner with this lovely couple. Duane has always been one of Greg’s 1950s Rock ‘n’ Roll heroes and he’s very proud to have Duane and Deed as dear friends.

Greg (looking a little bit worse for wear after several large Indian beers) and Duane Eddy.

Caroline was still at Muddy Roots on Saturday and Sunday, and Stuart and Lisa rolled into Memphis to meet up with some motorcycle buddies of Stuart’s on Saturday night. Greg and Nicole stayed in Nashville on Saturday night and then headed to Memphis on Sunday morning. Along the way they stopped in Carl Perkins’ home town, Jackson and visited Carl’s grave (See Memphis, Tennessee: Part 2 in this blog) and also went to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame was closed, being Sunday, but it was fun to take a few pics there anyway.

Entrance to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. Jackson TN
Outdoor event stage at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, Jackson TN

On Sunday night we all (sans Caroline) met up on the rooftop bar of the Madison Hotel in downtown Memphis and watched a glorious sunset over Ol’ Man River himself, the Mississippi. It was quite moving to be standing there, beer in hand, looking out over this Big River (nod to Johnny Cash again) and imagine that at one time 60 years ago Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and most likely Sam Phillips too, enjoyed that same view with a frosty beverage and contemplated where this ‘new fangled’ Rockabilly music would take them.

Sunset on the Mississippi

Later that night we hit world famous Beale Street, the Home of the Blues. It’s a bit sad that this iconic music street has turned into somewhat of a tourist theme park type attraction but that fate is far better than the forgotten and dilapidated Beale Street of the 1970s and 1980s.

Beale Street, Memphis TN

We dropped in to the Jerry Lee Lewis Cafe and Honky Tonk and watched a great couple of sets by Jason James. He pounded the keyboard and pulled a lot of The Killer’s poses and expressions and put on an all around killer show.

Jason James

…and then on Monday, with Caroline back with us, we all met at The Peabody Hotel before heading over to Sun Studio for our recording session. The Peabody is one of the South’s most iconic hotels, known as the Gateway to the Delta and famous for the Peabody Ducks who for over 80 years (many generations of ducks of course) have ridden the elevator down from their rooftop enclosure promptly at 11.00am every day and marched to the fountain in the middle of the hotel lobby where they stay until departing for the elevator and back up to the roof at 5.00pm.

The Wheelgrinders at The Peabody Hotel, Memphis TN
The Peabody Ducks

The Peabody is also famously associated with Elvis. It’s here in the ballroom that Elvis attended his Senior Prom in 1953 and where two years later in November of 1955 he signed his historic recording contract with RCA. Lansky Brothers, the tailors inextricably linked to Elvis, have their store at The Peabody. It used to be on Beale Street, and a new Lansky’s has recently opened back on Beale Street. It’s in the same building as the original store stood but isn’t the same storefront address. At both The Peabody location and Beale Street there’s a very cool selection of jackets, shirts, pants and shoes which are replicas of the originals made for Elvis by Bernard Lansky and the store is now run by Bernard’s son Hal.

L to R: Ed Sullivan Show jacket, Hollywood (Jailhouse Rock) jacket, Dorsey Bros Show jacket.

Greg had to add to his Wheelgrinders stage clothes while he was here so he picked up the Dorsey Bros Show jacket, having already bought the Hollywood jacket on a prior visit to Memphis. Next time he’s going home with the Ed Sullivan jacket.

The Hollywood jacket as rocked by Elvis (with Carl Perkins) and by Greg with The Wheelgrinders.

As documented in the Sun Studios blog posts we had an incredible time recording at Rockabilly Ground Zero on Monday night and we all said our goodbyes after a wee hours of the morning Memphis BBQ dinner on Beale Street. Caroline was heading back to Nashville on Tuesday to fly home to Vancouver that night and Stuart and Lisa drove down to Alabama to visit with friends before heading home. Greg and Nicole flew back to Vancouver from Memphis on Tuesday afternoon but not before squeezing in a couple more Rockabilly historic sites…the building that used to be home to the O.K. Houck Piano Co. at 121 Union Street where Scotty Moore bought his Gibson ES-295 guitar used on “That’s Alright” and on all of Elvis, Scotty and Bill’s early live performances in 1954 and 1955. It’s also where Elvis bought his first piano and Marshall Grant of the Tennessee Two bought his first bass.

121 Union Avenue. One time home of the O.K. Houck Piano Co.

…and a visit to the recording studio that Sam Phillips built after he vacated the famous 706 Union Avenue building in 1959…Sam Phillips Recording Service. Although this is still a working studio and not a tourist attraction Greg and Nicole were very kindly shown around by Jud Phillips, Sam’s nephew and son of Sam’s brother and business partner Jud Phillips. Mr. Phillips asked that no photos be taken inside the studio which Greg of course respected but it’s a pity that we can’t share with you what an amazing time capsule this studio is. Almost 100% of the interior is just as it was in 1959 and the studio still runs its analog equipment and is one of only three facilities left in the US which still has an operating vinyl lathe. Greg was happy to at least have a photo of the cool mid-century modern exterior of the studio. What a treat to wrap up the whole adventure!

Greg at Sam Phillips Recording Service, Memphis TN

Well that wraps up the Memphis/Nashville trip coverage for The Wheelgrinders. An unforgettable experience for us and we’re looking forward to sharing our Sun Studio recordings with you all on our upcoming debut album “Torqueflite Baby”. Stay tuned!

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