Long Lives the King


elvis fright

The Dude calculates the exchange rate for the tour

Le Roi est Mort, vive le Roi

The phrase coined in France in 1422 after the death of King Charles VI and the subsequent ascension to the throne of Charles VII could well be the modern day motto of Memphis, Tennessee. City fathers could not have found a more fitting summation of this southern city’s allure than the English translation—The king is dead, long live the king.

More than 50 years after the King of Rock and Roll, with a then-bloated pelvis and his pants around his ankles, toppled from his porcelain throne at age 42 and expired on the bathroom floor of his hillbilly castle, fans from around the world flock to Memphis to breathe in his charisma in the place he called home.

Now a national landmark, Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion is a must-see on every tourist’s list of things to do in Memphis. No matter that it is an overpriced tourist trap in a somewhat dicey part of town that commercializes the King’s image to the point of sadly comic caricature. It’s the place where Elvis frolicked with his hillbilly friends and relatives and that is enough for fans who come to pay homage, many of whom were not yet born when he made his final face plant.

Graceland is located on Elvis Presley Boulevard, down at the end of lonely street across from an RV Park and the Heartbreak Hotel. The mansion sits across the boulevard from the main commercial enterprise, where visitors pay $10 bucks to park before entering the Elvis shopping mall, from which a shuttle delivers those with tickets to the mansion’s front door.

The caretakers of the King’s image offer the besotted an Elvis experience for every budget—-The Elvis Entourage VIP Tour plus airplanes for $80 ($75 if you skip the airplanes); the Graceland Platinum Tour plus airplanes $47.50 ($42.50 sans airplanes); and the plain old Graceland Mansion Tour ‘for those on a tight schedule’ for the bargain basement price of $38.50.

the house

Nothing says I’ve got money than a couple of Lions guarding your front porch

the lair

Three TV’s in the media room, one for each channel available at the time

christmas dinner

The dining room where Elvis and the Memphis mafia gathered


Okay, technically this wasn’t in Graceland but you just know he would have had one

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The jungle room in all its’ green carpeted over-sized wooden glory

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This is where the infamous Peanut Butter and banana sandwiches originated

The tour begins in a shuttle line where desultory ticket takers check bags for contraband before handing out I-Pads that guide visitors through the mansion, beginning with a living room/entertaining area with stained glass peacocks and a baby grand piano. Elvis, informs the I-pad, loved music. Gawkers are assured everything is as it was back in the day when the King let his dyed black coif down and put his feet up on the furniture.

The dining room table, where the King took his sustenance, is set for a meal beneath a giant crystal chandelier. The spacious kitchen next door, where cook prepared Elvis’ famous fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches, is equipped with the modern conveniences of the day, including an antiquated microwave oven and a bulky small screen TV.

But it is the added-on jungle room in back that captures the ambiance of the times. Elvis furnished it with ornate custom cowhide chairs and sofas with fur (do cows have fur?) still in tact. One can’t help but picture a naked female bottom going against the grain, so to speak. If such things happened in the jungle room the I-pad tour does not mention them. The wood panel wall treatments must have cost a lot but they look about the same as the ones in Uncle Herbert’s basement. The room is topped, quite literally, with green shag carpet stapled between wood ceiling beams. The shag matches the floor and is said to have enhanced the acoustics in the room.

Downstairs in the man cave one can feel Hugh Hefner’s influence on the times. A long black couch festooned with white throw pillows provides seating, or perhaps a reclining area, for guests to watch the three tube-style TVs built into the far wall. The room features a yellow wet bar upon which a sign advises tourists that touching is not allowed. The well-worn pool table in the adjoining room bears the torn-felt a trick shot performed less than proficiently by a member of the Memphis mafia.

We are informed by our I-Pad, without any hint of irony, that the tour, out of respect for the King, does not include Graceland’s second floor and the bathroom in which he met his maker with bum cheeks exposed.

The mansion tour includes a long walk-through trophy room, which showcases Elvis’ incredible career with wall displays of his platinum 45s, albums, costumes, charitable contributions and tributes from record companies and the many charitable causes he supported, all to the musical accompaniment of a string of the King’s hits.

shooting parlour

After a little guitar pickin’ the boys would shoot at things

trophy room

This was just a small portion of the awards from all around the world that filled this building


The paddock still remains, a peaceful oasis in the sea of commercialism around it


The entire Presley family is laid to rest here including his twin brother

The I-Pad guides us back outside, where the King raced his horses around the 13.8-acre estate’s paddock, next to the two-storey racquetball court/gym/lounge he had built behind the house. A winding stone path takes us past the driveway where he parked his Cadillac’s, motorcycles and the off-road toys he and his Memphis mafia buddies used to tear around the estate and onto the boulevard out front.

The tour takes a more somber turn as we pass the guitar-shaped pool and enter the memorial garden where the King rests in the company of his beloved mother Gladys, father Vernon and a plaque inscribed with the name of his twin brother, who died at birth and is interred elsewhere in the state.

You might think the basic mansion tour covers all the bases for even the most ardent Elvis fan. Not so, Presley piker breath. We splurged for the $47.50 Platinum Tour, which entitles us to experience more of Elvis back across the street at the shopping mall complex. Much more.

The mall features the King’s car museum, which houses his pink Cadillac, black Rolls Royce, fire engine red Corvette, pristine Austin Healy, baby blue T-bird and various and sundry motorized toys, including a dune buggy and motorcycles, all on display around a backdrop playing Elvis-in-cars movies.

The car museum opens onto a gift shop through which visitors pass an array of Elvis memorabilia ranging from T-shirts to ash trays, from guitars to sequined white jump suits, from oversize silver rimmed sunglasses to key chains and shot glasses, all offered at special tacky tourist prices.

The gift shop leads to the Elvis archives, where never-before-seen (except by the millions of tourists who have traipsed past over the years) photographs of the King are displayed next to outfits he’s wearing in the pictures. Here, a fringed buckskin jacket he wore in the snow, there the bell-bottom velvet trousers that encased his pelvis on stage.

Enough already, you say. Not nearly, King of Rock and Roll lightweight.

There is a movie theatre where you can become engrossed in a stellar Elvis flick set against a backdrop of exotic locales with a string of scantily clad starlets thrown in. So what if the story-line never changes. The Colonel knew a winning formula. No Elvis movie ever lost money. After the picture enjoy a burger and coke in a diner that smells like a vat of grease, or jerk your sequined jumpsuit with a shake at the soda fountain.

You’ll need to fortify yourself for the rest of the gift shops and your continuing quest for that perfect Made-in-China trinket that says I saw Graceland. And don’t forget the airplanes parked on the gift shop tarmac., customized by Elvis to take you into the fantasy world of a rich hillbilly

the shirts

The man loved a loud shirt

who could forget

The Colonel never met a bad movie he wouldn’t put Elvis in


The good thing about monogrammed shoes is that only a guy named Ed Peterson can steal ’em


Sure jumpsuits are comfy, but where do you put your wallet?

elvis enflight eating

The interior of the Lisa Marie, one of two planes the King owned

original pink caddy

This was the model for the Mary Kay empire

jumpsuit era

As if a sequinned jumpsuit wasn’t enough, they added a cape to the one on the left

bricks on gate

Apparently Ray Liotta is a fan, who knew


Bet they didn’t charge you for a checked bag on this flight

gift shop

No wonder the man is richer dead than alive

Peabody Ducks

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Blues, Barbecue and the Peabody Ducks, which of these things is not like the others

Everything is just ducky at the historic Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis, a short walk from Beale Street where the blues and barbecue rule supreme.

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Apparently attitude will only get you so far on a chilly winter’s day

But the Peabody is a world away from the rough and ready atmosphere of this southern city’s music scene. To call the Peabody a class establishment is understatement. It is the place to stay in Memphis if you have the wherewithal.

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Not a cowboy hat or boot to be found on Beale Street, you can honky tonk your butt on back to Nashville for that

Famous guests of the original Peabody Hotel, built in 1869, include Presidents Andrew Jackson and William McKinley. Jefferson Davis once lived in the hotel while working in Memphis. The current Italian Renaissance incarnation was built a block from the original site, which closed in 1923.

The hotel has played a pivotal role in the Memphis social scene since it reopened in 1925. Elvis Presley attended his high school graduation party in one of the hotel’s ballrooms. Neil Diamond wrote Sweet Caroline (with a young Caroline Kennedy in mind) in his room after serenading hotel guests at the lobby’s grand piano.

And what a lobby. In the weeks leading up to Christmas it is festooned with a two-story Christmas tree with more glitter than Liberace, who likely stayed here when in town. The tree is matched in grandeur by the bar on the opposite side, which rises behind the lobby’s centrepiece fountain, its rich wood shelving gleaming with an array of libations to tempt the most devout teetotaler.

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The Dames’ massive cranium is dwarfed by the Peabody’s Xmas tree

Not that you have to imbibe alcohol to soak up the Peabody’s atmosphere. Tastefully uniformed servers are happy to serve tea, hot chocolate topped with Santa Claus hats of rich whipped cream or even root beer floats, a house specialty. All accompanied by bowls of crunchy aperitifs.

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This is where Elvis shopped, a few of his 70’s psychedelic shirts remain, prices however, have gone up slightly

The lobby is adjacent to the requisite high end shops, including the gentleman’s clothing purveyor where Elvis liked to shop. It is said he often ordered his unique rock and roll outfits (pre-white jumpsuit phase) by phone and the proprietor, knowing his size and taste, would send over a van load of clothing for the King to peruse. On more than one occasion he instructed the delivery driver to leave it all.

The scene is overlooked on all sides by a second story walkway from which hotel guests can lean on the railing and watch the action unfold. On our visit the action included a lot of men in athletic gear, all of them closing in on seven feet, emerging from the elevator to walk through the lobby. A discreet inquiry revealed that they were not NBA players in town to take on the Grizzlies but instead college players getting psychologically prepared for a game against the University of Tennessee. No billets in college dorms for these amateur b-ballers.

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The tourists fill the lobby to capacity at the Peabody, the ducks aren’t the only ones getting fleeced here. Eight dollar hot chocolate anyone?

In late afternoon, the lobby fills to capacity with tourists and hotel guests, all of them focusing on the magnificent fountain, and pool, built from a single block of Italian travertine marble, that is the lobby’s centrepiece. Athletes, entertainers and political luminaries walk unnoticed among the gathered, who have their eyes on a man in a red, gold braid-embossed tail coat who moves about the room, gold-knob walking stick in hand, with the calm but welcoming authority of a man who knows he’s in charge.
He is the famed Peabody Duck Master, a man who by force of will alone will lead his feathered charges from the fountain, down three stairs and along a red carpet that is rolled out from the fountain twice a day for the march of the Peabody ducks to the musical accompaniment of John Phillip Sousa’s King Cotton March.

The tradition dates back to 1933 when the hotel’s general manager returned from a duck hunting trip which included liberal draughts of Tennessee sippin’ whiskey. He thought it would be amusing to put some duck decoys in the fountain. It was, and the Peabody Duck March was born when hotel bellman Edward Pembroke volunteered to care for the ducks. He served as Duckmaster for 50 years until his retirement in 1991. The list of celebrities who have served as honorary Duckmaster includes Oprah, Joan Collins, Kevin Bacon, Emeril, Peter Frampton and Queen Noor of Jordon.

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The Duck Master leads his charges back to the elevator after a busy day at the fountain

The Peabody ducks, always a mallard drake and four hens, take the elevator at 11 a.m. from their $200,000 glassed-in home with private pool on the hotel’s roof down to the lobby, which they march across on a red carpet to the magnificent fountain and pool, there to while away their day, paddling and quacking, in the midst of the lobby’s coming and goings.

The ducks are raised on a farm. They stay at the Peabody for three months before being returned to the farm where they are free to fly away. They are not ducks to be toyed with. Petting and feeding are strictly prohibited, as is throwing coins into their pool. They do not leave the water to fly about or to solicit treats from hotel guests. These ducks know a good thing when they see it, and their part of a bargain which includes free food and luxurious accommodation in the city’s premier hotel, is to cavort in the water until it is time to walk the red carpet to the elevator at the Duck Master’s behest.

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On the other side of the tracks, this bird works for tips as a door-bird at a seedy Beale Street establishment, dreaming of the day the ducks leave Memphis

At precisely five p.m., the Duck Master taps his walking stick on the pool’s marble edge, signalling his feathered charges that it is time to go. They jump from water to marble with a barely discernible flap of the wings, then down the steps one stair at a time before waddling their way to the elevator, taking little or no notice of the surrounding throngs snapping pictures in their wake.

The elevator doors close to a flash of cameras and the Duck Master and his feathered charges chalk up another ducky day at the Peabody Hotel.

Incidentally, Duck does not appear on any of the hotel’s menus.


How To Honky-Tonk in 5 easy steps


He’s a little bit country and a little bit rock n’ roll (shout out to Donny & Marie)

The radio pickings are mighty slim in the southern USA, unless y’all are a fan of hell and damnation sermons, country music or the bigoted stylings of right wing radio gods like Rush Limbaugh.

We opt for country music, –‘broke-down-pickup-truck, girlfriend-troubles, dog-done-left-me’—over the ravings of Rush, whose hatred for Obama is superseded only by his love of money. The right wing windbag interrupts his diatribes to shill for everything from home security systems to bathroom cleaning products. Mistakenly tuning into Limbaugh is like hitting an old tel-evangelist show while flipping TV channels: you listen with morbid fascination as bile rises. Limbaugh rants about the media elite, ignoring the fact that his multi-million-dollar national radio contract puts him at the top of the media pack. It’s hilarious but horrifying when you realize how many listeners believe his every word. Canada’s recent election was a Kumbaya love-fest compared to political commentary down here.

Creepy Dick

A Rush Limbaugh fan

Nashville is music industry mecca, a town where guitar pickers and songwriters of every stripe come to ply their trade, hoping for the big hit that will transport them to a fenced estate in Belle Meade or Brentwood, beside Dolly Parton or Keith Urban and Nicole.

Bobby in the bus

Charmin’ Tommy Garmon, tour guide extraordinaire, just ask him

Apparently going country in Nashville involves buying a mansion along a leafy country lane, if not for yourself than for a close relative. City girl Taylor Swift, who has a downtown penthouse that takes up an entire floor, bought her ailing mom a home in the suburbs where her white SUV can frequently be seen parked at the house, a football field of grassy expanse away from the country lane. Steve Tyler keeps a luxury condo in town, not far from Taylor’s place. No word on whether the Aerosmith mouthpiece gets together with country’s ‘Angst’ girl for beer and shop talk.

Dolly's house

Dolly’s house, note the two large..gates

We know all this after taking a tour with Charmin’ Tommy Garmon, a Nashville native with a face like a blood hound and a mouth-full-of-marbles Tennessee drawl. Tommy, who bills himself as a tour guide/comedian, wisecracks his way around town in a small white bus, attending to his driving just enough to keep the bus from veering into a curb or ditch.

He knows Nashville like the backs of his meaty hands, one of which drapes from the wheel while the other performs an assortment of tour guide tasks, pointing out the sights, fiddling with CDs and DVDs, gesticulating for emphasis, singling out a passenger for the punch line of a joke. He has taken enough tourists over the years to fill Nissan Stadium, where the Tennessee Titans struggle to be taken seriously as a professional football team.

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Johnny Cash memorabilia, note his prison mugshot on the right

Tommy takes us to the home store of American Pickers, where television-entranced tourists line up for a look at the show’s set. He deadpans that the building is a false front and the inside is no bigger than his bus. He cruises past the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Johnny Cash Museum, dishing insider dirt on the nasty inheritance fight among far-flung Cash family factions after the Man in Black’s death. We drive along studio row, where promising songwriters are paid set wages to turn out ditty after ditty in eight hour shifts in the corporate quest for money-making hits.

“I slave away the days at this old computer screen,
Just a waitin’ for the weekend to come,
So I can hose down my pricey pickup sparklin’ clean
And then go shoot my brand new Bass Pro Shop gun.”
Too commercial? How about something with a little more southern twang?
My woman works nights on the barbecue down at Porky’s Place
Slappin’ down-home southern sauce on great big slabs of meat.
She don’t wear no fancy perfurme, not for her that frilly lace
Cause she comes home from work smellin’ good enough to eat.

While many of the Waylon and Willie wannabes have the musical chops, few will make it to Belle Meade, except perhaps on one of Tommy’s tours. Music lovers who descend on Nashville’s Music Row are the ones who benefit from the influx of talent. The best of the bunch play the saloons and honky tonks for tips in the hope they’ll be discovered. The price of a beer and a couple of bucks in the tip jar buys passersby an afternoon of more than passable guitar pickin’.


Personally I never wear white boots after labour day

You’ll need a bit more dough if you want an authentic pair of Tennessee cowboy boots, despite all the signs along the strip advertising Buy One Pair, Get Two Pairs Free. Bargain hunters browsing through thousands of boots on floor-to-ceiling racks can be seen to swoon, not from the heady aroma of hand-tooled leather, but instead from price tags on that first pair, which start at about four hundred bucks and go upwards from there, depending on how fancy you want your feet to look walking through cow-pies in the pasture.

Nice chair

Nothing says seedy bar like this stool, but hey $2 buck shots help

America’s deep south is one of the civilized world’s last bastions for nicotine addicts. Enticed by a sign proclaiming two buck shots, we slide into a hole-in-the-wall bar on a side street steps from Music Row. It’s two in the afternoon but the inside of the bar says it’s two in the morning. A lone guitar picker wailing about love lost from a make-shift stage sets the tone. The place is dark and dank, its air so permeated with stale tobacco that breathing feels hazardous.

Bathroom walls

Adding to the mystique, urine coloured walls and patron inspired graffiti

In concession to the years of paint-peeling smoke and boot-scootin’ boogies, the worn and torn linoleum floor peels back in spots to reveal grimy black concrete beneath. The sticky wooden tabletop wobbles at first touch, as does the bar stool, its twirling seat lowering first one cheek, then the other, as if acclimatizing our butts to the sordid surroundings. The only concession to the 21st Century is a big screen TV playing college football. A no-nonsense waitress appears out of the smoke to demand our order.

Seedy bar

You’ll note the sign with shot prices for all tastes, being upscale we went for the $2 option

“Two cheap shots,” the Meanderers wheeze in unison with exaggerated bonhomie. “Like it says on the sign.”
“What kind,” she says, wasting no words on small talk. “We got lots.”
“Tequila,” replies the Dude with a manly gasp for air.
“No tequila,” says the waitress, continuing her remarkable efficiency with the language.
“How about bourbon or vodka?”
“We got bourbon and vodka.”
“We’ll have bourbon and vodka.”

A quick toast of shot glasses and its down the hatch, the Dude pulling deeply on his Vape, adding a cloud of vapour to the air, the Dame, a former long-time smoker, sucking in the acrid haze like a junkie to her fix. The waitress is summoned through the blue air for a short conversation and another round. And then another.

Predator fan meets rockers

ZZ top wannabe meets Nashville Predator fan, mayhem ensues

And so it goes on Honky Tonk row. At our next stop at a cavernous cowboy bar, two ZZ top pretenders cry out for hillbilly cred with brillo brush beards that hang below their chins. A guitar duo of virtuoso abilities, they run through crowd favourites sprinkled with presentable original tunes. The saloon, which doubles as a restaurant until 9 p.m., when kids are verboten, is mercifully smoke-free. Even in early afternoon, the place is packed. Nashville Predators fans, clad in the team’s Halloween colour jerseys, are psyching themselves for the coming conflict at the Bridgestone Arena, a weak wrist shot away from Honky Tonk row.

Late night food

Nothing says I may have overdone it like a late night stop for corn pancakes, hot peppers and deep fried meat

We quaff beer and devour plates of deep-fried meat and even deeper-fried vegetables in another saloon down the street, while a country band revs up a full house liberally sprinkled with Preds fans. The country look—black stetsons, Wrangler jeans, expensive boots—clashes violently with the Halloween jerseys. Where’s Carrie Underwood when you need her? The revved-up Dude takes to shouting “Go Canucks Go” between songs.

BB Kings duo 2

We fancy things up with a visit to BB King’s Club

Changing it up, we make our way to the BB Kings Blues club, the only place charging a cover. We pay the nominal $5 and plant ourselves at the thirty-foot bar. The club is more gentile than the honky tonk saloons. Wine glasses outnumber beer mugs and there are more glitter tops than torn jeans. But the players on stage are every bit as good, with horns, gravelly voices and plenty of blues guitar. Best of all, the bartender happily serves tequila shots.

The Dame and Elvis

The Dame asks Elvis for directions to Graceland, our next stop

Next up Memphis, where Elvis is in the house, and on street signs, billboards and Made-in-China coffee cups, key chains and salt and pepper shakers, in Beale Street shops, corner stores and run-down gas stations.