Memphis

Downtown Memphis mural

Downtown Memphis mural

These last couple of weeks have been so jam packed it's hard to even know where to start. I had a great time playing Nebulosity Fest in Atwood, TN though it was super hot. How hot you ask, my weather app said it felt like 120, definitely the hottest temp I've played in so far.

Josh Gray at Nebulosity Fest

Josh Gray at Nebulosity Fest

I can't remember if I announced it last time but I have a band now, we're called Josh Gray and The Dark Features. We'll be headlining our first show on September 1st at The Crying Wolf in East Nashville. I've been working on new songs and the plan is to have some full band videos up soon so stay tuned. I'm in the process of setting up short tours in Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. This month I'll be playing at the Howl at the Moon Indie Festival in Nashville on 8/20. Also May of next year I'll be back up playing in MD/VA!

Howl at The Moon Indie Music Festival Nashville Poster

Howl at The Moon Indie Music Festival Nashville Poster

After playing the festival I got in the car and drove the two hours to Memphis. I'd never been to Memphis before, I did know it's known for Blues and Barbeque. My first experience of Memphis was stressful trying to find parking downtown for dinner. I forgot how much I don't miss driving in Philly and Manhattan. I love those cities but there's something claustrophobic about being surrounded by skyscrapers and people who can't drive. At the same time I'm no stranger to people who can't drive since I live in Nashville.

Now keep in mind I was only in Memphis for a weekend and there's no way to see everything worth seeing in that time. I did plan out some places I wanted to see and one of those wasn't music related at all. I'll start with my favorite museum of the trip, the National Civil Rights Museum. Having lived near DC and travelled a bit of the US I've been to a ton of museums. This is one of the best museums I've ever been to. Make sure you give yourself around 2 1/2 - 3 hours when you go. It's very detailed, sobering and necessary I think for all Americans to experience.

The Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, this also serves as the front of the museum

The Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered, this also serves as the front of the museum

The Middle Passage

The Middle Passage

Slaves chained in a ship

Slaves chained in a ship

Bus burned when freedom riders were attacked in Anniston, AL

Bus burned when freedom riders were attacked in Anniston, AL

Racial Terrorism Map

Racial Terrorism Map

Early protest photo

Early protest photo

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

Footage of a sit-in in Birmingham

Footage of a sit-in in Birmingham

Sit-ins in Nashville

Sit-ins in Nashville

Sanitation workers strike in Memphis

Sanitation workers strike in Memphis

Martin Luther King Jr.'s room at the Lorraine Motel

Martin Luther King Jr.'s room at the Lorraine Motel

Assassination site of Martin Luther King Jr. 

Assassination site of Martin Luther King Jr. 

We can never fully understand someone's struggle without experiencing it ourselves but we can make an effort to understand and empathize. Museums like this are necessary to make sure we learn from and never repeat this horrible past. This museum is a testament to the courage of those who spoke out, protested and marched. We must be grateful to them and also vigilant, the fight for equality is far from over.

 

When I got out of the National Civil Rights museum I was hungry and didn't have plans for lunch. Luckily I stumbled on a place right around the corner that turned out to be really great. I'd heard about 99¢ Soul Food Express online but didn't realize it was right near the museum. I had fried catfish, fried green tomatoes and peach cobbler. Everything was delicious and the people were really nice, can't recommend this place enough! Despite going to some of the top rated fancy restaurants in Memphis my mind kept drifting back to this place.

99¢ Soul Food Express

99¢ Soul Food Express

 

After lunch I went across the street to the Blues Hall of Fame. It's a small museum that you can get through in an hour. They have a lot of cool little exhibits from the early days of blues to more modern music. I especially enjoyed the first section which featured Robert Johnson and Mississippi John Hurt. If you have any questions the people who work there are knowledgeable. They were happy to recommend places in the city to see live music.

Early Blues Exhibit at the Blues Hall of Fame

Early Blues Exhibit at the Blues Hall of Fame

 


On the banks of the Mississippi  

On the banks of the Mississippi  

That same evening I drove over to Beale street to check it out.  It was packed as can be expected on a Saturday night. There were lines to get into the street because police were checking ID's and wanding everyone. It looks a little like Broadway in Nashville but feels grittier and because of that I think more real and less touristy. I enjoyed it, there was great blues music coming out of the clubs that lined the street and not a cowboy boot in site!

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The next day I went to check out the Stax Museum of American Soul. Let me start off by saying my pictures don't do this museum justice. There's easily 2 1/2 hours worth of great exhibits here and I definitely recommend it. I didn't get a picture of it but there's a map that shows many of their most famous artists and where they lived in relation to the studio. So much talent came out of this area!  

Stax Museum of American Soul Music

Stax Museum of American Soul Music

Old church within the museum. Most of the top soul artists started by singing gospel music in church

Old church within the museum. Most of the top soul artists started by singing gospel music in church

Stax Records Studio A

Stax Records Studio A

Albert King exhibit

Albert King exhibit

Isaac Hayes' gold Cadillac

Isaac Hayes' gold Cadillac

Historic Audiotronics console. Some of the artists mixed on this board include Isaac Hayes, Led Zeppelin, James Taylor, John Prine, the Staple Singers and The Cramps.

Historic Audiotronics console. Some of the artists mixed on this board include Isaac Hayes, Led Zeppelin, James Taylor, John Prine, the Staple Singers and The Cramps.

 

 

After Stax I went to check out the Legendary Sun Studio. For those who don't know the studio is called the birthplace of Rock and Roll. This is due to the song "Rocket 88" by Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats, recorded here by owner and record producer Sam Phillips. The story goes that the guitarist's amp fell off a truck on the way to Memphis and they stuffed newspaper into it to continue using it. This resulted in what some call the first guitar distortion sound. Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis and many others would go on to record here. 

Sun Studio

Sun Studio

Early recording device

Early recording device

Sun Studio, the small black x next to the mic in the center is where Elvis originally stood when first recording here. 

Sun Studio, the small black x next to the mic in the center is where Elvis originally stood when first recording here. 

 

So what can I say, Memphis is a really cool city. I didn't get to see Graceland, maybe next time. I'd definitely recommend coming here for the history, it's far too much to see in one weekend. Comment below and let me know what you thought about this blog. As always I appreciate you reading this far, make sure to sign up to receive blog and music updates.

Do you have tips on venues I should play or want to host me for a house show? Send me an email at JoshGray@JoshGrayMusic.com, I'd love to hear from you!

I hope to see you on the road at one of the many shows I'm playing, take care friends.