Elvis and Egmont
As I drink my coffee at 6.30am (ouch usually, but jet lag helps you get up!) on my little balcony in Jackson TN, enjoying the cool breeze before the 90 degree heat (that’s 32 if yer in Ireland!) I’m looking forward to the next 36 hours with one of my favorite Jacksonians Steve Bowers. Steve is THE radio and TV personality in Jackson, and has a speaking voice up there with the likes of the singing voice of Karen Carpenter and James Taylor. Steve knows everything about blues, gospel, how it became rockabilly, why the Beatles became obsessed with the sound of people like Carl Perkins etc…you get the idea. He knows everything. I know very little. Now: ask me about articulation in the music of the 18th century, whether this trill should begin ON the note or the note above, or quotes from Der Vollkomene Kapellmeister or some nerdy book like Forkel’s Allgemeine Geschichte der Musik and its implications for rhetoric in the music, and I’m the business! But questions about Sun Studios and the beginnings of Rockabilly? Hmmm…not as much…yet. But I know Steve will knock me into shape! It’s wonderful to know there is such diverse knowledge in all areas of music, and that you can be an expert in one area of this Art world, and be nowhere in the next. For now: I’m nowhere.
So why the interest you may ask?
Well, Jackson Tennessee is not only the home of my wonderful symphony orchestra, the now 60 year old “The Jackson Symphony” (Europeans get confused sometimes, but there are other Jacksons in the USA: like Mississippi etc, or JacksonVILLE Florida), but it is also the home of Rockabilly. Carl Perkins is from here, and the Civic Center where we perform is even named after him!
Steve picks me up at 8 am and we are in Memphis before 10am, waiting for Sun Studios to open. Sun is where Sam Phillips recorded the very first Elvis tracks. He actually recorded his first songs (love ballads) supposedly for his mother, before Sam overheard him sing the blues and told him to sing louder! That was “Thats alright Momma” and the beginning of a musical giant!
The girl giving the tour is super knowledgeable, and tells the few people in the studio that there were 3 microphones in the studio back in the day: and that THIS ONE (she pulls out a mic from behind some speakers, was THE vocal mic at Sun. Let that sink in: Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins etc etc…ALL sang into this one mic! We are allowed to hold the mic at the end of the tour. Geek moment!
On the way downtown we walk down Beale Street, THE center of African American music and life back in the day. Elvis shopped here and this street has a great vibe. At night it’s a hive of activity. We stop on the way at a food truck that has a smoker outside smoking ribs. Pulled pork sandwiches for me and Steve.
Silky Sullivan’s is the Irish pub that has pride of place on the corner of Beale. We already know where we are going after we check in to the hotel.
We are staying at The Peabody, an old swanky place with tons of history…and ducks. Yip: DUCKS. A good friend recently told me “Go to The Peabody! They have ducks that swim in the indoor fountain and then leave to go to their upstairs penthouse dwelling via the elevator”. A hotel that has ducks that travel in the elevator? I’m sold. And sure enough, there are the ducks as soon as we get to reception. I love it!
Ducks are fun, but Silky Sullivan’s is funner. One stop before though: to get a few cigars. Steve loves a good cigar and I love the chats we have. A cigar (we buy 3!) helps conversation, and we are in for a good few chats.
Steve fills me in on more history and we walk around Beale early evening and listen to all the sounds coming from the venues. Steve knows everything about each one…fascinating stuff.
Next morning we are up for Graceland. I have 3 goals: to see the Mansion, to get an Elvis t-shirt, and the non-plus-ultra: to see the jumpsuit he wore singing “The American Trilogy” in Hawaii. The concert from Hawaii was probably where Elvis was at his best. Steve confirms this. “Aloha from Hawaii” was 1973 and that concert is, for me, a “Freddy Mercury Live Aid” type concert. Particularly his singing of “American Trilogy”, and more precisely the moment before the trumpets blast 2 chords before the King sings “Glory Glory Hallelujah”, and even more precisely the half second where he knows he’s the King…wow. I wish my Egmont or Eroica had this!!
The mansion is fascinating, and I get my Elvis t-shirt. We enter the museum “Elvis’ Jumpsuits and it doesn’t take me long to hound dog (pun intended) my way to the right jumpsuit. Thank you…thank you very much…
We were planning on going to Stax recording studios, but we are exhausted from over 3 hours with the King. He seems to have always stayed humble, and by all accounts was a super fun guy, always doing silly stuff and acting the clown, like when Elvis and all his buddies got in the golf carts and took off down the highway outside his house, just for the laugh!
On our way back to Jackson, I feel like I’m more in touch with my surroundings, the music of this era, and the culture of this great area Tennessee. I’m also silently practicing some Elvis moves. It would work well for the beginning of Egmont…seriously...