Editor’s note: New episodes of Sun Records premiere every Thursday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CMT.
As a Memphian living in Nashville, CMT’s Sun Records got my hometown right.
Fans will feel the Memphis heat watching all the actors sweat through their vintage clothes. Beale Street on the show is hopping with the best live blues and soul food this side of the Mississippi. The gospel music in the church that the young Elvis Presley sneaks into shakes the soul.
But the best part about the series is it offers an authentic look at the living history of the home of the blues and the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. And music fans can visit most of the landmarks featured on the show today.
Here are five original Memphis places from Sun Records fans can see on their next trip:
Sun Records (706 Union Ave.): The show is based on a famous jam session at Sun with Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins that Cowboy Jack Clement and Sam Phillips recorded on Dec. 4, 1956. At the time, Perkins had a recording session booked with Lewis when Presley dropped in with his girlfriend at the time. Realizing the potential of the moment, Phillips called Cash to come over for a few minutes. Once he arrived, all four huddled around Presley at a piano and they played every type of music they knew — blues, bluegrass, gospel, pop and R&B.
Phillips called a reporter from Memphis’ Press-Scimitar and the bureau chief of the local UPI service to cover the event. In the paper, Phillips called it his “Million Dollar Quartet,” and remembered it as a day that meant a lot to the the four stars because Sun gave them all their start in music. In The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll, Peter Guralnick’s biography on Phillips, he says, “The only way I can best describe exactly what happened that day is to liken it to a spiritual awakening through music.” Open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., tours are given at the bottom half of every hour from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The Arcade (540 S. Main St.): The diner where Presley tries to serenade his girlfriend Trixie is the Arcade Restaurant in the South Main Arts District. Founded in 1919 by Speros Zepatos, the diner has the honor of being the city’s oldest restaurant. The menu offers various breakfast items, Greek cuisine and sandwiches named after movies that have been filmed there including 21 Grams and Mystery Train. Presley’s favorite — a peanut butter and banana sandwich — is also on the menu. The South Main Arts District is also the home of the South Main Farmer’s Market, Friday Night Art Trolley Tours and the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel.
Peabody Hotel (149 Union Ave.): On the show, the outside of the Peabody Hotel serves as theatre where concert promoter Colonel Tom Parker scalped tickets for his client Eddy Arnold. The Peabody has a legacy of being the South’s Grand Hotel. In 1933, a small flock of North American mallard ducks were placed in the hotel’s lobby fountain, starting a tradition that continues today with the March of the Peabody Ducks. The famous fowl live in luxury on the rooftop and make daily marches at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
The National Ornamental Metal Museum (374 Metal Museum Dr.): Later in the series, Phillips seeks treatment at a hospital that is actually an abandoned Marine hospital that’s next door to the National Ornamental Metal Museum. Located on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, it’s one of the most unique destinations in Memphis and offers rotating exhibits, a permanent collection and a sculpture garden that’s surrounded by 100-year-old trees. Mark Twain once called its view of the Mississippi “the best between Cairo and New Orleans.”
Big River Crossing (Channel 3 Drive): In episode one, Presley takes Trixie to his “secret spot” down by the Mississippi under the Harahan Bridge, which now home to the Big River Crossing. At nearly a mile in length, it’s the longest public pedestrian bridge across the Mississippi, connecting Tennessee to Arkansas. The Arkansas side has more than 70 miles of riverside trails atop the Mississippi levee system. The bridge is free and open daily from sunrise to 10 p.m.