Ever since childhood, Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis was Always On My Mind. The swinging hips and curling lip and knowing eyes filled me with Burnin’ Love. Even though he was long gone before I learned to talk, much less know music, it was only a matter of time until I made my Way Down to Rock and Roll mecca.
Put on your Blue Suede Shoes, grab your coat and let’s start walking down memory lane.
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Let’s Rock, Everybody Let’s Rock
If you didn’t know Graceland was in Memphis, you might not realize it at all until you are right in front of it. It’s about 12 minutes drive outside of downtown, where there’s a lot of other music history to enjoy as well.
Approaching Graceland, I’m itchin’ like a man in a fuzzy tree when I notice the iconic rock wall around the property. I ignored it at first because I envisioned something more substantial. I was surprised that this wall was short enough to jump if you were such an inclined ad because they love him tender, loved him true, there have been many fans who did just that.
Thousands have signed the wall, maybe millions of fans over the years. Instead of just signing my name, I did it My Way and wrote: “Elvis is Still King.”
Hundreds of people used to line up outside of Graceland to catch a glimpse of him and even today, we still do. The house doesn’t sit that far off the road, so fans were often greeted by the sight of Elvis and his “Memphis Mafia.”
Graceland is still the second most visited house in the country after the Whitehouse. Elvis would never have been asked: Are You Lonesome Tonight? because many were always waiting to keep him company.
The wall encircles the 14-acre property except for a break in the front for the entry gates. These famous custom metal gates are designed with music notes and the King’s image playing guitar. I stood there, wondering if I Could Dream of anything so magnificent until a shuttle bus came up behind me and beeped. Can there be A Fool Such As I?
Elvis, Elvis, Elvis
Across the street from Graceland are a series of shops and cafes filled with every type of Elvis niknak you’d ever dream of. Too Much? Never. Gold Elvis glasses? Check. Love Me Tender music box? Yep. Stuffed hound dog. You betcha. Build an extra 12 hours into your trip to tour these shops.
You’ll be shopping so long you’re bound to get hungry, so it’s a good thing there’s Vernon’s Smokehouse (his daddy) and Glady’s Diner (his momma), where you can order peanut butter and banana sandwiches fried in bacon grease just like the Kings’ momma used to make him. You don’t need to Ask Me if I ordered one. My Boy, I sure did.
The only way into Graceland is to buy a ticket – One for the Money, Two for the Show – at the office next to the gift shops. You then hop on a shuttle bus to go across the street and through the gates. By this time, I’m so excited I just might turn to smoke, but I feel fine.
Through the gates of Graceland
I was All Shook Up as the gates opened and our shuttle bus drove right through. Lord Almighty, I feel my temperature rising …
While the others rushed straight up to the doors of Graceland, I took time to savor it away from the noise with a Little Less Conversation. I sat outside on the bench, looking back at the street as I imagined He would have. Then I went through the door.
I entered the main hallway and saw the stairs leading up before me. To the right were the stained glass peacock doors leading into the living room with the custom 15-foot white couch complete with a Teddy Bear.
Little Things I Should Have Said and Done
There is a lot to see at Graceland, but not the upstairs, where he died. It’s kept private because Home is Where the Heart is and that’s what he would have wanted.
In the house, we toured Elvis’ music room, TV room, the dining room, the pool table room, kitchen, his parent’s bedroom, Vernon’s office, and the “Jungle Room.” I went slow, lagging behind the group and trying to soak in his spirit. I savored the details In My Way.
It’s odd to be in a house that’s a time capsule. If you’ve ever seen pictures of Elvis at Graceland, you’ll be immediately familiar with some of the furniture and spaces – it’s like he and everyone that was with him just stepped away … maybe to Viva Las Vegas.
Shake Rattle and Roll
Out back, you’ll see his shooting range, racquetball building and the Elvis Presley’s Memphis Entertainment Complex. This series of buildings have been converted to house the memorabilia of his life. I Just Can’t Help Believing he’d be so proud to see his many, many accomplishments displayed this way.
These museums showcase many of his jumpsuits and other famous outfits like the black leather from his ’68 Comeback Special, family artifacts and more than a dozen cars, including the pink Cadillac he bought his momma, the Jeep he drove in Blue Hawaii, and many others. You can peruse the various displays at your own leisure Until It’s Time For You To Go.
There is an entire section of the museum for his gold records – over 100 of them, not to mention over 50 platinum and 25 multi-platinum. We ain’t fuckin around here, sis. This man was more than eccentric behavior and flashy clothes; he was a master entertainer and this room reminds you of that – to this day, nobody has more music awards. Not even close.
Lisa Marie, also a plane
Another thing you’ll see at Graceland is the Lisa Marie, his 4-engine jet plane named for his only child. On the tail of the plane is his logo “TCB” with a lighting bolt – meaning taking care of business … in a flash. In the plane, there is a bedroom, a bathroom with gold-plated fixtures and a dining room fit for King Creole.
Elvis has left the building
Elvis’ grave is alongside Graceland in the “Meditation Garden” and is the only part of Graceland you can see for free. The gates are open for an hour early each morning for visitors to honor An American Trilogy.
While it has only a few graves, it is still a small, private cemetery, though the “private” part could be debated. The garden includes the graves of Elvis, his parents Gladys and Vernon and grandma Minnie Mae and That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.
Visit Graceland at 3764 Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee T: (901) 332-3322 and if you can’t come around, at least please telephone …
Sun Studio is renowned as being the place where an 18-year-old Elvis recorded his first song. Pop quiz: What was that song? (See answer at the bottom of this post)
You can stand in the same spot at the studio that Big Hunk O’ Love did, see the memorabilia, and hear original recordings and outtakes. You can even cut your own record just like Elvis did. It’s Now or Never, but instead of the $3.98 Elvis paid, you’ll pay $200.
Visit Sun Studio at 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, TN. T: 901- 521-0664.
Surrender yourself to the adventure of a walk down iconic Beale Street like Elvis used to do before Fame and Fortune. Enjoy the music wafting from every door, neon lights and street performers around the clubs and restaurants.
The U.S. Congress declared Beale Street a National Historic Landmark and “Home of the Blues” due to its history of legendary performers like B.B. King, W.C. Handy, Louis Armstrong, and Muddy Waters, to name only a few. Even the most Suspicious Minds won’t question that legitimacy.
“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 …”
-- Mark Cohn Walkin’ in Memphis
Elvis‘ birthplace in Tupelo is just two hours drive from Memphis. His family lived there until he was about 13-years-old. Don’t Be Cruel and skip it. Any fan worth their salt doesn’t just go to the place he ended up; you also go to the place he began when he was just a boy Wild In The Country. Like a river flows, surely to the sea, that’s where we ended up.
Here you’ll see the little 15 by 30-foot shack built by his father, Vernon. I entered the house directly into the small living room and kitchen where the chairs in the parlor seemed empty and bare. There’s a wood-burning fireplace and cast iron stove with some other period furniture donated from the family, though not original to house itself.
There is a small bedroom in the back. Aside from furniture and a few pictures of a young Elvis and his parents, there is little else to see but much to understand. Poverty can be a Devil in Disguise.
As the snow flies
It’s hard to distinguish what the neighborhood may have been like when the Presley’s lived there; while very small, it doesn’t seem like they lived In the Ghetto.
Also at the site is a museum, a park dedicated to the King, and his former Assembly of God Church (moved there from a nearby location) where you’ll see many ardent fans Cryin’ in the Chapel.
The entire tour’s cost is just $19, but the lesson of visiting this house and Graceland is priceless and you Can’t Help Falling in Love. To see that a young man could be born into such humble circumstances and rise to become one of the most loved and well-known people in the world proves anything is possible If I Can Dream.
The Peabody Hotel
I stayed at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, where though it’s always crowded, you still can find some room. It’s not Heartbreak Hotel, but Elvis had many people stay here over the years and spent some time in its lobby.
The hotel resident ducks are second in Memphis fame only to the King himself; one might even say they’re Memphis royalty. Twice a day, you can see them waddle down a red carpet into and out of the large lobby fountain. When not in the fountain, they stay in their rooftop palace, ornately designed with marble and glass and fit for an er…king. Don’t miss it.
Stay at The Peabody Memphis, 149 Union Avenue, Memphis TN 38103; T: 901-529-4000.
Pop quiz answer: In 1953, an 18-year-old Elvis paid Sun Studio $3.98 to record “My Happiness” for his momma, Gladys.