Elvis owes a lot to Nashville, but Nashville equally owes Elvis. The Tennessee Music City just wouldn’t be the same without the fascinating marks the king of rock ‘n’ roll left on the city, its musical history and its tourism. Six experiences you shouldn’t miss.
When you think of Elvis, a lot of things come to mind. The hip shakes, the sideburns, the glitter jumpsuits and if you know him well enough, the peanut butter sandwiches too. What’s truly worth remembering though is his unparalleled voice, and that’s exactly what’s celebrated in ‘Music city’ Nashville, Tennessee. Elvis recorded about 260 songs in Nashville, including his first number one hit, Heartbreak Hotel.
1. The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
He may be nicknamed the king of rock ‘n’ roll, but Elvis’ first love was country music, as well as gospel and blues. He covered quite a few country songs in his life and that’s how he gained a fair spot at the wildly popular Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in downtown Nashville. If you’re not a country music fan, most of the names the museum showcases will only vaguely ring a bell (at least I know who Taylor Swift is), but for Elvis fans the museum is worth your while for two reasons. One: Elvis’ 1960 gold plated Cadillac limousine is displayed here, along with the 24-karat gold leaf piano he got from Priscilla in 1968. Two: you can’t tour the historic RCA studio B (see number 3) where Elvis recorded, without purchasing a ticket to the Country Music Hall of Fame. A very effective marketing decision…
2. The Music City Walk of Fame
You’re not actually standing where Elvis stood when you’re looking down on his name engraved in the star, since the walk of fame was only established in 2006. But it’s a nice remembrance of all those singers, musicians and bands who contributed to Nashville’s musical heritage, including Elvis and a lot of other great names like Dolly Parton, Jimi Hendrix, Roy Orbison and Kings of Leon (yep, the Followill gang is from Nashville). The Walk of Fame Park is located across the street from the Country Music Hall of Fame.
3. The RCA studio B
This is what it’s all about: the exact location where Elvis Presley spent most of his time when in Nashville, where he recorded 260 of his songs. After having visited the Sun Studios in Memphis where Elvis was first signed, this tour at RCA studios will make you feel like a sheep who is prevented from breaking out of an overcrowded herd by a time-obsessed dog with a painted smile (I guess that’s what happens when you sell as much tickets as they do), but still, you don’t want to miss this visit. Our guide had a few anecdotes up his sleeve that made us forget all about the hassle and the highlight is saved for last: the actual recording studio B, Elvis’ favorite place to record. You take a seat, listen to snippets of some of the original recordings and for the big the finale the lights are dimmed and you hear Elvis sing ‘Are you lonesome tonight’. The song was recorded in one take, right here at RCA Studio B. As soon as the song is finished you go back into sheep mode, but no one will take that precious alone time with Elvis away from you.
! When purchasing your combo ticket (at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum), you’ll have to indicate at what time you want your RCA tour to be. If you miss the bus, you won’t be able to go on another time and you won’t get a refund, so make sure you’re on time. If you haven’t finished the tour in the museum yet (it took us a little less than two hours), you can continue exploring after coming back from the RCA studios.
4. The Johnny Cash museum
The Johnny Cash museum that opened in downtown Nashville in 2013 is (obviously) dedicated to the life and music of Johnny Cash, who lived in Nashville with his second wife June Carter. But the museum also hosts temporary side exhibits, including the ‘Legends of Sun Records’ exhibit. We didn’t know about it until we entered the room and were excited to see all kinds of fun artifacts spotlighting the artists who gave the Memphis record label its worldwide fame: Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and of course, Elvis Presley. The exhibit features record covers, old photos (including Elvis’ high school yearbook picture!), vintage posters, playlists, concert tickets and a few video fragments too, including Johnny Cash impersonating Elvis. The exhibit opened in august 2014 and was supposed to finish end of this month, but it has been extended for another two years, hooray! The room is closed for expansion constructions, but will be open again by Feb 20th.
5. The Ryman Auditorium
And we’re back at country music! Elvis loved the Grand Ole Opry show as a kid. If you – like me – never heard of the Grand Ole Opry before, it’s the oldest country music radio program (since 1925) in the world, broadcast across the United States. The show is recorded in front of a live audience and features performances from a variety of country singers in one show on several locations throughout the years, the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville being the most iconic location from 1943 to 1974. Elvis loved the radio show and dreamt of one day performing on that stage himself. That dream came true in 1954, although it probably wasn’t how he had imagined it would be. He performed his revolutionary rockabilly version of Blue Moon of Kentucky, but apparently the Opry manager nor the crowd appreciated him altering a Bill Monroe classic. It was the first and last time he performed at the Grand Ole Opry… After the radio show moved to its current home just outside of the city, the historic Ryman Auditorium was restored and reopened in 1993. It has been a museum by day and a performance venue by night ever since, and was even named a National Historic Landmark.
So what’s in it for Elvis fans? You can either sign in for a guided backstage tour or a self-guided tour. We went on the backstage tour and although the Elvis anecdotes are poor, you still get to see the vintage backstage rooms (no pictures allowed) where Elvis hung out a lot with other artists, there’s two photos on the wall to prove it. If you’re not a die hard fan, it’s not worth the 30 dollars (unless you want an overpriced picture of yourself holding a guitar on stage) and I would just pay for the 20 dollar self-guided tour to hang around the frontstage. There’s enough videos and background information for you to enjoy the trip down memory lane. There’s no hurry, you can take as long as you like.
6. The Ernest Tubb record store
Even though Elvis was no longer welcome at the Grand Ole Opry after his one and only performance, a few people still believed in his talent. One of them was Ernest Tubb, a famous country singer and member of the Grand Ole Opry. He had opened a record store in 1947 on Broadway in Nashville and started hosting the ‘Midnite Jamboree’ in the back of the shop, another radio show that aired right after the Grand Ole Opry. He gave a stage to musicians who he felt deserved the attention, including Elvis Presley. Right after his poorly received performance at the Grand Ole Opry, Tubb invited Elvis that same night to perform on his show. The Ernest Tubb Record Store still exists today, it’s a real treat for anyone looking for rare albums and cds. Even the little stage is still there and you’ll see pictures of all the famous artists that performed here. More Elvis stuff can be found in probably all of the other shops on Broadway. There’s no lack of Elvis statues and imitators in the streets either. So, next time you think of Elvis, think of Nashville too!