Elvis Presley was born in a shotgun shack in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1935. ‘The King’ moved to Memphis when he was in high school and became enamoured by the blues and country that emanated from Beale Street, the downtown drag. The curious thing about Elvis is he didn’t ditch his hometown in the dust for a penthouse view as soon as his fame skyrocketed and his wallet started to bulge. He owned many houses, but none of them were home like Memphis. When Elvis was at his Graceland mansion he didn’t keep himself locked up behind gilded gates. Elvis was a man of the people, who went to church with his folks, went out for burgers with his wife, and goofed around with his friends, a group he called ‘The Memphis Mafia.’
The way the King carried himself is mirrored by how Memphis remembers him. There are few towns that honour their heroes like Memphis honours Elvis. Since the town hasn’t been Disney-fied or inundated with anodyne tourist traps, for the most part, his old haunts are filled with vintage picture frames and fond memories. And if you walk around town, there’s a good chance you might bump into an older Memphian who knew or at least met Elvis—and any betting man worth a hoot would wager a peanut butter and banana sandwich that the interaction was a pleasure for both.
Elvis’s Graceland home features the King’s intriguing Jungle Room. The kitschy man cave is upholstered with thick, dark green carpeting, decorated with tiki-inspired furniture glistening with a bright lacquer varnish, as well as a built-in waterfall. It is both gaudy and gorgeous, something only Elvis could pull off, like his V-neck jumpsuits. The den also moonlighted as a recording studio for Elvis towards the end of his career. Across the road from Graceland, right next to where two of Elvis’ planes are parked, fans can carve their names into a small wooden bridge, a true rite of passage for Presley lovers.
Elvis loved to eat, and a great place to share in that love is Arcade Restaurant, which claims to be Memphis’s oldest cafe. A breakfast of sausage biscuits or sweet potato pancakes will do you right, even if you don’t get to sit in Elvis’ favourite booth, which is often occupied by hungry fans.
For music lovers, Sun Studios is an even more impressive stop than Graceland. Of course the King recorded here, but so did B.B. King, Johnny Cash and Howlin’ Wolf. Musicians can record a track in the real Sun Studios and take advantage of its fabled acoustics—that is if they shell out $200 (Rs13,931) per hour.
Often referred to as The Clothier To The King, Lansky Bros is the spot to pick up Elvis-inspired swag. The story goes that the owner, Bernard Lansky, was kind to Elvis before he became Memphis royalty, an act that resulted in the King’s undying loyalty. Lansky had the honour of dressing Elvis for The Ed Sullivan Show, and legend has it, even suggested that he start popping his collar, and pair pink with black. And you can actually buy a pair of blue suede shoes here.
Visit Lauderdale Courts (Now Uptown Square, the apartment complex where Elvis grew up), and catch a concert at Levitt Shell, a local outdoor venue where he used to play.
Julian Manning can usually be found eating a crisp ghee roast with extra podi. The rare times his hands aren’t busy with food, they are wrapped around a mystery novel or the handlebars of a motorcycle. He is Senior Assistant Editor at National Geographic Traveller India.