VOL. 129 | NO. 117 | Tuesday, June 17, 2014
By Andy Meek
It’s one of the most well-known bits of lore associated with Memphis, that of a 19-year-old singer who, in July 1954, walked into a recording studio and belted his raucous version of the blues song “That’s All Right (Mama)” into Sam Phillips’ microphone.
Brian Bowes of Toronto examines a mixing console from Ardent Studios in the “60 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll” exhibit at the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum. The exhibit chronicles the genre’s timeline from its inception.
(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)
That episode 60 years ago next month saw Elvis Presley hasten the explosive arrival of rock ‘n’ roll, and because the moment is now at its six-decade milestone, it’s being celebrated in Memphis with an affectionate tribute.
The Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum has teamed up with Graceland and the Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau to launch “60 Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” an exhibit at the museum running through January that features star-studded memorabilia and a timeline that traces rock’s long, exuberant arc.
It’s an arc that originated in Memphis and today is a magnet for a chunk of the tourism and entertainment dollars that flow through the city. The museum exhibit is being presented by FedEx and Hard Rock Café and features a variety of rock-themed memorabilia on loan from Hard Rock Café in Orlando that’s never before been displayed in Memphis.
Examples include heart-shaped glasses worn by Elton John, a dress from Whitney Houston and many other pieces of memorabilia from the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Isaac Hayes and others.
As they soak up the history, museum guests are encouraged to tweet their thoughts and opinions with the hashtag #rocknsoul60. The museum will “favorite” and “retweet” certain posts, and writers of some of the best tweets will be given “60 Years of Rock” prizes.
Besides sharing museum guests’ postings via its social media platforms and website, the museum will post a regular stream of daily additions to the timeline of rock’s greatest moments.
“Wise on Elvis Presley Enterprise’s part to recognize this from a tourist standpoint and from the standpoint of refocusing an international spotlight on Memphis, as far as rock starting based around Elvis recording ‘That’s All Right (Mama)’ at Sun and Memphis’ role in starting rock ‘n’ roll,” said museum executive director John Doyle. “We saw it as an extension of our mission and an extension of our storyline through the museum and really talking about rock as a complete entity.
“It’s not just about what happened here in Memphis. If you’re talking about a Springsteen or an Eric Clapton, there’s an influence of Memphis as the epicenter of rock ‘n’ roll that permeates all those. So we didn’t mind including memorabilia from Elton John or Aerosmith or Whitney Houston, just because the whole package of rock ‘n’ roll embraces all that.”
Items in the exhibit include a guitar played by Joe Perry of Aerosmith and an amp used by Bruce Springsteen. Also on display is a 1933 Richenbacher “Electro” guitar, a precursor to rock’s electric guitar. Acoustic guitarist Adolph Richenbacher created the electricity-driven Electro to make his instrument better able to be heard over the orchestra music during his 1920s vaudeville performances.
The “60 years” gallery is found at the end of the regular Smithsonian exhibit at the museum, in a temporary space where the museum can install things that Doyle says enhance the visitor experience.
“We try to change things out in that gallery often so that it complements the Smithsonian exhibit but also adds something unique,” Doyle said.
The new exhibit is included in regular admission to the museum, which is open 7 days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.