A Trip Of A Lifetime - Memphis January 5th -10th 2001
This was my first trip to Memphis, after years of saying "maybe next year" and after a slight twist-of-the-arm, my ticket was bought and there was no looking back.
We stayed at the Ramada Inn Hotel, just a mile or so away from Elvis' estate. Upon arriving, we made a call to the hotel for the courtesy cab to pick us up, but after 20-minutes, another hotel cab driver took pity on us in the cool Memphis air. He asked us where were we were staying and he offered to take us for $10.00. He was kind enough to take us via the mansion, which was a little out of the way too.
So our first look at the mansion was in the early evening as darkness had just set in. It was really amazing to see the house all lit up with those blue lights - a great start to our trip.
That first evening was spent in the company of Cricket Coulter (the young fan you see in That's The Way It Is) and she has hardly changed a bit. She shared many of her stories and told of the times she spent around Elvis. By the end of that evening, we all felt if we had to go home the next day, our trip would have still been worth it. Just to have been in to company of Cricket and her wonderful recollections of being around Elvis all those years was enough.
We also meet some new friends from around the world. The most noticeable, a Police Deputy from California with which we spent many a late night talking about Elvis.
Day two was nothing but 'let's head straight for Graceland' as it was the main reason for the trip. We all bought our platinum tickets to get around the house, planes & museum. The best sight had to be the Racquetball Court with all the Jumpsuits. Great to see the suits close up, especially the owl belt, as Elvis calls it during the movie Elvis on Tour. I wasn't too taken back by the house, although it is a must. I wouldn't have missed it for anything. It's just that it wasn't a feeling of 'Wow, Elvis lived here' that I though it would be.
After looking at everything, I started to notice the dust on the furniture and the dirt on the floor where everyone had been walking. This did distract me a little, although there was only a small number of fans up at the house. More noticeable, in the Lisa Marie plane, was the dust on the instruments in the cockpit. The area where the pilot sat is now blocked off with clear plastic but looks like it hasn't been cleaned since the plane was put on display, which is a shame.
The evening that followed was just a blur as we started to go into overdrive. Like I said before, we had a lot of late nights. On the Sunday we went down to Beale Street, as we had to go to Elvis Presley's Memphis restaurant. Just before we went to eat, we took a trip to see Bernard J. Lansky at the Peabody Hotel. He's a real gentleman and was really friendly to everyone. It was a pleasure to have met him.
We arrived at the restaurant shortly after where we were honored to have had lunch with one of Elvis karate friends Wayne Carman and his lovely wife Susan. The meal at the restaurant by the way was very good and it was the only meal I had that day. I recommend Memphis if you are going on a diet as you forget to do things like eat and sleep. Afterwards, we planed to visit the very first house Elvis bought way back in 1956 on Audubon Drive. Wayne, who owns a pickup, offered to give us a lift but we had to sit in the back that was uncovered. We didn't mind but Wayne was a little worried that we would freeze to death before we got there. The weather for January in Memphis was fairly mild this year, a little cold at 40mph, but bearable. There were seven of us, two girls who sat inside with Wayne and his wife, the rest of us sat in the back of his open back pickup.
The trip around Memphis was something else and Wayne joined us as we toured the house on Audubon Drive. This was really something and as soon as the door opened, you got that lived-in feeling. They have also tried to keep everything as Elvis left it, or at least in the 50's style and they are doing a great job. I don't know if I could put up with Elvis fans knocking on my door every day.
Wayne then gave us a lift back to the hotel where another late night occurred in the company of Sonny West. He was only supposed to be at the hotel for an hour but he arrived around 9pm and things rounded off at nearly 3am. The stories he told were amazing and Sonny answered every question asked. Most stories linked into anther tales of the fun they had on the movie sets, on tour and his life today. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We were all amazed to find out the next morning that Sonny had come back to the hotel and checked in the previous night as it was so late he thought he would be better off getting a little rest. He planned to get away around lunchtime but as it turned out, it was around 7pm before he headed off home.
Another packed day followed and it was probably the best day so far. The premier of version number two of That's The Way It Is - Special Edition but before that, another trip down to Graceland to see the proclamation on the lawn. We took another walk around the Meditation Garden and viewed the flowers from all around the world.
Then came the biggest treat. Wayne offered to allow us a private screening of the Karate footage of Elvis so we organised a closed-off room at the Ramada for the event, and after finding out that Sonny West was still in the building we asked him to join us (he wasn't going to say 'no' to this). Cricket was there with our little group and we sat and watched this amazing piece of film that was followed by more stories from Sonny. But time was too short and we had forgotten to eat and we still had to get down town for the 8pm screening of That's The Way It Is. So we wound up the afternoon by having a late lunch in the dinning room together, before saying goodbye and a big thank you to Sonny for being such great sport and spending so much time with us.
It was a rush to get ready and then grab a cab but we made it just in time for the screening. Wayne kindly took the two girls and that left four of us to get the cab and Cricket joined us so five of us squeezed into one cab, but we made it. Rick Schmidlin gave a little talk before and after the movie, The movie just came alive on the big screen and the extra bit of footage at the end replacing Are You Lonesome Tonight was perfect. Elvis in his dressing room with Cary Grant, Sammy Davis Jr. and a whole host of other stars.
Back at the hotel - another late night as it was 5.40am when I got to bed but we almost made it for breakfast. I just had to get a little sleep before heading off down town to do an interview with Rick Schmidlin at 8am for the Essential Elvis UK magazine. Rick was candid and to the point. He answered every question in great detail, he's also a great person and true Elvis fan. I can but thank him enough for his time.
Back at the hotel, I just missed breakfast (nothing new there) so we all headed down to Graceland to view the house - but it was closed for maintenance. So we spent some time at the Plaza before heading back to the hotel for a rest and to say goodbye to a few people like Cricket, who was a joy to be around.
Then it was back down to Beale Street for dinner, I couldn't wait for that. Wayne had also offered to take us to see a fight on Beale Street, so we caught up with him and his wife after dinner that was at Elvis Presley's Memphis once again. Two main courses later, we made our way down Beale Street to meet up with Wayne. We first thought tournament may have been a Karate championship or something, but turned out to be a boxing event. This was really something as I think it was a first for most of us, we did meet up with two or three other guys that studied karate with Wayne and Elvis, so that was great too.
Back at the hotel, we had an early night after an interesting chat about politics with a couple local Memphians. Our final day was another rush as we had to check out at 12 noon so we dashed down to Graceland for one final look at the mansion and a few photographs. It was then back to the Hotel and off to the airport for our trip home.
The sheer amount of well known faces that just pass you by and you wish you had the time to stop and chat, and that was just at the hotel. It's a shame there wasn't another 24-hours in the day so you could catch everything and everyone like Bill Burk & Keith Alverson, to name just a couple of the people around.
Also, during this trip, we went to the fan club president's luncheon, with special guests, the TCB band. We also met Sara Erwin author of Over The Fence - A Neighbor's Memories Of Elvis who invited us back to her house. Again, a great treat to see Elvis' home from another angle and of course, to get some real southern hospitality. The folks in Memphis are just so friendly.
Once you've been to Memphis and Graceland, you just have to go back. I consider myself one of the lucky ones because just how many fans can do all this on the first trip? So thanks to Andrew Hearn, you helped make one of my dreams come true. I deliberately left out the part where you tried to kill me, with the 'Lamb Chops'.
Some of the Jumpsuits on display
in the Racquetball Court
Sonny West & Me
Ronnie Tutt and his two daughters at the Fan Club President Luncheon, he told a touching story that day. About Elvis and his daughter
Bernard J. Lansky & Rick Schmidlin, 9th January 9:00am at Lanksy Bros. Following the Interview I had with Rick
The Flowers from Essential Elvis UK
The back of Graceland
New Friend John, with the lovely Cricket, Remember her from the original TTWII Movie
Wayne Carman & Friend, both practised Karate with Elvis in the 70's
Elvis Desk and Chair in the new part of the tour
Another view behind Graceland
Wayne Carman with Sonney West at the Ramada Inn, in Memphis January 2001, one of the best nights I've ever had
We asked if they would shut the gates as they are normally open all day.
Tributes at Elvis' grave this January 2001
All Photos courtesy of Essential Elvis, basically because I was too lazy to take a camera.
So a special thanks to Andrew Hearn, for the negatives