Sunday, April 29, 2012

Looking Up and Down on Beale Street, in Memphis

It's only a couple blocks of neon lights and blues clubs, but Beale Street turned out to be an interesting place to unwind in the off-hours during a busy library conference. Co-librarian Bill was intrigued by the sites mentioned in the Joni Mitchell song, "Furry Sings the Blues". Co-librarian Brian was anxious to visit the Gibson guitar factory. I was just "looking up and down Beale Street" for cool stuff to photograph and good barbeque.

"Furry Sings the Blues" is the Joni Mitchell song from the 1976 album Hejira about the demise of Beale Street. She wrote most of the songs on this album while on a solo journey across the country. (Hejira means journey in Arabic.) During her sojourn in Memphis she noticed the statue of W.C. Handy,
[W.C.] "Handy's cast in bronze"
the old Daisy Theater which to us indeed seemed abandoned except for a sign encouraging us to have our next big event there,
The old Daisy
and the New Daisy which during our visit was offering live music including a band called "I Wrestled a Bear Once." If I'm ever in a band, I want them to help me name it.
The New Daisy, across the street from the old

The Gibson Guitar Factory is just off Beale Street, and we managed to spend some time at their store before conference registration opened on Wednesday. Bill and I watched Brian try out some guitars, trying to predict if he would actually purchase one and have it shipped home, and snapping photographs and videos of him and the shop. The factory tour is only an hour, but we just couldn't fit it into our schedule, darn it.

Brian trying out an Epiphone Zakk Wylde Bullseye Les Paul
 Beale Street had more to offer us during our future visits including raw rock & roll gift shops,

the opportunity to tour downtown Memphis in a Cinderella-style buggy (most were staffed by one human and one canine),
and our Beale Street grand finale, dinner and live blues at BB King's famous club.

This was a last-minute dinner selection on our last night in Memphis. The place was packed, but miraculously, we got a table right near the stage. The Will Tucker Band was performing--four pieces led by the young Will Tucker who looked like Justin Bieber but was a guitar VIRTUOSO! He plays at B.B. King's Blues Club every Friday and Saturday, but...but....not the following (Saturday) night because he would be attending his senior prom. Lucky we were there to see him on Friday night. This kid was fantastic, better than fantastic, and my jaw dropped to the floor (figuratively) when I read about his prom and high school graduation on his blog: (And he has some free music on there, please look.) In any event, we stayed for two sets and maybe more because this band was so good. What a treat!

B.B. King's Blues Club had another treat for us, too. Hung high on the wall behind Bill were four portraits of blues musicians, one bearing the name of Furry Lewis. I wasn't sure if I should know this already, but was this the same Furry from the Joni Mitchell song? If I pointed it out to Bill, would he say, "Duh, of course there is a portrait of Furry Lewis in B.B. King's Blues Club, duh." I decided to take a chance since Bill is usually polite when I say stupid stuff. Well, evidently it is not common knowledge that the song is about a real old-time blues guy named Furry. Bill seemed glad to learn that.

Anyway, here's more of that young Will Tucker and his band, technically in B.B. King's Nashville club, but it's a good-quality video:

Monday, April 23, 2012

Elvis's Graceland: Not what I Expected

Elvis's house is smaller than I thought it would be. It was even kind of humble underneath the garish 1970s decor. Even the garish decor was not all that garish...for the 1970s. We got to tour the main floor of the mansion, the trophy room, the racquetball court now filled with costumes and gold records, and the Meditation Garden where Elvis, his parents, and paternal grandmother are buried. You can't deny this man oozed charisma, but after this tour I felt like I would have really liked him.

Elvis's Rec Room--Note Margaret and Bill, Photographers
Elvis bought this house in 1957 for $100,000 when he was just 22. He was making good on a promise to his parents, Vernon and Gladys, that he would someday give them a comfortable place to live. That he did. The name Graceland came with the house--Elvis bought it from a doctor who had named it after his favorite Aunt Grace.

 Wanna see some photos?

Living Room

The ridiculously difficult-to-photograph and famous Jungle Room

Elvis could watch the three major networks at the same time in his TV Room.
Elvis, his parents Vernon and Gladys, and his paternal grandmother Minnie Mae, are buried in the Meditation Garden beside the pool beside the house.

Graceland's Meditation Garden

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Walking with the Ducks at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis

The Duckmaster feeds the ducks at the Peabody fountain.
People know about the Peabody ducks. I was headed to Memphis for the Distance Library Services Conference taking place at the Peabody Hotel. "Oh! Is that the place with the ducks?!" Why, yes it is! You have to get in place about an hour before the ducks walk in order to see them on their red carpet. They live in a penthouse on the hotel's roof and ride the elevatior down to the red carpet leading to their lobby fountain everyday at 11:00am, and they return to their posh digs at 5:00pm.
The five Peabody Ducks live in a posh penthouse which features a replica Peabody duck bedroom.
The Duckmaster (only the fifth to hold the title since the duck tradition started in 1940) greets the crowd and tells the history of the ducks: after a hunting trip in 1940, the hotel manager and his friend put their decoy ducks in the fountain, and the ducks stayed there all night. Seventy-plus years ago, hotel guests thought the ducks were really cool, and by the looks of this crowd, they still do!

There's the current Duckmaster addressing the huge crowed assembled to watch the ducks.
Here come the ducks!

The Peabody Hotel has become my favorite-ever hotel. It's fancy but comfortable and welcoming, and I'm not just saying that because my bathroom had a TV. Since our whole conference happened in this hotel, we were always running into friendly Distance Learning librarians to chat with about learning modlues, assessment, and the best restaurants. The lobby with its beautiful fountain, comfy furniture, constant piano music, and the DUCKS was a wonderful place to meet with friends and colleagues. The Peabody is still a center for Memphis nightlife--you should have seen the outfits (and SHOES) standing in line to go up to the weekly roof party on Thursday night! We got to go up there in more sensible shoes for our conference's opening reception just in time for sunset on Wednesday evening.

The Peabody sign atop the Peabody roof.
Everywhere we looked we saw artifacts of the Peabody Hotel's enchanting history.
"One ringy-dingy..."

Bill and Brian place some private calls...collect!