Just spent three days in this legendary town known for its Blues, Barbecue, Elvis, and the Mississippi River, among other things. Memphis...ol' Bob was stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, Elvis owned this town before he got too old, too soon, and surrounded by a strange entourage, and went down at 42. BB King rocked the blues here, and is still rockin’ ‘em out there on the road, along with a whole schlew of other famous Blues artists, and let us not forget Jazz. This Mississippi River town was a musical crossroads. This weekend was a different kind of experience, to be sure.
Saturday night, we all went out to eat at BB King’s Blues Club, and that place just rocked like you wouldn’t believe. We had fried pickles, gumbo, barbecue ribs, rock ‘n’ roll, rock ‘n’ soul, jazz, it was everything you could possibly expect from a Saturday night in Memphis, and more. There was a band playing througout dinner that featured this young kid on lead guitar and vocals who seemed to have just walked right into that club straight from the Filmore West in 1969. This kid did not just play those guitar chords and nail those vocals – he ripped them straight from his soul and just let it rip up there for all he was worth. It was unbelievable. Turned out he was only 18. He understood the music. Damn, the kid was good. Best live version of “Free Bird” I’ve seen since I saw the original lineup of Lynnrd Skynnrd do it live in Jacksonville, Florida, back in 1974. Man, I just lost my mind and rocked out with that band, didn’t care what anyone thought, just went with it. It was like being back there again. I love it when that happens! And that was just the opening act. Quite a night in BB’s joint. When I left, there was a line all the way down the block and around the corner to get in.
I did my usual thing when in a new town – went out walking a few times, just let my feet take me where they would. Wound up staring down at the mighty Mississippi River from atop Union Avenue. That thing is just awesome. Made my way down a steep cobblestone lined hill that led me to the Memphis Queen, and old-style looking Mississippi Wheel Boat, and just wandered about the boat, checking it out. Thought about taking a ride on her, but never got around to it. Next time, maybe.
Later, I happened upon “Elvis Presley Plaza”, with a larger than life sized statue of the King, from back in the day when he really was a rocker, guitar in hand and defiant pose. I always thought of Elvis as the ultimate cautionary tale of what can happen to one who gets too big, too soon, with too many influences controlling one’s life. His run as the King of Rock really was not long at all, before he got hi-jacked to hollywood to make a lot of really bad movies, and distracted by the many temptations of fame.
I’ll never forget the double-feature that a bunch of us went to see in 1973, one of the truly brilliant matches of films to put together in a double feature. The opener was “Elvis on Tour – 1972”, with this bloated, white caped, Vegas-Lounge-Lizard version of Elvis being fawned over by aging women as he crooned the old tunes. This sad spectacle was followed by a great film on the current state of rock and roll at the time, “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”, featuring mad dog Joe Cocker, fresh from his Woodstock freak show, and the man who stole the show, the invincible Leon Russell, in all his mad glory, a true bandleader and rock and roll maestro, along with a whole lineup of other greats from the day, touring about the country, delivering solid rock and roll.
On Sunday afternoon, I found myself looking down at a hotel lobby from a mezzanine balcony area, observing dozens of people sitting around looking at 5 ducks in a fountain. I kid you not. This hotel across the street from where we were staying had this thing with ducks. Apparently, they live in a duck penthouse on the roof of the joint, and everyday at 11:00, they make there way from there to the elevator, down to the lobby, across a red carpet that leads to this fountain, where they hang out all day until 5:00, when they climb back out of the fountain, waddle-march there way back to the elevator, back up to the roof, and back into their penthouse. I swear, I am not making this up! This has apparently been going on for 79 years, ever since the owner of the joint got good and blitzed one night, decided to bring some ducks home with him and left them in the fountain, went up and crashed in his suite, then came down the next morning, and people were gathered around the fountain, digging the ducks. It caught on. Crazy!