On the Road: Looking at America Through a Layer of Filth, Grime and Bug Guts

Memphis Recording Studio
Sun Studio Tour

After we ate, the bell rang to announce the start of the tour. We paid our 8 dollars and we were herded into the studio's lobby. I was ready to witness a place where music history was made. In this studio Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison recorded some of the early hits of Rock and Roll. These rockers had inspired the Beatles, who had inspired ELO, who I hate, but you can"t blame Hitler's mother for the Invasion of Poland. Tunes like Great Balls of Fire, Blue Suede Shoes, Mystery Train, That's Alright Mama, and Folsom Prison Blues had been absorbed into the acoustic tile lining the walls. I felt 8 bucks was a small price to pay to see and stand in this "holy land" of American music.

Folsom Prison Blues If you are looking for props and lots of memorabilia from the history of rock and roll then this is the wrong place. I am told there is a more suitable Sun Records museum over on Beale Street. This tour is very basic and not much of a "tour". Can a tour consist of only a single room? Some may argue the tour began in the lobby, since that was part of the operation. I disagree. The studio still operates as a state of the art recording studio. All of the vintage mixing boards and tape machines have been surplused and replaced with digital tape machines and cutting edge bells and whistles. In fact, the place has actually been reconstructed to be as it was back in the fifties. Between the studio's hay day and the present, several stores and shops have occupied the building. I was told there was a surf shop there for a while. I never knew the mighty Mississippi river yielded any sizable waves for surfing, but I guess that shows you what I know.

Geetars Around the studio were a few vintage guitars, an old Hammond B-3 Organ and a set of drums. The walls were covered with pictures of the folks who had turned this place into a Camelot. Even a couple original 45's were framed and preserved for the viewing. I was in awe of the place. I could hear the songs that had been recorded here, still ringing in the air. Then the tour guide turned the music down and began her speech.

The tour was basically this; we stood in the middle of the room and pivoted 360 degrees while the tour guide sat on her butt and told the story of Sun Records. She was very well versed in the memorized speech she used. Her talent for pointing to things on the wall was unmatched. And boy could she hit a play and pause button on an old tape machine. She augmented her speech with sounds, songs and excerpts from ancient recording sessions. One tape had a recording of Elvis getting a little irritated at Carl Perkins, who was standing in the Lobby making faces through the window to the studio. Unfortunately there wasn't more of this type of thing in the recordings played for us. Most of the tape was full of music that I could hear on the radio or on a cd.

After the guide finished, she said we could ask questions and look around and reminded us that our video cameras were to stay in the off position. I think they figured if video tape of this tour got out to the media outlets, then people would wise up to this 8 dollar ticket price. Since they were happy to let us take snapshots we snapped 8 dollars worth of pictures. I was taking pictures of anything the room had to offer, records, guitars, a microphone that Elvis recorded with, and the ceiling tile. How desperate does that sound?

Sun Records Elvis' Mic Ceiling Tiles

Even though I was upset at the ticket price and the limited scope of the tour, I enjoyed my stay at Sun. I was impressed they let us stand in the studio and touch some of the artifacts. Most museums hold you at bay behind velvet ropes and have security guards and museum staff yell at you as soon as the thought of touching something comes to your mind. Some of the more fancy places don't even let humans come in. You have to stand outside and imagine the historic and artistic crap inside. Our town was full of these exclusive museums and my dad took me to everyone of them. Mom would tell him to get us kids out of the house for a while and he would drive us across town to the historic district. He would leave us in front of one of these galleries and say, "you kids just stand there and think about all the famous things in that place. I"ll be back to get you in an hour or two." We would stand there until he came back, or until the curator came out and said, "what are you kids doing? Get out of my yard. I paid good money to live in a neighborhood far away from your type of riffraff." I hated those places.

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Copyright © 2000 The Van Gogh-Goghs