Memphis is a city oozing with musical spirits, with the ghost of Elvis Presley topping the list. Although most people know Memphis as Elvis’ home at the peak of his career, it’s also the city where he grew up.
Perched on a bluff high above the Mississippi River, midway between Chicago and New Orleans, Memphis has for over 100 years been a melting pot of musical genres. Throughout the past century Delta Blues, Gospel, Jazz and Country music drifted into this port town, cooking up a musical stew that would eventually simmer into and Rock and Roll.
To gain an appreciation of the musical atmosphere that helped to form the future “King of Rock and Roll”, explore the Memphis of Elvis’ youth. The best way evoke the past is to climb into a 1955 Cadillac and cruise the city streets in search of memories. Ride along with Tad Pierson of American Dream Safari for a journey back in time. Bouncing on the vast bench seats with the windows down and the AM radio playing hits from 60 years ago, you’ll soon feel immersed in the 1950’s.
Along the way you’ll visit Lauderdale Courts, the public housing project where the Presley family lived during Elvis’ teen years. You can imagine him sitting on the front stoop on a hot summer night, strumming idly on a beat-up guitar. Nearby is Humes High School, were a young “Elvis Prestley” first performed in public, winning the school talent show in 1953. It’s ironic that his own school would misspell his name in the program.
Cruise past juke joints and barbecue shacks, where the succulent aroma of Memphis ribs offers what Pierson likes to call “psychic souvenirs”. Glide past Lansky’s clothiers and Beale Street where Elvis would develop his signature clothing style. Take a few moments to stop outside Sun Studios, and picture an 18-year-old lad timidly purchasing a session to record a song for his mother’s birthday.
But nowhere does Elvis’ presence seem to linger more than outside the Chisca Hotel. Now vacant and decidedly downtrodden, the Chisca was once the site of the famous “Red, Hot and Blue” radio show. It was here on the evening of July 7, 1954 that host Dewey Phillips first played Elvis’ “That’s All Right Mama”, sending Memphis listeners wild. The phone rang off the hook that night, and Phillips would end up playing the song 14 times in a few hours. Sitting in a big old Caddy across from the Chisca, with the warm summer breeze drifting through the open windows, it is easy to envision the future King lounging against the side of the building, snapping his fingers to the beat.
Thanks to Tad Pierson for showing us this unique slice of Memphis. To arrange your own American Dream Safari call Tad at 901-428-3602.