Getting in touch with the Blues

Published 6:00 pm Sunday, September 18, 2011

I finally got a chance to go ‘Walking InMemphis.”

    The Mark Cohn song by that title is one of my favorites, althoughI’d never had the opportunity to experience that first-hand untilmy vacation last week.

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    I’ve traveled through Memphis a number of times in my life and haveeven ridden by Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home, once or twice. Thepeople I was with during those journeys either didn’t have time totour Graceland, weren’t interested enough in Elvis to do so, orworse, didn’t think “The King” could be “dead enough.”

    Last week, contrary to the song, though, I did not “put on my bluesuede shoes” nor did I board a plane to “touch down in the land ofthe Delta blues.”

    I simply put on some tennis shoes and drove up Interstate 55 to theTennessee river city. (And let me say, after driving that boringstretch of nothingness between Madison and, say, Grenada, I nowknow why I haven’t driven it more often.)

    After spending the night in Horn Lake, Miss., I made the relativelyshort trip to Graceland for a 10 a.m. tour.

    Let me say I’m not some huge Elvis fan with every record he evermade and memorabilia out the wazoo. I’ve got a couple of hisgreatest hits collections and I’ve downloaded a few more songs fromiTunes.

    My appreciation for Elvis comes from his Tupelo, Miss., roots, histremendous impact on music and the humble nature he displayed incontrast to his stage persona. One Graceland tour display I foundtouching was a huge plaque the Memphis community gave to Elvis inrecognition of his many charitable givings.

    Other Graceland highlights for me were the Hall of Gold, featuringElvis’ gold and platinum records and his Grammys for gospelrecordings; the racquet ball building, which has high walls coveredin records, movie memorabilia and other items; and the MeditationGarden, where Elvis and his parents are buried.

    After a few hours of touring the Graceland grounds, I headed northto the famed Beale Street for an afternoon Memphis Mojo tour.

    As part of the Memphis Mojo tour, visitors ride around in arestored bus as a local musician entertains and informs aboutinteresting and noteworthy locales.

    All riders are encouraged to sing along and a few volunteers evenget to shake a tambourine. I highly recommend the tour, althoughI’d advise booking in advance as there are only about 30 seats onthe bus.

    Our guide was a musician named Memphis Jones, who played a red,white and blue guitar as he cracked a few jokes and led thetraveling group in song. I must say we sounded pretty good beltingout “I’ll Fly Away” as Jones revealed some gospel music nuggets ofinformation about Memphis.

    But Memphis is also known for its rock ‘n’ roll, blues and soulmusic influences.

    The tour did not disappoint there, as we stopped at the famous SunRecords studio and Stax Records, which is pretty much the soulmusic equivalent of Sun.

    Those were the only times we were able to get off the bus duringthe approximately two-hour trip. But other stops, including by thehome of “Father of the Blues” W.C. Handy and the Lorraine Hotel,where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, werealso part of the trip.

    “Walking in Memphis” the Mojo bus tour was not, but it’s certainlya good way to go riding in Memphis.

    That’s all for now.

    Write to Managing Editor Matthew Coleman at P.O. Box 551,Brookhaven MS 39602, or send e-mail