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In the pantheon of great American music cities, Memphis is easily in the top five; in terms of its overall contribution, I'd put it only behind the great New Orleans in its impact. This is the city where Rock and Roll was born; Elvis Presley first recorded at Sun Studios down on Union Avenue; Graceland is a couple miles away. This is where the delta blues of Mississippi and Texas matured into a commercially viable genre. It produced some of Soul Music's finest acts like Reverend Al Green, Otis Redding and Isaac Hayes, as well as one of its greatest labels, Stax Records. Today, it remains a powerful monument to the music that shaped America.

Beale Street is one part of that legacy. With a history stretching back before the Civil War, Beale became a center of black music in the early 20th century with the emergence of blues-based jazz like that of WC Handy. Blues musicians came to Memphis from the creatively fertile Mississippi Delta further south; among those was a guitarist named Riley King, originally billed as the Beale Street Blues Boy, then simply as Blues Boy, and finally as his best known name: B.B. King.

Today, Beale Street is lined with blues bars and smoky clubs, not unlike Nashville's Broadway, but with a somewhat earthier feel. The neon still shines bright, though, and the music wafts from every door.

We arrived there at night, during a rainstorm of occasionally epic proportions, which cleared the street somewhat, allowing me to get some nice shots with a less-than-peak crowd. This was taken handheld at f/5 at 1/10 speed with my 35mm Nikkor lens. A photographic cousin to a similar shot I took on Nashville's Broadway only a couple days before. There's a wider view in the Workshop.

This song isn't blues, it's barely rock, and it's got a little bit of soul and gospel (as much, anyway, as a white Jewish guy from Cleveland can have), but it is a great tribute to the music of the city. The link will play the song at Grooveshark.

"Walkin' in Memphis", Marc Cohn

Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues in the middle of the pouring rain
W.C. Handy, won't you look down over me
Yeah I got a first class ticket but I'm as blue as a boy can be

Then I'm walking in Memphis
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel

Saw the ghost of Elvis On Union Avenue
Followed him up to the gates of Graceland
Then I watched him walk right through
Now security they did not see him
They just hovered 'round his tomb
But there's a pretty little thing
Waiting for the King
Down in the Jungle Room

Then I'm walking in Memphis
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel

They've got catfish on the table
They've got gospel in the air
And Reverend Green be glad to see you when you haven't got a prayer
But boy you've got a prayer in Memphis

Now Muriel plays piano every Friday at the Hollywood
And they brought me down to see her and they asked me if I would
Do a little number and I sang with all my might
And she said "Tell me are you a Christian child?"
And I said "Ma'am I am tonight"

Then I'm walking in Memphis
Walking with my feet ten feet off of Beale
Walking in Memphis
But do I really feel the way I feel

Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded the plane
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues in the middle of the pouring rain
Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues in the middle of the pouring rain

Larger version on Flickr, here.

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Additional Photos by Andrew Lipsett (ACL1978) Gold Star Critiquer/Gold Star Workshop Editor/Gold Note Writer [C: 883 W: 75 N: 1688] (7467)
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