Memphis: Music Eden

Posted on December 4, 2014 in Editorial, Long-term Project, Personal Work

In 2011, I went to Memphis with a writer for a story about rap in Memphis for FADER. I’d never been to the city before and was dumbfounded by the music, everywhere.

It spilled into streets from garages, cars, clubs, karaoke halls.

I knew I had to come back.

I returned twice more, though I never edited and shared the photo essay on the project. So this week, after listening to a beautiful interview with country music legend Marty Stuart and hearing him briefly describe Memphis, I was determined to unearth the photos, dust them off, and share them in an edited photo essay that David Walter Banks helped me narrow down.

Memphis’ music history is rich. So rich. It claims the birthplace of the Rock n Roll, the capital of the blues and soul; it houses the Gibson Guitar Factory, Elvis’ estate and grave where people in white studded suits descend once a year for Elvis Week. Elvis recorded his first record at Sun Studios in Memphis, Johnny Cash was first played on the radio in Memphis, B. B. King bought his first electric guitar in Memphis, when schools were still slowly being integrated¬†whites and blacks harmonized and recorded side by side in Stax Records. Aretha Franklin, Carl Perkins, Booker T. and the M.G. s, Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Rufus Thomas, heck, even Justin Timberlake all got their start in Memphis decades ago.

Memphis used to be where people went to make music and that music has such great roots that it still resonates as you walk along the Brass Note Walk of Fame on the streets, and watch a musician set out his tip jar, plug in his amp, and play on Beale Street.

I photographed the next generation perform at the amazing Stax Academy, Memphis producer Drumma Boy and crunk hip hop music creator Playa Fly formerly of Memphis’ famous Three 6 Mafia eat some soul food; I explored the Stax Records museum and saw Isaac Hayes’ sweet car and Otis Redding’s handwritten lyrics. I saw Japanese tourists hold the same mic that Johnny Cash and Elvis used at Sun Studio and I watched drum teams and dancers from various high schools compete in the “First Beat the Battle Against Crime in Memphis – Stop the Crime and Killing awareness Event” at Booker T. Washington High School. I photographed Memphis rapper Don Trip with his son Jayden and then play live in a hot crowded club. I shot rapper No Soda as he showed off his grill and then he played me some of his music videos and recent rhymes in the Trap House Studios. I photographed oodles of excited young girls and teens with their mothers before a Taylor Swift concert. I photographed Elvis Week and visited his grave amongst thousands holding candles. I photographed Rev. Al Green in his beautiful Full Gospel Tabernacle Church and the jukebox in Wild Bill’s juke joint. I photographed Aretha Franklin’s now run-down and abandoned childhood home, and of course I wandered South to Clarksdale, Mississippi to witness the home of the place that quite possibly sparked Memphis’ music moment so many decades ago and listened to wrinkled blues players soulfully play in a glowing red room.

So, better late than never, two years and three months after I shot my last photo on this project, here it is: Memphis: Music Eden.

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