As part of our ongoing musical destinations series we visit the infamous home of 'the King' Graceland.
Music Mecca's don't come much bigger than this. Graceland is a pilgrimage that every musical aficionado should make at least once in their lives. I'll admit it straight away I'm no massive Elvis fanatic, I like him of course, but the normal amount. Graceland though did have this strange pull on me, a magnetic attraction that drew me to Memphis, Tennessee.
Any music buff worth his salt will know that Sun Studio, in Memphis, is where Elvis cut his first disc and released his first single 'That's Alright Mama' and the rest, as they say, is history. A tiny building with a big legacy, Sam Phillips, was the brainchild behind the small but perfectly formed studio and was responsible for kick starting many careers and recording the legendary Million Dollar Quartet composed of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and an unknown Jerry Lee Lewis.
Sun Studios was an educational period for Elvis and when Philips sold on his contract to RCA Victor, Elvis was ready to go stratospheric. The building itself is well worth a visit with the original studio still in much the same shape as it was back in the day. You can even hold the mike that Elvis used, strike the classic pose and save it to tell your friends about back home.
Graceland itself is a much more extravagant affair. The 23 room mansion is found at 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard in Whitehaven, easily visible from the road. You also can't help noticing the Lisa Marie jetliner protruding from the opposite side of the road, specially modified with bedroom, lounge and half bath. It's a Convair 880 and as big as any passenger jet you may be used to. Beside it you'll aso see his the Hound Dog II a more modest Lockheed JetStar.
The whole Graceland experience takes in several attractions besides the main house. You have the two custom airplanes, automobile museum, 'Live from Vegas', concerts, movies and more! exhibit, and '68 special exhibit.
Taking a minibus up to the main house everyone gets a headset which guides you around at your own leisure. You take in the main living room, music room, great white staircase, basement (three TV room), bar / billiards room and the famous jungle room. The upstairs is off limits to guests, as it was in Elvis' day, so you don't see the infamous toilet.
Then its outside to another building used by his father, Vernon, as an office. The trophy room has the largest collection of gold discs you'll ever see, outside of which are the stables and Racquetball Court.
As you are essentially guiding yourself you can chose your own pace and take in the various rooms as you see fit making the experience a much more relaxed and pleasurable affair than I had anticipated. After passing through the garden and outdoor pool you are led into the memorial garden. As the final resting place of Elvis, both his parents and Grandmother (who outlived them all) it's a delicately poignant moment for reflection. A small plaque also remembers the fact that Elvis had an identical twin that died at birth.
Walking back past the front of Graceland it's incredible to think that Elvis owned this at only 22 years of age. He would spend twenty happy years here before dying so young at 42.
At Graceland Music-News.com caught up with Angie Marchese, Director of Archives, to find out more about the whole Graceland experience on offer. Click below to see the whole uncut interview.
Memphis itself is also a relaxed pleasurable city to visit. The 'trolly' (its longstanding vintage tram service) only costs a dollar and takes you to the site where the great Martin Luther King was assassinated. A trip to the Stax museum is also a welcome stamp on the music connoisseurs mental passport.
With friendly hotels a-plenty Memphis is a welcome stop on any US road trip or holiday. The River Inn on the banks of the Mississippi comes highly recommended with wine or champagne on arrival and pianist seemly ever present in the boutique hotel lounge.
Graceland is clearly a must for any Elvis fan but also anyone interested in the birth of rock n roll, musical history or just popular cultural. As John Lennon once said "before Elvis there was nothing".