It was a fun time exploring Beale Street, the most famous street in Memphis and the place that has given the city notoriety as one of the best places to hear the blues in the U.S. Here you can find lots of neon signs, history, shops, restaurants and music venues. Beale Street became an active scene at the turn of the century with its heyday in the 1920’s. But after the 1930’s with the Great Depression, the street fell into disrepair and continued to decline through the 60’s with some buildings torn down. Luckily the street was revitalized in the 1980’s and once again became a popular attraction. The name BB King is a popular one on Beale with not only this store pictured above but also the well known BB King Blues Club. Mr. King got his start in Memphis and was nicknamed the “Beale Street Blues Boy.” The name was subsequently shortened to “Blues Boy” and finally “BB.”
Over the years lots of famous musicians have hung out or played on Beale Street. Elvis Presley bought his clothes on Beale from Lansky Bros., “Clothier to the King.” He was just 17 years old when he wandered in the store and once he became a superstar Lansky made most of his outfits including a suit he wore on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. The store is still in business today with Elvis memorabilia and for sale some of the sparkly, striped and flowery suits that Elvis once wore.
I was really looking forward to hearing the blues and at Handy Park a band was playing. The park is named after W.C. Handy, considered the father of the Blues with a statue commemorating him. The band was great and it was fun to see some of the old timers dancing to the music. The lead singer interacted regularly with the crowd asking people where they were from and everyone would clap and cheer. When we said we were from California he said, “Okay, California here is a song for you!” They then played, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.” For the Alabamians in the crowd they played, “Sweet Home Alabama.”
We even found entertainment in the street including this young guy doing stunts to try and drum up money from the crowd. In the photo above he did a hand spring and shot over the backs of brave members of the crowd to oohs and ahhs from onlookers.
On Beale you have to eat BBQ which is good because BBQ is one of my favorite foods. In fact, looking back on our trip so far some of our most memorable meals have been at BBQ places. We have had delicious BBQ in Topeka Kansas, Independence Missouri, Baton Rouge Louisiana, Waynesville North Carolina and Charleston South Carolina to name several. It is funny, but our least favorite on the road has been Mexican. When you are from California with really great Mexican food, it was hard for us to find the same quality in the Eastern U.S.
We dropped in to the Blues City Cafe, an atmospheric place. I liked the neon sign on the outside window advertising “Put Some South in Your Mouth,” an apt phrase since this place is all about Southern food. Perhaps you can see the sign in the photo above. I tried the ribs which is my favorite kind of BBQ and they were delicious and too much to finish at one sitting. But as I have been known to do in the past, I left my to-go box on the table, so no leftovers (sigh). A blues band was playing in the bar connected to the cafe and we took our dessert to a table in there so we could hear the music. While we listened I couldn’t help but think that only two days before we had been listening to a family bluegrass band at the Appalachian Museum and now we were hearing the gritty blues! It was a nice way to end our time on Beale Street.
It was great to be camping again along the Mississippi at Tom Sawyer RV Park in Arkansas just across the river from Memphis. For those that might remember, we camped along the Mississippi in Louisiana last December. We loved the campground there and spent lots of time watching the barges go by day and night and walking the long paved trail along the river. The Tom Sawyer Park was also great, although did not have the nice long paved walking path. But at Tom Sawyer our campsite was closer to the river, so just a few steps and we were there. Below, Mark checks out a passing barge.
There is nothing quite like being by the Mississippi with all the river traffic. I even like how at night while in bed you can still hear the distinctive rumble of a barge as it chugs up or down the river. Evening is a favorite time for me and below are some photos of the river and campground.
Having a campsite by the Mississippi can have its disadvantages though. Some times the RV park becomes part of the river during the spring season when flooding can occur. In May 2011, the river crested to 48 feet, a record since 1938 when it was about a foot over that. The park usually gets advance notice that the river will be flooding and can prepare by removing some things and then putting the park back together when the waters recede. They can also alert people who plan to stay there that the park will be closed. Here is a photo showing the high water mark on one of the buildings.
I would like to have stayed longer at Tom Sawyer but we wanted to spend some time in Oklahoma City and then leisurely make our way back to California, so it was just a short three night stay. The day we left Mark had to get the RV ready to go in the rain, so he finally got to use both his rain gear and rubber boots.
Goodbye for now. In the next blog we head to Oklahoma City!