Magic At RCA Studio B

Hall of fame and Studio B (110)

Here I am sitting at the famed Steinway Piano at RCA Studio B. For a music nerd like me, this was practically a religious experience.  If you’re not familiar with the sign, I made it for my trip to Utah last summer and I still pull it out on my trips.

Once in a while you have a vacation experience that is so special, so magical that it becomes the most important memory of the trip.

One priority for the weekend was to tour the famed RCA Studio B. Tours begin at the Country Music Hall of Fame where you hop on a bus with a small group and are transported to this nondescript little building on Music Row. Along the way, the tour guide talks about the construction and purpose of the studio.

It was here that the infamous Nashville Sound was created in the sixties. Groundbreaking work was done in this studio and it continues to produce popular music today.

The former reception area is the first stop on the tour. In this space you learn about some of the musicians and the songs recorded here – countless entertainers and songs you would recognize and a few you may not. I own a number of LPs that hang on the wall here.

Hall of fame and Studio B (105)Roy Orbison wasn’t an RCA musician but he recorded a good bit at Studio B. According to our tour guide, his iconic voice was drowned out by all the instruments so they used a coat rack to create a sort of isolation booth. The guide claims this was possibly the world’s first isolation booth. They have a rare photo of Roy – you can see the coat rack in the background, he’s singing and he’s holding his glasses. He was rarely seen not wearing the glasses.

They tell you stories like this and play music to supplement those stories. And that’s all great but the magic happens when you go into the actual recording studio. Inside, you get lots of stories about Elvis who recorded countless albums here.

Here you learn about the lighting the Studio installed because Elvis requested it. These multi-colored lights can be isolated to change the mood of the room. The guide uses those lights to change the mood in the room for each song.

Here the guide plays iconic songs that were recorded in this room. 

The piano pictured above is a Steinway that can be heard on songs like Elvis’  “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date.” In fact, during the early years of his career Floyd Cramer worked as a studio musician with RCA’s “A Team” which provided studio music for a lot of the songs recorded here.

I happen to love Floyd Cramer so it was kind of a thrill to sit at this piano.

I also happen to love Elvis and the tour guide gave a lot of attention to Elvis’ experiences and work in this studio. Elvis played that Steinway was well.

My favorite Nashville moment came here when our guide described how Elvis recorded “Are You Lonesome Tonight”  – in the dark. So the guide turned out the lights and turned up the song and we all sat in complete darkness and experienced this moment with this song in a way that felt sacred.

It gave me chills. 

In fact, I hope to carry this memory for the rest of my life and to always be transported back to that time and place whenever I hear this song.

The musical history of this place is fascinating but I won’t attempt to tell you more. Instead, you can learn more here.

It should go without saying that this tour was worth every penny and I would do it again if I had a chance.

PS: If you wonder what’s up with the sign I’m holding, read all about it here! 

 

A Walk Down Beale Street

P9289328.jpgLet’s go to Memphis today, shall we? Writing about Sun Studios and the assassination of Dr. King earlier this year got me to thinking about my whirlwind trip through Memphis and Nashville several years ago. I loved Memphis and hope you will too so I’ll tell you a few things about that town in the coming days.

Known as the Home of the Blues as well as the Birthplace of Rock and Roll, it’s only logical that there is music coming from every nook and cranny of the city. Every restaurant, bar, hotel, store, museum and alleyway you pass you’ll hear some kind of music. Sometimes it’s a guy with a guitar, just hanging out and picking a tune. Sometimes it’s band on a stage and sometimes it’s just a radio blaring Jerry Lee.

If you like this style of music, it is Heaven.

Beale Street is a few city blocks of restaurants, clubs, stores and theaters where you’ll hear all kinds of music – rock and roll, blues, gospel, jazz – you name it. There’s a happening night life but plenty to do if you’re looking for family friendly fun. Among other things, there’s a great candy shop, the Memphis Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Soul Museum which I’ll write about another day.

A Schwab Trading Company is the oldest store on Beale Street and packed full of dry goods and souvenirs. Founded in 1876, it has a soda fountain, a Beale Street Museum  and lots of fun merchandise to browse or buy. Some might call it a tourist trap but, for what it’s worth, I enjoyed it.

The day we arrived, we learned that BB King was in town and playing a show at his club. We snagged the last two standing room only tickets and enjoyed a simply amazing night of music with BB and his band.

BB passed away in 2015 but you can still see other live performers and enjoy lunch and dinner at his club. It’s barbeque and traditional southern food. In fact, we had an excellent lunch here during our stay.

Bottom line, if you’re going to Memphis, you must stop by Beale Street to sample the barbeque and the local tunes. I loved just walking down the street here and soaking up my surroundings. We’ll talk Graceland and a few other fun things in the coming days. After all, you can’t go to Memphis without visiting the King!

Sun Studio

Sun Studios (6).JPGTalking about the National Civil Rights Museum reminded me of my trip to Nashville and Memphis. It was a whirlwind trip of music, classic cars and barbeque and it seemed like everything I did was my favorite thing.

But truly, one of the highlights was the day at Sun Studio in Memphis. Sun Studio is a landmark in Memphis and in music. Known as the “Birthplace of Rock and Roll,” Sun is like a time capsule where you can stand at the microphone Elvis used and where the voices of  music legends echo through the halls.

This is where the Million Dollar Quartet spent a December day in 1956 just playing around and where someone was smart enough to record portions of the music created that day by Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Howlin’ Wolf and BB King recorded here too along with a host of others.

It’s a guided tour and it was packed the day we were there. It seems like the tour lasted about an hour and they give everyone time to step up to the Elvis mic. Some people have their picture taken kissing the microphone. I did not. Ick! The germs!

If you go, they recommend getting there about twenty minutes before your desired tour. They sell some light snacks and ice cream plus they have t-shirts, music and other souvenirs. Admission is $14 for adults and, if you’re into that kind of thing, it’s worth every dollar. Want to plan a visit to Sun Studio?  Click here. 

One of these days I’ll tell you more about this trip and some of the other fun things you can do in Memphis.

Cadillac Motel

IMG_5447.JPGIsn’t this sign fabulous? I saw it while walking through the tourist district of Niagara Falls, Canada. The motel is billed as retro chic with themed rooms that celebrate ZZ Top, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and more. They just don’t make signs like this anymore.