Our Musical Journey to Tennessee: Part 1 – Memphis, Home of the Blues, Birthplace to Rock ‘N’ Roll

July was an action packed music month for us. The month started with our vacation trip to Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee. Stay tuned for other music posts about more music events we experienced in July.

I brought along an essential music book to read on the plane, Mystery Train (Sixth Edition) by authoritative music journalist, Greil Marcus. The synergy of this book fit perfect with the music mission. The first chapter was about Harmonica Frank, 1951 (the year of my birth), Sam Phillips and Sun Studio. The book set the stage for the first leg of the music journey, Memphis. There was also a chapter about Elvis Presley but more about the King of Rock and Roll in Memphis later in this saga. 🙂

The path of American music discovery

A major goal in the music of our heart has been to visit the four homes (birthplaces) of American music, blues, country, jazz and rock n roll. We had previously visited the birthplace of jazz, New Orléans, Louisiana where we saw Preservation Hall on St. Peters Street.

We journeyed first to Memphis, Tennessee to learn more about the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock n roll. We stayed at the Hampton Inn at 175 Peabody Place a half block away from Beale Street.

The music on Beale Street spirited us out of the  hotel and around the block like a pied piper. We saw two blocks of motorcycles lining the pedestrian thoroughfare.

Bikes on Beale

“I’m walking in Memphis, Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale” Marc Cohn ©Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

Beale Street is a majestic street. We took note of B.B. Kings Blues Club at the top of Beale. We decided to have dinner and catch a show there the next night. We had to pay our respects to the King of the Blues.

From the 1920s to the 1940s, Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Memphis Minnie, B. B. King, Rufus Thomas, Rosco Gordon and other blues and jazz legends played on Beale Street and helped develop the style known as Memphis Blues. As a young man, B. B. King was billed as “the Beale Street Blues Boy”.

We had a fantastic dinner at the Flying Fish the first night. It was rated 4.5 stars. The fish was deeeelicious as my great-nephew Blake loves to say 🙂

The next day we signed up for a day tour of Memphis at the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau. We had a wonderful tour guide. Our first stop was Elvis Presley’s home, Graceland. I kept hearing the song, “Graceland” by Paul Simon in my head as we drove to the tourist attraction.

Graceland was a sight to behold. What knocked me out the most about Elvis’s estate was The Jungle Room and the sheer amount of awards he received in his lifetime for music and movies. Truly we were witnessing the King of Rock N Roll’s palace. What an honor it was to see it all.

The next stop on the Memphis tour was Sun Studio. A momentous place where Sam Phillips recorded, Howlin Wolf, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. We didn’t take the studio tour as the place was mobbed. We looked around, took some pictures, bought some souvenirs and got back on the shuttle. Finally got to witness the birthplace of rock n roll.

(RoadTripSports.com photo by Kendall Webb)

I preordered the book that Peter Guralnick has been writing about Sam Phillips for 25 years. My goal is to learn more about Sam Phillips from his close friend.  Peter Guralnick is the definitive Memphis music historian. I can’t wait to get back to Memphis and continue the music discovery.


Nashville Skyline  will be Part 2, stay tuned….

Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Arthur Burnett)

Buddy Guy‘s audio biography, Why I Left Home: My Story is enhancing my understanding about key blues practitioners. I enjoy hearing Buddy Guy share his personal memories about The Mud (Muddy Waters), B.B. King, Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf. Each day I listen to more chapters then I look up the blues artists Buddy speaks with reverence.

Buddy Guy wrote these words about Howlin’ Wolf  for Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Artists List.


He was so exciting to be on a show with. Wolf was a big man, but he could really move. It was like when the Chicago Bears had that player the Refrigerator. People think football players can’t move when they’re that big. And people expected the Wolf, because he was such a big guy, to just sit in a chair and belt it out. No, man, he had all that action. He had everything you wanted to see. He’d crawl around, jump around. His fists were as big as a car tire. And he would ball that fist up. When I started getting calls to come and play on some cuts behind him, I’d think, “Oh, shit, I better play right.” I’d heard he was mean. I was told that. But, you know, I never had a cross word with the man the whole time, right up to when he passed away.

Source: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-greatest-artists-of-all-time-19691231/howlin-wolf-20110420#ixzz2J1spOfbF 

The Oxford American – Thirteenth Annual Music Issue

I made a great musical find last night browsing at my local Barnes & Noble book store. I saw out of the corner of my eye a copy of Oxford American magazine sitting by its lonesome. It was calling me to pick it up. I noticed that my favorite music journalist, Peter Guralnick had contributed an article, “Sam Phillips‘s Greatest Discovery” to the publication. It’s a story about Howlin Wolf and its reallllllly good!

I have developed a discerning taste for music journalism over the decades. The Oxford American, thirteenth annual Southern music issue surpasses my expectations with its content. It is a treasure chest of well articulated and researched music literature. The publication adds tremendous depth to the importance of our rich American heritage, the music of the South.

One of my major bucket list items is to take an extended vacation on the Southern blues trail(s). The Oxford American is the magazine I will be taking with us on that journey.

So forgive me as I rub my hands with glee here this morning. I have this great magazine to hunker down with and learn from this weekend.

Life is sweet 😉

Long Live Hubert Sumlin

Hubert Sumlin epitomized the blues like nobody’s business. I was sad to learn today that he has joined the great beyond.

A longtime collaborator with Howlin’ Wolf in Chicago, and a favorite guitarist of Jimi Hendrix, Hubert Sumlin influenced several generations of bluesmen and guitarists.

We saw Hubert Sumlin twice live. The first time was at the 100 year Salute to the Blues at Radio City Music Hall in New York City in 2003. He cooked on the guitar when he played Killing Floor with David Johansen getting down on vocals. I was blown away by his guitar playing as he stung the guitar strings that night.

Here is the video sequence of that electrifying performance as filmed for the movie, Lightning In A Bottle.

I was amazed to learn he had a lung removed just months before that show. You never would have known it when he pistol whipped that guitar at 71 years young. I was so blessed to witness and feel the connection he had with the late Howlin Wolf.

Experience Hendrix Tour DVD

The second time was at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey in 2010. Hubert Sumlin joined the stellar lineup of guitarists for the Experience Hendrix Tribute. He schooled them all 🙂

We are so going to miss you Hubert Sumlin, save me a table down front at the Blues joint in the sky. Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters are jamming with you now I just know it 😉

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Killing Floor

“No time for the killing floor

No time left for you” – “No Time” by The Guess Who

So what exactly is meant by the phrase, “Killing Floor”? Who coined the phrase?

Killing floor stems from a classic old song associated with Chicago electric blues. Killing floor is also a reference to the place in the slaughterhouse where the stock was killed and then butchered, hence a scene of danger, difficulty, bloodshed, etc. A point of no return.

“Killing Floor” is a 1964 blues song recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, a.k.a. Chester Arthur Burnett on Chess Records, the definitive blues label. The guitar riff that opens this classic blues anthem was created by Hubert Sumlin, who is still playing today. Witness this “Killing Floor” video highlight with David Johansen and Hubert Sumlin filmed at Radio City Music Hall in 2003.
Rosemary and I attended this 5 1/2 hour star-studded event which was the Year of the Blues 2003, a 100 year celebration of the founding of the blues. The concert became a Sony Picture Classics feature-length film, Lightning In A Bottle, directed by Antoine Fuqua (Training Day) and produced by Martin Scorsese.

Musicians performing “Killing Floor”

I first heard “Killing Floor” on Electric Flag’s album, not realizing it was originally written and performed by Howlin” Wolf. It makes total sense now with Mike Bloomfield being a blues guitarist born and raised on the blues in Chicago. Electric Flag played “Killing Floor” as a great driving song with Mike Bloomfield on guitar, Buddy Miles on drums and Nick Gravenites on vocals. I really like the horn arrangement on this track from A Long Time Comin (1968).

One of my all time favorite recordings

Jimi Hendrix loved playing “Killing Floor.”  He was a fantastic blues guitarist. Here is his performance of “Killing Floor” from The Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 with The Jimi Hendrix Experience.

Led Zeppelin often played “Killing Floor” in their live set during their first concert tour of the United States. Killing Floor” evolved into “The Lemon Song” (Led Zeppelin II).