Sun Records is considered by many as the birthplace of rock-n-roll. For us, an opportunity to stand in the studio where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and so many others were discovered and recorded some of their most seminal works.
Located just outside of downtown Memphis, Sun Studios is a modest and unassuming building much smaller (and more crowded) than I had imagined.
We lined up and bought our tickets and jockeyed for position as we pursued the t-shirts and souvenirs in the main lobby which also serves as a cafe.
The tour begins upstairs in a crowded and makeshift museum of sorts with interesting memorabilia. We are joined by our tour guide Lahna who gave us an animated history of Sun and talks us through the legends one at a time. Later we learned that Lahna was from Port Townsend, WA and her guitarist/bandmate was from Anacortes, WA (my home town). Together they are Deering and Down. Small world.
Lahna leads us down to the original lobby and recording studio. It is here the gravity of Rock-n-Roll history hits us. X mark spots on the ground where sessions such as the Million Dollar Quartet (a chance meeting of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins) took place. At one point she told the guy standing next to me he was standing in the exact spot Johnny Cash sang and recorded Ring of Fire. A chill ran through my spine. She then handed me a mic, the very mic Elvis used to record some of his earlier songs. It was transcendent.
A good history lesson in Rock-n-Roll is best followed by some epic BBQ. Many people, hearing we were headed to Memphis, recommended we hit Charles Vergo’s Rendevous. We had also seen it featured on Man vs. Food. We found our way down an alley and then walked stairs into an underground restaurant through wafts of greasy smoke. OMG! These dry rubbed slow cooked charcoal ribs (and the side of bbq sauce for them) were absolutely amazing!
We had arranged for a 3 pm tour of the Gibson guitar factory just off Beale street a few blocks away. We waddled our way to Gibson. This is where Gibson’s hollow body and semi-hollow body guitars are hand built. It was a fascinating process (which takes about 5 weeks for each guitar). Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take pictures inside the factory during the tour. But I got a few shots from an outside window later and Clara got an opportunity to play a few of the bass guitars.
Post tour, we walked Beale Street looking for some live music. We found a good band at Club Handy and they bent the rules a bit so Clara could sit in the bar and watch the music.
After a set of music, we headed out to find Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken which we had also seen on an episode of Man vs. Food featuring their hot and spicy Memphis-style fried chicken. The city seemed deserted as we walked to Gus’s. However, once we opened the doors it was wall-to-wall people and a 30-minute wait. Well worth the wait for the chicken, the friend okra, and the friend green tomatoes.