City of tunes: a local’s guide to music in Memphis

Fancy visiting the place that turned Elvis from skinny lad to legend? Let expert Neil Cameron of The Elvis Travel Service give you a handy guide

In partnership with Warner Bros.

Elvis Presley would be nothing about the city that raised him – and Memphis will never forget the lasting legacy the king of rock and roll had on the town. From beloved food spots to historic institutions, here are all the essential stops on your next trip to the birthplace of rock and roll – which eagle-eyed fans will be able to spot some of in Baz Luhrmann’s new biopic Elvis.

The Foodie’s Mecca

Arcade Restaurant, 540 S Main St

Arcade Elvis
(Credit: Alamy)

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“Opening in 1919, this is Memphis’ oldest restaurant and its authentic 1950s diner décor makes it feel like stepping back in time. Try to sit at the Elvis booth, where he would hang with his friends (the venue was easily escapable if mobbed by fans). It’s been used as a location in countless films and TV shows, such as Jim Jarmusch’s Mystery Train, which featured The Clash’s Joe Strummer.”

Insider tip: “Order the quintessential Elvis dinner of fried peanut butter and banana sandwich.”

The Avenue of Dreams

Beale Street

Beale Street Elvis
Beale Street (Credit: Alamy)

“This is one of the best music streets in the world. Every bar and restaurant has live music playing. Elvis would sneak out as a teenager to go there, and now it’s a tourist hotspot, featuring Jerry Lee Lewis’ Café & Tonk and B.B. King’s Blues Club among its venues. Commemorating Memphis’ blues heritage is Handy Park – named after The Father of Blues WC Handy – and there’s a statue in his honour.”

Insider tip: “Visit the Rum Boogie Café for the tunes and Blues City Café for the food – or jus grab a beer from outside, have a stroll and soak up the live performances.”

The Birthplace of Rock’n’Roll

Sun Studio, 706 Union Avenue

Sun Studio Elvis
Sun Studio (Credit: Alamy)

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“Sam Phillips’ famous recording studio saw some things. Not only did Elvis get his start here, but greats like Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison cut timeless records there. It’s now a museum you can tour.”

Insider tip: “Stand on the exact spot, marked on the floor, where Elvis recorded his 1954 debut single ‘That’s All Right (Mama)’ and wonder what he was thinking as he laid down the foundations of rock’n’roll.”

The Must-Visit Museum

Stax Museum of American Soul Music, 926 E McLemore Ave

STAX Elvis
STAX (Credit: Alamy)

“Starting as a record store in an abandoned cinema this grew to become a massive recording studio where Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave – and yes, Elvis – all made iconic tracks. In the age of segregation, it broke boundaries by having black and white musicians working together.”

Insider tip: “Check out Isaac Hayes’ vintage Cadillac, his fantastic gold-trimmed 1970s Pimp Mobile lined with white rabbit fur.”

The Historic Venue

Overton Park Shell, 1928 Poplar Avenue 

Carl Perkins
Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins swapping autographs in 1956 at the Overton Park Shell (Credit: Alamy)

“This outdoor amphitheatre is a Memphis institution and the location of Elvis’ first ever public concert back in 1954. It’s where he got his trademark gyrations from. He was so nervous stepping onstage that his knees and hips start shaking, and as he did it, the audience went wild for it and he realised he was onto something.”

Insider tip: “Visit one of their free outdoor shows, bring a blanket and picnic and sit outside.”

The Cratedigger’s Paradise

Shangri-La Records, 1916 Madison Ave

Shangri-La
Shangri La Records (Credit: Alamy)

“This independent record shop with a 30-plus year history behind it stocks and promotes music from local artists of every genre. A very laid-back store with friendly knowledgeable staff, it’s a great visit for any music fan keen to discover the latest sounds from the city. Their spin-off label is responsible for releasing many standout records of the ‘90s Memphis indie scene.”

Insider tip: “Their book, Playing For A Piece of the Door: A History of Garage and Frat Bands in Memphis 1960-75, is an essential read.”

Take a look at NME’s special edition Elvis digital magazine right here. Don’t miss Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis starring Austin Butler and Tom Hanks, in cinemas June 24. Book tickets now.

© 2022 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved

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