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Memphis report

6/17/2003 1:06 AM
Lee M.
Memphis report
A few weeks ago I asked about the $10 Gibson factory tour. I decided not to do it but did visit Graceland, Sun Studios and the Rock 'n Soul Museum (a Smithsonian exhibit) at the Gibson building.  
Graceland was cool, not the house itself but the artifacts, all the gold records, the costumes, his jet, etc. Surprisingly, the gift shop had mostly pretty tasteful stuff, nothing really tacky like we expected. (We bought an "I've been to Graceland" refrigerator magnet.) The whole thing took about 2 1/2 hours which was about right for the $25 price of admission. Worth it even if you aren't a big Elvis fan.  
The Sun Studios was $9.50 for about 45 min of live narration (a young cutie dressed in 50s garb). Started upstairs in a memorabilia room with lots of stuff from the original studio plus quite a bit of Elvis stuff (his original s.s. card, high school diploma, first contract,etc.) The 2nd part was in the actual original studio. Not much to write home about; about 20 x 30 feet, tile floor, acoustical tile walls and ceiling. The didn't take us into the control room though. Laying around was a tweed Deluxe, similar size Gibson amp, Bassman head, Ampeg B-15, plus a recent Peavey bass amp and Transtube Bandit and a Marshall Valvestate. I peeked in the back of the Deluxe and it had a Peavey Sheffield speaker in it! Bought a few guitar picks and a very nice t-shirt.  
The Rock 'n Soul Museum was actually the most interesting. If you've ever been to the Smithsonian, you know it was well done. Basically traced rock from it's roots to about the 60s. The emphasis was really on the old stuff. Not too much in the way of musical instrument artifacts but an incredible wealth of information. The audio was via a portable CD player and after about 90 minutes, I was actually overloaded.  
Beale Street was pretty cool, just one club after another. OTOH, the music we heard coming out of most of the clubs didn't sound any better than I'd hear locally. The best we heard was at Isaac Hayes restaurant where they had a combo consisting of singer, bass, drums, and two keyboards playing funk and soul standards. Bought a shot glass for #2 son.  
If you are passing nearby, it's worth a stop. We were there less than 48 hours.
6/18/2003 3:29 PM
Van R

Shame if you were on Beale Street that you didn't check out A. Schwab's general store. IMHO it is the most interesting thing on the entire street. I live in Memphis (ok actually south of Memphis in Mississippi) but I grew up in Memphis. Just don't care for the whole Beale Street blues thing myself. The wife and I have been contemplating going to do the Gibson tour, but we haven't made it yet.  
Schwab's is an old general store (still in business last time I was there) and they sell stuff like right out of the 1880's. Where they find that stuff I will never know. Anyone coming to Memphis should check it out. And no I don't work there. Van
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6/19/2003 2:04 AM
Lee M.

Oh yes, we went into Schwab's. It was interesting if somewhat claustrophobic. It was sort of like a fleamarket, just about any kind of junk a person could want at a reasonable price. Not my cup of tea but definitely worth a look-see if you're on Beale Street.  
I didn't notice any street people at all. The tourists were thick and the police presence was highly visible however we never strayed more than a block in either direction other than a daytime stroll down to the big muddy.
6/18/2003 4:12 PM
bob predaina
Last time I was in Memphis was a few years ago as an overnight stop en route to New Orleans. I checked out Beale Street and it seemed like your average strip of nightclubs, with the exception that John Prine was playing at BB King's and there was no way to get inside...  
FYI, Beale street isn't in the greatest of neighborhoods. We had street urchins following us and begging for handouts as we left and walked back to our hotel. The police do a pretty good job of keeping them off of the main drag on Beale Street, so the patrons don't feel uncomfortable. But once you step off of Beale Street and turn the corner, the street peole are RIGHT THERE, swarming all over you, and you're on your own... They can be very pushy, and won't leave you alone when you ask them to. We had one guy follow us for 12 blocks, all of the way to our hotel -- we coudn't shake him until we went inside.  
The Gibson "factory" was under construction when I was there. Back then, they weren't making Gibsons there, it was just going to be a tourist trap. Did anything change? Do they really make the custom shop guitars there, or is it just a facade?  
The Rock /n/ Soul museum was under construction when I was there too..  
Because my visit was just an overnighter, we didn't get to do the Graceland or Sun tours. :( If I were headed back through Memphis, I'd definitely stop. I just can't get used to that dry barbecue, though.
6/18/2003 11:25 PM

Gibson guitars are indeed made at the factory in Memphis, but they're all the lower quality production line guitars. When I took the tour they were making all 135's, with a few 335's still hanging on racks being finished. The custom shop stuff is made in Nashville, where all the high end product is made.  
Re: Schwabs, I've been there a couple of times, and the wares are fascinating. It is highly likely that some of that stuff is schwag that was confiscated from the Jews by the Nazis back in the 40's. I don't say this lightly and without some evidence in support of it, though I could well be incorrect.  
Beale Street is pretty much a tourist place, and it ain't got nothin' on the mojo of the Quarter down in NOLA.
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