Memphis – Blues, Beale Street and Barbecue

By Fletcher Word

On the banks of the Mississippi lies a treasure – a lot of treasures actually – but this particular treasure is Memphis, Tennessee. And Memphis is the cradle, if not the birthplace, for American music of all kinds –particularly blues, soul and rock n roll!

When you visit Memphis, stay in the downtown area, as close to the river as possible. Visitors for decades have chatted up the Peabody – the iconic, classy Memphis hotel where one can watch the ducks parade across the lobby at Happy Hour.

The Peabody is delightful and the ducks are charming, but I’m going to suggest that a visitor check out the Big Cypress Lodge, right on the river. The Big Cypress, owned and operated by Bass Pro Shops, is contained within a pyramid that is sizeable enough to have once been a basketball stadium for college teams. The rooms are spacious, the indoor facilities are entertaining, the rooftop restaurant is breathtaking.

But after you settle into your hotel room, wherever that may be, the city of Memphis is open for a tour – a musical tour. Take a trip to the Stax Museum and see where Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, The Staple Singers, All Green, Ike & Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and a host of others brought “the sweet sound of soul music” to the world.

Then stop by Sun Studio – “The Birthplace of Rock n Roll” – and tour the site where music legends “blended blues & country music to explode in the ‘big bang of rock n roll.’” B.B. King. Howlin’ Wolf and Ike Turner showed up first before Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison arrived to create the dominant music of the second half of the 20th century.

Beale Street beckons. Restaurants, bars and, above all, music, particularly the blues. Park your car on a side street – actually you have to because only pedestrians can get onto Beale Street – and stroll down the entertainment center of Memphis, drinking in the ambiance.

Head to B.B. King’s Blues Club, the SugaShack, Silky O’Sullivan’s or Handy’s Blues Hall on Beale Street, to name a few establishments. The fun is also out on the street walking from place to place, drink in hand (the only place in Tennessee where you are permitted to do so). There are few spots in the country like Beale Street for activity or excitement.

If you are lucky enough to strike up a conversation during your visit with locals, ask them if they have any good barbecue in town … and stand back quick and wait for the explosion. There are, according to locals, no other place in the nation for barbecue – a Texas or North Carolina, for example, notwithstanding.

Memphis, you will be told, is barbecue heaven. The only question is what kind of barbecue do you want – wet ribs (with sauce, that is) or dry ribs (the dry rub recipe popularized over the decades in town by Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous Restaurant)? And it’s only ribs and pulled pork that is real barbecue, you will be told, not that silly beef brisket they do in Texas.

Cozy Corner or Central BBQ are several of the names that will pop up and both are worth it.


Good food and great music … more than enough to make a visit to Memphis worthwhile. But there’s more

There are two historic and very different landmarks to attract a diverse group of visitors. Sites that commemorate iconic figures who are as different as two such figures could possibly be. The place where Elvis lived – Graceland – and the place where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died – the Lorraine Motel.

Attached to the Lorraine Hotel is the National Civil Rights Museum. Through interactive exhibits, historic collections, dynamic speakers and special events, the museum offers visitors a chance to walk through history and learn more about a tumultuous and inspiring period of change.

And the Museum is right next door to a Central BBQ restaurant where you can munch on some ribs and head back towards the hotel, walk along the banks of the Mississippi and watch the sun set before heading over to Beale Street and hear some folks “singing the blues in the night.”