SATURDAY - 10th
Taxi to the terminal zone (a
real taxi, to Manchester airport). Flight reasonably smooth except for
the lack of alcohol and the hostesses who resembled Godzilla the Hun.
Arrived early at Chicago so plenty of time for a 2 hour transfer taking
in our first burger. Plane delayed by 50 minutes which stretched to 2
hours. Pilot delayed for operational reasons – i.e. stuck at another
airport due to raging storm elsewhere in the US. Clambering aboard the
toy-sized 50-seater, the pilot announced it was a short flight but it
should be shorter because he would be racing to Memphis to beat the
approaching storm. Storm? Alan went very pale. The following day we
found out that several people had been killed in tornadoes.
Fortunately we had two children next to us which took Christine’s
attention off the storm as she scowled in anticipation of the screaming
and tantrums, which never came to fruition. As it happened, it was a
smooth flight for the first hour and then the captain ducked and dived
around the storm clouds and kept us smooth all the way to Memphis.
Picked up the Alamo hire car
from a choice of gas guzzlers, so we chose the smallest possible. As we
cruised Downtown, the rains started with a vengeance. Here we were, new
car, left-hand drive, dark, torrential rain bordering on hurricane,
jam-packed 5 lane Interstate, but we found the Comfort Inn with no
missed turns (thanks to Christine's wonderful command of left and right
turns). As the rain was torrential, we decided to leave Memphis
to the next day and went to bed. During the night, it became apparent
that the wind had got up and the hotel windows on the 14th
floor sounded like they were rattling out of their frames (or so Alan
tells Christine who, as usual, slept through the lot).
SUNDAY - 11th May 2008
Sunday morning – blue skies and warmth so we were down Beale Street by
8am thanks to jet lag. Not a soul around, apart from one pan-handler.
Walked on through deserted streets, past some historic (and not so
historic) blues sites and markers, to the legendary Sun Studios.
Look who was
on at the Orpheum Theatre, Memphis while we were there!
Britain's very own Eddie Izzard
Had an excellent tour at Sun Studios hosted by a young lady with a massive tattoo
across her chest (Alan suddenly found this very interesting). Saw the
exact spot where Elvis recorded and the alleged actual mike he sang
into. Heard how the million dollar quarter or Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis,
Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins had a jam session which was suppressed for
decades due to record company ownership. Needless to say there were
plentiful copies for sale in the shop. Plenty of photo opportunities to
pose with the mike.
Difficult to get these together now
Sun Street provided a free
minibus to Graceland and Downtown so we hopped aboard to go to
Graceland. Being a hardcore blues fan, I didn't have much
desire to see the mansion but gave in to the pleadings of my wife.
Graceland itself was an amazing experience with a frozen-in-time
snapshot of his life and home. Nowadays it would be tiny for such a
famous star but it was a very evocative reminder of the times and life
of one of the world’s first superheroes and the inability of himself,
his entourage and the world to deal with it. Seeing the family graves
within the mansion grounds was strangely moving and the memories of it
and him, stayed for a good few days. The whole thing is dreadfully
spoilt by the consumerism, and the low point for us had to be the
exhibition of virtually identical white jump suits. You also get to
see his personal planes and outstanding collection of cars. Every
possible item adorned with Elvis, and constant Elvis music and, let’s
face it, he did some fantastic stuff but there was a lot of dross in
Back on the free Sun Street
bus to the Memphis Rock and Soul Museum. The driver dropped us off
outside a stadium decorated with concrete sports balls and the driver
announced that he would pick us up by the balls in an hour. Alan
cringed, Christine giggled!
The Memphis Rock and Soul
Museum tells the story of the city through its music, with displays on
all the major artists who lived and recorded in Memphis. There was
also the opportunity to listen to a wide selection of tracks by
twiddling knobs on the displays.
In need of a drink we headed
towards the Peabody Hotel and got there by the most awful coincidence at
the time when the famous ducks were returning to their roof top home.
Yeah, it’s touristy but it was fun to watch them waddle down the
specially laid red carpet. We definitely needed a drink after that and
took advantage of the great dollar/sterling FX rate to order a couple of
very nice glasses of wine from the none-too-friendly waitress (think we
might have been a little underdressed in t-shirt and shorts – it was
Sunday in a top ranking hotel).
Walked back towards Beale
Street via some fantastically tacky gift shops and went to BB Kings
Blues Club for dinner. Live music was playing but we don’t know who,
with an 83 year old guitarist and a lady who shimmied well. Audience
participation was cringingly required, with 3 white ladies with no
rhythm climbing on stage to accompany the band. The food was
surprisingly tasty and we got free beer glasses to take home, yes, a
gimmick but they came in very useful over the next few weeks (of course
we couldn’t take them home with our ‘squash everything into our
Walked back to the hotel and
came across a film crew on the corner of Peabody Place and South Front
Street who were filming something to do with blue spotlights being
projected on the floor from a rooftop. The stills photographer
foolishly asked us to join in as he needed someone to photograph, so
Christine backed off with true English repression but Alan, fuelled by a
couple of Buds, obliged by dancing with the blue lights. There was
Alan, the stills photographer, a director and the actor with Alan
leading the way. Oh the embarrassment!
Back to the Comfort Inn
Downtown and in bed by 9pm (jetlag!) – by the way, we thoroughly recommend the
Comfort Inn Downtown as being very convenient (North Front Street), not
cheap but not too badly priced for Memphis, great views of the
Mississippi (above), lovely staff and breakfast included with secure underground
car parking facilities.
MONDAY - 12th May 2008
Took the riverfront tram for
a dollar downstream. Original old tram with no tourist trappings and
completely empty – rare! Great views of the Mississippi and takes you
through some of the historical industrial areas which are well off the
beaten path. Not the prettiest urban areas but lots of character. Good
ride and friendly driver.
Walked a couple of blocks
through the historical district to the National Civil Rights Museum on
the site of the Lorraine Hotel where Martin Luther King was
assassinated. The balcony and the room have been preserved and it is an
evocative and moving tribute. The museum is full of information and its
presentation is a bit hard work with lots to read. We had the audio
guide but this distracted from the dense text on the walls.
Nevertheless, we would thoroughly recommend it as part of the history of
this complex area and nation.
Walked up towards Downtown
looking for the Memphis Hall of Fame Museum but we couldn’t find it so
had an expensive coffee in a blues bar and then took the mainline tram
to the Slave Haven Burkle Estate Museum, based in a former way
station. Unfortunately this had closed the year before. That’s the
trouble with old guide books.
Walked back through the civic
district which is very impressive with lots of open spaces and
impressive buildings. Saw more TV film crews but Alan restrained
himself. Back to the Comfort Inn to pick up the car and set off for
Highway 61, heading for Tunica. Pulled off at the Horseshoe Hotel and
Casino in search of the much touted Blues and Legends Hall of Fame
Museum – only to find that this had also closed last year. Had lunch in
the casino buffet - all you can eat for $9.99 with excellent quality
food and loads of choice. Exceeded recommended daily (probably weekly!)
calorie intake (big time!). Very hot when we left the casino and
couldn’t get out without putting a whole dollar in a slot machine, which
we promptly lost. The only blues-related legacy in the place was a
couple of murals on the back side of the hotel. Noticed that BB King was
due to play there in June – at $100 a ticket! He was on stage free at
the Chicago Blues Festival!
Carried on down Highway 61
and pulled off at the Welcome Centre (the Delma Furniss Hospitality
Station to give it it's full title) at the junction with Highway 49 near
Lula. Alan had stopped off here on his last trip in 2006 and the
hospitality was just as good. Lovely lady called Linda gave us coffee,
leaflets and masses of information about the area including a special
blues carrier bag with info about the Mississippi Blues Commission and
the Blues Trail, a sample way marker and a 'limited edition' blues CD.
Now I was familiar with the work of the
Mississippi Blues Commission and
had trawled their website before embarking on our trip. The website was
evolving, as many of the blues markers were in the process of being
installed, so details of locations of the markers were a bit sparse. I
was relying on picking up local leaflets with more detail. Unfortunately
the leaflets didn’t give much more information so we were in for a
challenging locating the individual markers (Alan & Christine aka
Sherlock Holmes & Watson!). Since returning from our trip, a check on
the Commission website confirmed our thoughts - they now have simple to
follow local maps, so our advice is, if you want to do a similar trip,
you need to do your research before you set off by checking the
Having rested and thanked the
Welcome Centre staff, we set off again down the baking highway, on to
our next temporary home, the Shack-Up Inn at the Hopson Plantation.
Clarksdale, hub of the Delta blues