The next day, I continued my Memphis music heritage tour with a visit to the historic Sun Studio on Union, just east of the Peabody Memphis hotel. Still making “records” in its recording studio, Sun is noted for its Elvis connection and the impromptu jam session of the “Million Dollar Quartet” (Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins).
Just behind Sun Studio is another, lesser-known guitar factory – the home of the St. Blues Guitar Workshop, owned by Jeff Cox. The factory has personalized tours, during which visitors can touch the guitars, talk to workers, and take pictures. The pace of the tour is much slower than at the Gibson factory, and the tour guide explains in detail how the wood is prepared, where it comes from, and the steps in the process.
St. Blues Guitar Workshop only makes three models of the St. Blues Guitar – the Workshop Series, the Juke Joint Series, and the Cigar Box model. Cox markets the St. Blues guitars around the world and says that blues music is big in Europe and his sales reflect that.
Through my exploration of Memphis music, I discovered a number of locations where the blues and other types of music can be heard – on Beale Street and beyond. Heartily recommended: the Beale Street Music Festival in May, the Mud Island River Park amphitheater, and concerts in the Levitt Shell in Overton Park.
Even though I live in the Memphis area, I’ve been enlightened to a heritage that many residents like me take for granted.
Additional places to go and things to do around Memphis:
- The annual Memphis in May celebration (marking its 38th anniversary in 2014) on the banks of the Mississippi River features:
- The Beale Street Music Festival
- The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest
- The Sunset Symphony ending the monthlong celebration with fireworks over the river
- The Mud Island River Park amphitheater schedules regular performances, usually June through October.
- The renovated Overton Park shell, which is called the Levitt Shell, where free concerts of various genres are held throughout the year. Overton Park is located in Midtown Memphis and also is home to the Memphis Zoo, Brooks Museum of Art, and the Memphis College of Art.
|On Beale Street
||Off Beale Street
|B.B. King’s Blues Club
143 Beale St.
B.B. King’s opened in 1991 and became a local favorite. On occasion, King will appear with “Lucille” – his Gibson guitar – and entertain.
Blues City Cafe
138 Beale St.
On the corner of Beale and Second streets, Blues City serves some of the finest barbecue in the city.
Mr. Handy’s Blues Hall
182 Beale St.
Rum Boogie Cafe
182 Beale St.
|Gibson Guitar Factory
145 Lt. George Lee Ave.
Gibson offers factory tours for $10 per person. Goggles required. No photography. No cellphones.
706 Union Ave.
St. Blues Guitar Workshop
645 Marshall Ave.
St. Blues Guitar Workshop offers free factory tours. No goggles. Photography OK. Personalized tour.
|Stax Museum of American Soul Music
926 E. McLemore Ave.
(901) 942-SOUL (7685)
1928 Poplar Ave.
The Levitt Shell is recognized as the site of Elvis Presley’s first professional rock-and-roll show. The shell opened in 1936 on the grounds of Overton Park.
Mud Island River Park
125 N. Front St.
(800) 507-6507; (901) 576-7241