Turning onto Elvis Presley Blvd, Memphis after a 5 hour drive from Nashville to finally visit Graceland was very exciting. A visit to the home of Elvis Presley has been on my wish list since I was a teenager, long before the term ‘bucket list’ became part of our vocabulary. In those days the wish was to just stand at the gates of Graceland and hope for a glimpse of Elvis. After his death the wish changed to visit the house and see inside. We followed the directions and drove into the parking area….it was $10 to park the car in this large open, unshaded car park. I opened the car door to oppressive heat, over 106 degrees, the weather report said it actually reached 113 degrees for a short time early afternoon. No breeze at all so and 90% humidity it was very uncomfortable. With my luck, now I’m finally here, I’ll melt into the pavement before I get to the house.
There were several tour packages available, to choose from, ranging from $42 to $80 for front of line tickets. We looked around at numbers of visitors and decided there wasn’t a need for front of line so chose the $47.50 plus tax package which gave us access to the house and grounds including the memorial garden, car museum, aircrafts and other bits.
After purchasing the tickets we moved out to the front of the building to line up for the shuttle bus which takes visitors across the road to the house. Of course you can’t move too far in the line until you have the obligatory photo. At a cost of $35 we didn’t purchase them – our own photos would suffice. Once we moved on from this we received headsets, a little further along the line we received an iPad set up with pictures and audio for the tour of the house and grounds. Although the house is 3 storeys and basement visits are restricted to the main level and the floors below. Several reasons have been given for this over the years…when Ty first visited they were told the timber floors of the upstairs area would not be able to withstand hundreds of people per day walking on them and now we were told the family wished to keep the upstairs private. Whatever the reason the choice to open or not open areas belongs to the Trust and it didn’t impact me in any way not being able to see that section of the house.
Graceland sits on 14 acres of beautifully kept lawns and includes a stable area where horses are kept. The main floor of the house consisted of a large entry hall, a dining room on the left, 2 lounge rooms on the right, further along the hall was the bedroom and ensuite of Elvis’ parents. Several of his mothers’ dresses and ha drags were hanging in the wardrobe. The kitchen was next and it seemed a little small or perhaps cramped is a better description, there were a number of shelves, cupboards and benches housing a myriad of appliances.
The next part of the tour took us into the pool room, heavily patterned cotton material covered the walls and ceilings. A very long room was next, green carpet on floors, walls and part of the ceilings. It was the Jungle Room and housed carved wooden animals such as giraffes and monkeys with a large fireplace at one end and an oversized teddy bear lounging in an equally oversized lounge chair and a jungle bar at the other end. This was the room where Elvis recorded the song Moody Blue. There were several other lounge rooms in the house, each with their own bar. We were informed Elvis wanted to ensure whoever was in the house at the time could find their favourite drink in the any bar in any lounge they were sitting in.
Moving on past the jungle room we descended a small number of stairs and turning to the left we found ourselves standing at the entrance to a sunken lounge room decorated with bright yellow cushions, bright yellow bar top and accessories, walls of yellow, the mirrored tiles on the ceiling made quite an effect and gave the room a very sunny outlook given there were no windows in this room. Three televisions sat side by side so guests could watch 3 different channels at once if they wished.
After visiting the yellow room I wasn’t sure what colour to expect in the next room. We descended another small set of stairs further into what possibly would have been the basement when the house was originally built. At the bottom of the stairs we were on a landing with a bar on the right and another sunken lounge on the left. This room was brown in decor and contained several lounges, chairs and a piano. The audio guide told us Elvis was in this room, playing the piano and singing with friends before saying he was going up to bed and shortly after ‘Elvis left the building’ permanently. The lid of the piano was open as he had left it.
We paused for reflection at the top of the stairs. I know I imagined that last morning with everyone casually sitting around the room making music and enjoying the moment, then the devastating moment of disbelief the people in the room found out Elvis was dead.
The tour continued to the racquetball room which now displays many items from the 1970s including Elvis’ stage jumpsuits and copious awards, many posthumous. Most people stepping into such an array of memorabilia gasped or stared open mouthed at the amount of gold and sparkle in this room. The trophy room was equally impressive.
This room also showcased his gold and platinum record awards as well as listed donations he made to charity and individuals. Elvis was an extremely generous person not just to his friends and staff but to total strangers who needed a helping hand. Previously this area housed a large electric stock car track. Now it tells the story of his incredible music career.
Vernon Presley looked after Elvis’ finances and staff management at Graceland. Also, all fan mail and other mail was received at his office which stands separately behind the main house. Outside his office is a standard swing set that Elvis purchased for Lisa Marie.
Last on the tour is the Memorial Garden a very serene and, as you would expect, well maintained area where the graves of Elvis, his mother, father and maternal grandmother rest. There is also a plaque for his twin brother. Fresh flowers adorned his grave and an eternal flame given by Joe Esposito, other family and close friends to the family in remembrance.
Viewing the house and especially the racquetball room and trophy room really brings home just how important he was to the music industry and the generosity of the man himself. It was a very moving experience, sad in a way, that he died so young and that his private life had to revolve around Graceland and it’s surrounds. Whether you were a fan of Elvis and his music or not no one can deny his great presence within the music industry and with his untimely death a huge talent was lost. As I mentioned above the Jungle Room was where the Moody Blue album was recorded Ty was very excited to see that room; I’m sure he would have loved to sit in the room and just soak it all in…close his eyes and dream of being part of that recording session.
The memorial garden was the final part of the tour…fitting in a way. We wandered along the driveway to await the return shuttle which would take us back to the gift shops, eateries, Elvis’ airplanes and car museum.
Whilst in gift shop torrential rain for about 15 mins. Enough to make it more humid. Spent way too much money in gift shops but I knew I would! Once in a lifetime bucket list visit I had to spend up big…..as you can imagine I don’t have a lot for my money….
We had a quick lunch of something horrendous, visited the car museum and airplanes. Our tickets included another 2 museums but I felt I’d seen enough and knew enough about Elvis not to continue with another museum because I also wanted to visit Sun Recording Studio. It was already 3.45 and Ty didn’t think we had time, thought they would be closed by the time we found it. However, I was not leaving Memphis without going to Sun Studios as well. Google is a wonderful thing and as it was still raining I asked Ty if he could check please. He did and we found the last tour was 5.30pm so at 4pm we headed to the carpark – the rain had stopped and steam was now rising from the hot, wet asphalt…looked odd and eerie.
Sun Studio was a 15 minute drive from Graceland..not too difficult to find with the GPS. Luckily there was an extra tour at 5pm due to numbers otherwise we would have to wait till 5.30 and it was 4.35 now. The studio is beside Taylor’s Cafe which has been on the site naps long as the studios have and access to the studio tour is via the cafe. When you step into the cafe you step back in time from the young man sitting at the cash register playing the harmonica to the fabulous old photographs, posters adorning all the walls and old newspaper clippings. I love these old places that have resisted change or owners have been savvy enough to recognise they are sitting on a goldmine of history and choose to keep these places open to share the history with all lovers of music and musicians.
The actual studio is still the same as it was in the 50’s, it’s still a working studio. We were standing on the spots where Elvis stood, Jerry Lee Lewis played the piano and Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins stood.
How do I know that, you’re thinking, because x marked the spots where each of them stood one night when Elvis called in to see Sam Phillips and he contacted the other three and asked them to come down ‘cos Elvis was here. Sam knew this would be amazing so secretly recorded the whole evening of these music icons chatting, laughing and jammimg over a few beers however Elvis was contracted to RCA by then and Sam couldn’t afford to be sued again so he had to shelve this rare event.
The old studio musical instruments are still there, the ceilings have not been changed, the soundproofing has stood the test of time exceptionally well. The only new piece was the drummer’s seat. Ty was chuffed to see they had chosen the same seat he has with his drum kit. This was the drum kit U2 used when they recorded some of the Rattle & Hum album in the 90’s. The original microphone is still there and we got a chance to hold it and take photos but the guide said do not kiss it or get too close everyone from Muddy Waters to Elvis, Johnny Cash, BBKing, Jerry Lee Lewis and a cast of hundreds sang into that mic so who knows what it’s harbouring.
The studio was closed for 25 years because it became too small and there was no room for expansion but it was decided to reopen it and people such as Bono, come to record here to stand in the footsteps of Elvis and other famous artists.
Ty, of course, was most interested in the drum kit and now has a dream to record and cut a cd in that studio to be able to share a record label with the great artists above.
If you’re in Memphis to visit Graceland and you love your music do not leave without paying a visit to Sun Studios Ty was very happy that I had forced the visit. I’m sure he knew of Sun Studios but hadn’t realised the full importance of this place to music especially rhythm and blues then rock and roll. So take time to visit you’ll learn a whole lot more about the beginnings of music and the great artists of the early years who shaped the industry. The cost of entry is $12 per person it’s well worth it.
There is so much more that I could talk about but, at the risk of boring my reader, perhaps another time.