Sunday, April 26, 2009

Day 2: Chuck Who? I'm Not Following You Blowin' In the Wind & the Sins of Memphisto

Memphis, TN

Well at least it was dry today and a good day for kite flying. The torrential downpours gave way to hurricane winds as I was blown across the state of Misery (i.e. miserlou). Jeez these people drive fast down here.

I left Canton @ 7:14 AM as reported earlier with my mind set on taking pictures of the woman's room at Chuck Berry's Farm where he was busted for allegedly having hidden cameras. I pulled off at the Wentzville exit and stopped at the local QT gas station to asked the locals where Make a Buck's farm was.

The first person I encountered was a very cool brother about my age who was sitting in his car with the windows down as I pulled up. He commented on my nice bike (all covered in bug guts) so I figured I had the opening so why not: "Do you know where Chuck Berry's farm is?" I questioned. "Ya know, I've lived here 5 years and still don't know, if you find out please tell me" the man replied. "Sure" I told him and went inside the convenience store. Inside I asked the someteen something kid behind the counter who looked at me like I was an alien and said "I dunno mister, but we have maps over there". I went over to the rack and went thru all the St. Charles and St. Louis counties maps but no reference to Mr. Hail Hail Rock N Roll. A couple of older white folks walked by so I popped the question, at least they knew who I was talking about and confirmed it was "somewhere in Wentzville" but they didn't know, "we're from Troy" they told me, as if that meant something to me.

It was obvious I was getting nowhere so I headed back outside to my bike and the black guy in the car was still there: "Well, what'd you find out?", he asks. "Hell, those white people never heard of him", I tell him. "Figures" he replies, so we start chatting.

I tell him about my one personal encounter with the originator of "Mabellyne" back stage at the Minnesota State Fair in about 1988 and the tantrum he threw at my friend in the back up band. The man laughs a knowing laugh and then waits so as not to appear like he is trying to one up me and then goes on to tell me a similar story about Chuck, shortly after 911. Apparently Chuck wanted to drive his Cadillac up onto the grounds of some park and the powers that be would have none of it and boy did he throw a temper tantrum. He then adds, "My cousin works for the people in charge of the rights for Miles Davis' estate. He tells a great story about those two going at it one time". "My Gawd", I stammer, "talk about the clash of the titan egos". "You said it", he laughs, and they adds "You drive safely" after I announced my trip plans before heading out.

My next stop was a gas station and convenience store that I only mention for my friend Andy. The name of the place was "Fast Lane" and the sweet attendant told me she had three drive offs because she forgets to ask people if they had gas when they come up to the counter.

About an hour later I needed a break from the gale force winds and pull into a rest stop. A nice couple about my age were eating sandwiches outside their immaculate, champagne colored Preus as I pull into the stall next to them. The guy says: "It must be tough trying to keep it on the road today". "Yeah" I answered, "but it's better than the rain in Iowa yesterday". "Iowa" the couple says in unison, "where are you from?" "Minnesota" I answer. "White Bear!" they exclaim. We get to talking and there a couple of psychologists, John Olechek(sp) and his wife(?). Turns out there heading to New Orleans too. There going to do a Habitat for Humanity project, God bless them. When I asked if they were driving thru to New Orleans today, they said no they were stopping in Memphis. "Me too" I tell them. After filling them in on the Ponderosa Stomp and asking if they knew my psychiatrist, they did, I tell them "if we see each other again, I'm not following you" to which the psychologists both respond, "don't worry we're not paranoid". "That's good" I giggle, and then deadpan "I am" as they drive off.

I reach Memphis around 3 PM. It's 84 degrees and due to the lack of space in my saddle bags, I am wearing a winter coat, jean jacket, turtle neck, t-shirt, snow mobile gauntlets and a stocking cap under my helmet. To say I am hot is in understatement. To make matters worse I have taken the wrong turn into the wrong part of town, and in Memphis that is saying alot. I see a cop car in a gas station so I pull in and as I pull up to the pump I ask a person hiding back into the store where the Stax Studio museum is. He tells me "Just a couple a blocks" and proceeds to tell me in a half decipherable southern accent to go to the corner of McElmore and College. After purchasing some gas I set off trying to replicate is instructions then get lost only to come upon Willie Mitchell Ave. I follow that until I see a car wash fund raiser and pull in and ask the somewhat amazed crowd of African-Americans (who is this Eskimo sweaty honky) but when they hear I want the Stax Studio, they gladly give me directions I can understand.

I pull up and park under the Marquee whereupon an off-duty Memphis police officer comes out, too polite to tell me to move my bike just yet as I am sizing up a photo of my bike outside the studio. Then one of the curators comes out and he agrees to take a picture of me and my bike under the hallowed, replica marquee of the former movie theater come studio.

I go in for a very worthwhile tour, talk shop with the staff and they turn me on to where to stay and the best gig in town tonite, a trio called City Champs at the Hitone on Poplar. Talk about a great hole in the wall and my God, this band were monsters. Joe Revisto on guitar, George Sluppick in the pork pie hat on drums and what appeared to be the leader, Al Gamble on the mighty organ. Don't let the looks of these cats fool you, they are incredible musicians, easily the best in any town in the country perhaps except, Austin, Memphis, New Orleans and New York, where they would still be ranked among the best. The final two songs of the night were an awe inspiring version of Ray Charles' "I'm Busted" and a tour de force "Poppa" that had the whole house on fire.

Well I've got to run cuz it's about 8:30 PM and I'm headed for Beal Street. That's in Memphis Esmond!

Picking up where I left off, I headed back to my motel on the edge of hospital district and stopped in to see Edward the clerk, who made my stay in Memphis so enjoyable providing me with directions, calling ahead to the club and giving me a recommendation to the best restaurant on Beal Street, the Blues City Cafe. Following Edward's directions in was a short hop down Linden Street to Fourth Avenue, where the arena is that the Grizzlies play at. Funny thing, I never saw one Grizzly the whole time I was in Memphis.

I get down to Beal Street and its a no driving zone where people are free to promenade, drinks in hand. A very cool thing about Memphis is the number of young African Americans riding motorcycles, and I mean hundreds of bikes. So cool to be part of the brotherhood or so I think, cuz when I ask a couple of brothers if it is okay to park here, they say "sure". Thankfully I was not towed as when I got back to my parking spot I noticed I was parked in a bus stop.

I walk three or four blocks of Beal Street where all the action seems to be happening. I check out who's playing at the Rum Boogie, where Jimmy Thackery often plays and then try to enter the Black Diamond, former home of Keith Sykes singer-songwriter series. Despite numerous locals denying it was still in business, it was good to see the Black Diamond was still there, under one owner, Bob, but unfortunately closed to the public for a private event this night.

Having built up a powerful hunger, I head over to the Blues City Cafe and upon Edward's recommendation, I try to order spaghetti and ribs. The waiter looked at me like I was crazy, (he was right of course, but that's besides the point, shut-up, you said it).

Never mind me, I am just practicing my paranoid schizophrenic act as I have found it keeps the pan handlers away, and Memphis has a million of them. I must have handed out thirty dollars in two days to seven different panhandlers only turning down one person because he approached me while I was writing this post. The strangest thing was they all said the same thing, and this will sound terrible but I swear to God its the honest truth, they all said: "I need to buy chicken". The Hutzpah award goes to the 300 pound African American woman who approached me as I was unloading my bike while checking into my motel room. She was holding a tupperware tub of peeled oranges and was emphatic about having to have $7.99 for her chicken. Not $2.00. Not$5.00. Not $8.00, mind you but $7.99. I gave her $3.00 and just hoped she wouldn't sit on me.

Getting back to my meal Sunday night, I had the 1/2 rack, dry, spice rubbed rib dinner and it was excellent. The meat fell off the bone, the sauce on the side was just right and the toast was to die for. I had the nicest conversation about the history of Beal Street with my waiter who had been there 17 years, I just wished I would have gotten his name. He caught me up to date on all the local music gossip. I was heartbroken to hear of the Parkinson-like illness of Andrew Love, the saxophone playing half of the Memphis Horns, who along with his partner, trumpeter Wayne Jackson, have played on over 300 #1 records but most notably babysat my young children backstage at a gig they shared with Roomful of Blues before a Gopher/Memphis State football game outside the Metrodome. Pat Forcia will always have a warm place in my heart for booking that gig.

I said my goodbyes to the staff at the Blues City Cafe and then it was back to the motel to get some rest for tomorrow was going to be a busy day.

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