We’re back from our Memphis road trip and now that I’m sitting still in one place, I’m overwhelmed by everything I saw and felt along the way.
Over the course of ten days, we drove 2,600 plus miles, crossed 10 state lines, and looked back at the roots of American music (gospel, country, blues, soul, rock, rockabilly) in the south.
There were barbecue stops at Tony Gore’s Smoky Mountain BBQ & Grill (Sevierville), Jack’s Bar-B-Que (Nashville), and Blues City Cafe. David sampled plates of ribs while I ate all the sides (coleslaw, iceberg salads, french fries and cornbread).
We walked around Nashville and Memphis during 100 plus degree days that were hot enough to melt a plastic bottle in the car. We stood outside the Lorraine Hotel (now part of the National Civil Rights Museum) where Martin Luther King, Jr was shot on April 4, 1968. That place tore me apart.
It seems impossible to explain why in a sentence or two, but I’ll try. It tore me apart to stand below Room 306 where King spoke to the crowd minutes before the gun was fired and as I looked up at the balcony, I felt the sorrow and injustice over his untimely death and of the civil unrest that brought him to address the sanitation strike in Memphis that day.
I photographed everything I could and couldn’t see. Lines of history. Social and economic unrest. Songs that stitched people back together. A dozen rolls of black & white and color film, two videos, twenty instant photographs, plus a hundred some digital photos were shot. The film was dropped off last Saturday in Memphis to be processed so fingers crossed the film arrives soon.
The photographs I didn’t take are the ones that stay with me. The sixty year old woman hunched over a garbage can furiously unwrapping a hamburger from the local corner joint in the hot hot heat of Memphis. A group of guys sat on a curb outside an employment office smoking cigarettes and throwing empty shot bottles in the gutter. The woman with the gash on her right cheek covered in taffy pink blush who was kicked out of the fast food restaurant for spitting on the floor a number of times. After leaving the city, I hoped that I could tell the whole story, inside and out, or as much truth as I could gather as an outsider.
Inside the Ryman Auditorium (where Bill Monroe, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline among others helped shape country and bluegrass music and where the Grand Ole Opry was held from 1943-1974), Sun Studio (aka “The Birthplace of Rock ‘N’ Roll), the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum (history of how music pioneers overcame socioeconomic obstacles), the Stax Museum of American Soul Music (tells the story of Stax Records and that of American soul music), and Elvis’ Graceland (for total Elvis immersion), we traced the history of the Southern Delta through the echo of cotton fields where African American slaves sang rhythmic “field hollers” and white sharecroppers sang melodic Celtic folk tunes all the way to the present.
Here’s a little video I shot at Sun Studio, the same place where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis (called the Million Dollar Quartet) started out. Once when Bob Dylan visited the Studio, he kissed the “x” marked on the floor where Elvis recorded his first hit. I didn’t kiss the floor or the mike that Elvis used, although I secretly wanted to.
I’ll share more stories and photos as they come.
It’s good to be back, I missed y’all.