Nashville Skyline

Tennessee is everything you expect. God, guns, music. And fried chicken.

But especially music.

Some neighborhoods have piped music play twenty-four hours a day, and even the hobos are singing as they push their supermarket trolleys through the streets. Every town seems to be the home or birthplace of some star of country or r'n'b, or features in the lyrics of a song.

Elvis Impersonator Nashville


Nashville and Memphis are the two main draws in Tennessee. Nashville boasts the livelier downtown district, and I loved visiting Cheekwood on the outskirts of the city, a stately home built on the Maxwell House fortune. However of the two I found Memphis more interesting.

Sculpures in Cheekwood Gardens


Memphis feels edgier than Nashville. At night, round Beale Street, there are cop cars everywhere. The parks along the Mississippi feel dangerous as dusk falls. The suburbs stretch for miles and feel like the scene of any number of liquor store hold-ups and drive-by shootings, but they throw up some interesting sites with musical associations.

Memphis Police Beale St The home of Sun Records is surprisingly modest compared to what I expected, especially after Nashville. You could easily drive past it and not know it was there. In fact, I did exactly that, and had to retrace my steps to find it.

Sun Records Memphis Deep in the leafy suburbs you can visit the church where Al Green is the founder and where he has appointed himself bishop. I heard him in concert at the Royal Festival Hall once, and that man can put on one hell of a show; I was sorely tempted to visit one of his services.

Nic Oatridge Presley Grave Memphis But the most impressive shrine for music lovers in Memphis is Graceland. I was prepared to be disappointed, especially when I heard how much the full tourist package costs. However you can visit Elvis's grave for free early in the morning, walking past Graceland itself and through the grounds of the house. The family graveyard is surprisingly under-stated and quite moving, for you sense that Elvis was, after all, just a simple country boy from a musically-obsessed corner of the world, with one enormous talent.

Dawn over Wonder Bread Sign Memphis

Next stop, Elvis's home state: Mississippi.