It was a long, intense trip - six weeks and 9,000 km exploring the roots of American music across the Southeast states. By the end, it had been like following a serpentine music trail and we began to appreciate how the various musical genres were intertwined and cross-influenced. Craig's fingers got a workout on his guitar, as he jammed and played with the talented musicians from old-time to Zydeco to the Delta blues. We had the time of our lives.
SOUL AND R & B
Soul and R&B are the fusion of gospel, blues, country and rock and are alive and well in the Southern U.S.
Best musical stops: Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Sun Studio, Muscle Shoals, Alabama Music Hall of Fame, Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum, Graceland, Beale Street
Backstory: Stax was a Memphis institution, the home recording venue of Booker T. & The M.G.s (Green Onions, Time Is Tight) who laid the bed tracks for hundreds of artists and just as many hits during the 1960s and 70s. This is another three or four hours worth of museum if you do it properly.
Sun Studio, also in Memphis, goes a little faster because the venue is so much more compact compared to Stax, but every bit worth the visit. Sun was responsible for putting a couple of artists on the map that supercharged the migration of black blues to white mass appeal: Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as launching the careers of Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins. An X on the floor marks the spot where Elvis first recorded That's All Right and it's said that when he visited, Bob Dylan dropped to floor and kissed the spot.
Muscle Shoals produced another hothouse rhythm section (the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, a.k.a. “The Swampers”) that drew A-list artists – The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Paul Simon, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Bob Seger, Paul Anka – like iron filings to a magnet, making it one of the most sought after recording locations in the world for a few magic years. The story – set in this modest corner of northwest Alabama straddling the Tennessee River – is told at the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, FAME Studios and in the fantastic documentary Muscle Shoals.
The Musicians Hall of Fame & Museum in Nashville, a peek behind the scenes at the individuals who played the tracks, arranged the charts, set up the mics and engineered the sound of the songs that roll around in your memory. Some instrumental ensembles – The Swampers, The A Team, The Memphis Boys, The Funk Brothers and The Wrecking Crew – have played on more hits than all the Beatles songs ever recorded – while Booker T. & The M.G.s and Toto – went on to become chart-topping bands themselves. You are in for some very pleasant surprises.
Graceland - Elvis's Memphis home and his final resting place - has become a shrine to the faithful. It was a tad on the glitzy and commercial side for our tastes, but there's no swaying the legions of his fans who happily line up to walk through the mansion, see walls lined with his gold records and the jumpsuits from his Las Vegas era. The walking tour ends at a quiet meditation garden where Elvis and his parents are buried. Everything, wouldn't you know it, exits through a gift shop.
Classic artists and tunes:
When A Man Loves A Woman, Percy Sledge
(Sitting On) The Dock Of The Bay, Otis Redding
Soul Man, Sam & Dave
I Never Loved A Man, Aretha Franklin