For many years I’ve being wanting to make the trip from Castlebar to Memphis and for one purpose only. To visit the King’s home and pay my respect to his grave in Graceland.
Elvis Presley was a big deal in the Hoban household when I was a young boy. From watching All of Elvis’s 31 movies at one point or another and learning that his best movie was King Creole. Even Elvis himself had referred to this as his favourite film role.
The movie synopsis involves the character Danny (played by Elvis) who is Denied his high school diploma because of a schoolyard fight, Danny Fisher is unsure how he’s going to support himself and his unemployed father (Dean Jagger).
He briefly flirts with a life of crime before a club owner (Paul Stewart) hears him singing and offers him a job. Things look promising until rival club owner and Danny’s former boss, Maxie (Walter Matthau), tries to lure him back with threats and the charms of his sometimes-girlfriend, Ronnie (Carolyn Jones).
The film includes two of my favourite Elvis tracks called ‘Trouble” and “Hard Headed Woman”.
Elvis puts in one of his best performances here and Walter Matthau stands out in his role as the main villain of the movie. You could say the movie was Elvis’s ‘On the Waterfront’ moment.
My parents and I never thought Elvis was a great actor but in this particular movie he really shined, and although we still enjoyed watching his other movies if only to hear his songs being performed.
I used to dance around the living room of our home in Rathbawn in Castlebar listening to Elvis and my parents would often speak to me about Graceland and the wealth and music surrounding it.
So when finally I had a chance to visit Memphis I took the opportunity to make this dream happen. When I began to look into the logistics of getting there I realised that I could also spend a couple of days in Nashville as the journey was only three hours away by bus which I will talk about a little bit later.
Let me talk to you about my experience in Memphis, I often found that the city was a little confusing with almost every street named after B.B.King. I found it overwhelming at times. But I wasn’t here for B.B. King, I was here for the King.
Let me start by saying that visiting Graceland was one of the best experiences I have ever had as a tourist. The day I arrived into Graceland I was expecting to see lots of Elvis impersonators. But no , this was not to be the case. I arrived at the main ticket desk where we we’re met by our wonderful tour guide named Mike. Mike explained to the group that we would be ushered across the road in a shuttle to the short trip to Graceland. Let me explain, there is a museum of Elvis memorabilia which is situated across the road from Graceland where you meet your tour group and guide. This area also includes two of Elvis’s planes including the “Lisa Marie” which Elvis named after his daughter.
So our tour began by boarding the shuttle bus over to Graceland. As we drove up through the main gate into Graceland I began to notice the huge land surrounding the Graceland house and the house in the distance looked much smaller than I expected.
It was a beautiful day and I realised that all my dreams we’re about to come true and I also felt like I was honouring my mothers memory as well who had past away just over a year or so ago. My mother was a huge Elvis fan and would always speak of Graceland as the palace of Rock N ‘Roll. Three things in music my mother loved and would often speak about when I was growing up we’re Elvis, Graceland and Abba
We drove up the drive way and got out of the shuttle bus, Mike our tour guide, spoke to us about the history of the two lions that are situated on both pillars at the front of the house.
When Elvis purchased Graceland in 1957 he would often drive by a house in Memphis that had two large stone lions situated outside. Elvis was fascinated by the lions. Then one day Elvis knocked on the door of the house and offered to buy the statues of the lions for one thousand dollars each and the owner agreed to the offer and then Elvis had them both moved to Graceland and this is where they have remained ever since.
When entering Graceland the first thing I had noticed was that distinct smell of a house that had not being lived in for a long time. You know that stale smell of old furniture and carpet, you recognise it almost immediately and you would know that the carpet and furniture isn’t exactly new. But in saying this, the first two rooms we see look immaculate. The first room we are introduced to is the Living Room area which looks pristine and you can see the piano and the long white couches surrounding the room. It’s almost all white (including the Piano).
It is at this moment when I began to get a little emotional and I began to think of my mother and how she would have being so happy to know her son had entered into the house of the King that is Elvis Presley. I felt in a way, I was honouring her memory as well. She remained on my mind a lot through out the tour.
We are then introduced to the dining area where Elvis and family would have sat most evenings to have dinner and where Lisa Marie would have ran around the table and played fun and games with her mother and father. The room really was fit for a king. The expensive cutlery and the marble floors we’re something to behold. The photographs on the wall leading into the dining room area included a picture of a young Lisa Marie and Priscilla Presley were very eye catching.
But what caught my eye the most was the picture of Elvis at the bottom of the stairs which showed him with almost blonde fair hair. Elvis original hair colour was fair haired and not the jet black that we all know of.
We are then ushered through to the kitchen area of Graceland which I really found fascinating. This is a really cool lay out for a kitchen I thought. I loved the old school decor and the lighting of the room.
Next we brought downstairs to the basement area of Graceland to what is known as the Jungle Room.
Elvis added his tropical man cave to his mansion in the mid-’60s. Its jungle atmosphere came complete with a built-in rock waterfall and green shag carpet, and he furnished it with ferns and lacquered wood furniture. It was the ultimate at-home tiki bar.
Elvis called the Jungle Room “The Den.” It was renamed the Jungle Room in 1982 by a famous American photographer. The name Jungle Room was coined when Graceland opened to the public in 1982.
The Jungle Room also became the King’s final recording studio, where he recorded much of his last two albums.
Graceland could be considered the mecca of American mid-century kitsch, but the Jungle Room is truly its best signifier. Its tropical trimmings are reminders of a bygone trend in luxury, now largely considered silly and over-the-top. It was allegedly a favorite place of Elvis’ and his family’s, and the room’s tiki vibe is said to have reminded him of his time spent in Hawaii.
There is so many cool areas to see inside and outside of Graceland, one of these was Elvis’s very own shooting range. Elvis loved guns and would often have a shooting range out at the back of the house. He also believed in strong law enforcement. He respected the police and often attended a lot of law conventions.
Elvis has a luxury pool area and the land surrounding Graceland is at least thirteen acres.
We also got to see Elvis’s pool room which was really cool and decor surrounding the entire room was something to believed.
One of the most fascinating rooms for me personally was seeing the room where Elvis had three TV sets installed into the wall and seeing his seven inch record collection. It was a bright yellow coloured room that almost like a futuristic scene from Stanley Kubrick movie.
Most of the tour Requires a tour at Graceland to view, however you can visit the meditation garden where The King rests for free without a tour.
I did the VIP tour which also included being brought into room to see a lot of Elvis’s personal items including a Saturn belt buckle that Elvis worn at one of his Vegas shows, luckily I got to handle the buckle with gloves.
Once the tour was finished at Graceland we were allowed to get photos from the front of the building but as you can see I broke a few rules and took quite a few pictures from inside and outside of the house. We we’re then ushered across the street once again to visit The Museum of Elvis Presley where we could see most of Elvis ‘s legendary car collection and clothes collection.
All in All the entire tour was a magical experience for me and I highly recommend that you do the VIP tour of Graceland but it will set you back two hundred euro to do so. It was well worth it. Before we left Graceland we made sure to pay our respects to the king but the tour had one last gift to fans.
We we’re brought into a room to where on display was a number of Elvis’ gold plated belts, and to my surprise each member of the tour had the opportunity to hold the Saturn belt that Elvis would have worn at one of his Vegas show!!
This was one of the highlights of the tour and I was so happy to have being given the opportunity to be able to go and do this.
Finally just before we left Graceland to head on over to the museum across the road I made sure to visit the grave of the king to reflect on the day and pay my respect.
After we visited Graceland we we’re brought to The Museum of Elvis Presley where we got to see Elvis’s love for his cars. Elvis had a wide range of vintage cars and motorcycles. This is a really cool part of the tour.
It was fascinating to see Elvis love for cars, I must have counted at least 30 cars on display. And I mean these were probably some of the most expensive rides I have ever witnessed on display !
I spent at least an hour viewing all forms of automobiles that he owned and I wondered how many times he drove each one.
Once we got through the car section we were brought into another room where all of Elvis’s costumes were on display. One of the rooms looked like a scene from Blade Runner. A lot of the clothing on display involved costumes from Elvis’s movies.
I could have spent hours in here lurking around but I simply didn’t have the time. I have so many more photos from the Museum on my Facebook page if you would care to check them out.
Part 2: TUPELO MISSISSIPPI
The following day I took a trip out to Tupelo Mississippi which is an hour and a half drive to see where Elvis was born. It was an overcast but warm day.
Our first stop at Tupelo was the hardware store where Elvis’s mother brought his first guitar for him at the young age of eleven. The hardware largely remains the same that included mostly DIY equipment.
We then took the short trip to where Elvis was born. The house was built by Vernon Presley, Elvis ‘s grandfather and his uncle. Elvis Aaron Presley was born here on January 8th 1935. It is a very small house that consists of two rooms (bedroom and kitchen area) and we got a short five minute tour inside of the house. Just around the corner we took a short walk to where Elvis went to church and would often sing. It really was fascinating to see this area.
This part of the tour also includes a quick visit just around the corner from Elvis’s birthday to the church where Elvis used to visit and where he would first sing in front of an audience.
It was hear where Elvis would have got his gospel roots and where he would sing as a child. While his fans worshipped him as a rock’n’roll deity, Elvis Presley would say a prayer before going on stage, reading the Bible and looking to God for guidance in everything he did, his stepbrother has recalled.
Elvis grew up in the heart of the Pentecostal South at East Tupelo First Assembly of God, where his parents met and his great-uncles were co-pastors.
I got to take a look inside the church where we we’re introduced to a short documentary on a screen that explained how a normal Sunday service would take place. Sometimes these services would begin in the evening and last sometimes up to midnight.
I have to say, I’m not a religious person at all but I did very much at home here and there was a moment when i imagined that I was back in a time when these gospel services took place.
SUN STUDIOS: Part 3
The following day I took a walk around Memphis and ended up in the legendary Sun Studio.
Sun Studio is known worldwide as “The Birthplace of Rock’n’roll”. It is the discovery location of musical legends and genres of the 50’s from B.B. King and Elvis Presley to Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, from Blues and Gospel to Country and Rock’n’roll.
It was here where Elvis Presley walked into Sun Studio and recorded his first hit with ‘That’s All Right”. My father would often tell me about the famous sun studio where Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins along with Elvis Presley , Roy Orbison and B.B.King would record some of they’re greatest hits. It is a legendary recording spot around the world and it is one that influential music person should visit to knock off the bucket list.
The studio was opened by legendary producer Sam Philips in 1950 and saw hundreds of legendary blues and soul artists record throughout 1950 to 1969.
In 1969, Sam Phillips sold the label to Shelby Singleton, and there was no recording-related or label-related activity again in the building until the September 1985 Class of ’55 recording sessions with Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash, produced by Chips Moman.
A trip to Stax Studios Memphis: Part 3
Most of you who know me well will know that I am a huge fan of soul music and I was not going to miss an opportunity of visiting one of America’s great record studios and sound museums,
The Stax record label launched and supported the careers of artists such as Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Sam & Dave, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Wilson Pickett, Albert King, William Bell, Eddie Floyd, Jean Knight, Mable John, and countless others including spoken word and comedy by Rev. Jesse Jackson, Moms Mabley, and Richard Pryor.
So you can understand why I had to come here. The museum itself was brilliant and it gives you a huge history of the artists the label recorded.
I was also very lucky to see the original Hammond Organ that Booker T & The M.G.’s recorded the track ‘Green Onions’ on.
HEADING UP TO NASHVILLE: Part 4
After a few days in Memphis I decided to get the Greyhound bus and make the three hour journey up to Nashville. I was really excited about this part of the trip as I always had fond memories about hearing stories about the Grand Ole Opry and the music scene surrounding the city. I got into Nashville about 10:30am on a Monday morning.
I didn’t know where everything was situated in Nashville so I decided to just take a walk around the city and make my way to Downtown Nashville to the area known as ‘The Strip”. Once I got onto The Strip I was automatically overwhelmed by the amount of live music coming from every window and every venue throughout the strip. I check out a number of venues including Kid Rock’s Honky Tonk Venue. I must say on the first number of bands I watched live I wasn’t stunned or amazed by the quality of the acts.
A lot of the acts consisted of mediocre cover rock bands that for me were only okay.
It wasn’t until I was put in touch with a member of the Mee family from Castlebar called Cameron Mee. Cameron who is originally from Australia has family in Mayo that include John and Alan Mee. I spoke with Cameron and he agreed to meet on my second day in Nashville. Cameron has lived in Nashville for a Almost a year and a half and he knew the exact venues that I should check out good American country music.
We met up and went to a Couple of venues that had some really good live acts. Two of the venue I highly recommend are Layla’s and Tootsies along with ‘Robert’s Western World’ where I got to see the legendary guitarist John Bollinger perform with a full band. Man these venue’s put on some great bands.
Thanks to Cameron I would not have known these venues existed. So I am very thankful to the Mee family for encouraging me to check them out and I highly recommend you do the same if you ever get to Nashville. All in All this was a wonderful trip, I take away with me many great memories and finally getting to see the home and birth place of one of my heroes. I met a lot of new and interesting people in my short time and this trip will belong in my heart forever