It’s been 36 days since my last blog post and I’ve been feeling guilty about that for at least a month. My only excuse is that I’ve been on the road nearly all the while, including the annual pilgrimage some friends and I make on our way to the radio broadcaster Conclave in Minneapolis. That’s when me and four friends get together, rent a big car, and drive a thousand miles or so across America looking for eclectic musical history sites.
It all started with my visit to the farm where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper died in a plane crash over 60 years ago. After telling my friends about the almost religious experience, we all decided to go there together. We visited the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake Iowa, the last place the world got to hear Buddy Holly sing. If you’ve never been there, it’s absolutely worth going out of your way to see.
In later years we’ve visited the crash sites of several other members of music history, including Ricky Nelson, Jim Croce, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Otis Redding, and Chase, each time seeking out people from the area who could tell us more about what happened. We’ve seen parts of the airplanes that carried Ricky Nelson and Lynyrd Skynyrd on their final flights. People who were there told us stories about what happened, including many details that you just won’t find anywhere else.
We’ve also visited other musically significant places, such as the Dan Fogelberg memorial in Peoria, including the infamous grocery store he sang about in Same Old Lang Syne, his old high school, and the house where his mother still lives to this day.
We’ve seen many of the more traditional tourist attractions as well, such as Graceland, Sun Studios, Beale Street, The House On The Rock, the Louisiana Hayride auditorium in Shreveport, along with the homes of rock stars, radio stations, record collectors and used vinyl record shops.
We spent a lot of time at Dealey Plaza in Dallas trying to recreate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in our minds. We’ve also watched several baseball games along the way, including that Texas Rangers game in Arlington when Shannon Stone, a 39-year old firefighter, fell out of the upper deck to his death while trying to catch a fly ball for his son. We’ve eaten a lot of great local food, too, including barbecue all over the south, Chicago pizza and hot dogs, Milwaukee frozen custard, and even paid a visit to the Jelly Belly factory in Wisconsin.
This year we started in Cleveland with the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. From there we went to Detroit to see the house where Motown was born, along with the church where Aretha Franklin sang gospel songs to her father’s congregation. We listened to live music in Indiana where Dweezil Zappa played his father’s music (extremely well!) We went to a basement club in downtown Chicago to experience the blues scene in person. We’ve also watched the Milwaukee Brewers lose a game in what should have been the very last pitch.
Next year we’re thinking about Nashville where we’ll find the place where the airplane carrying Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, and Hawkshaw Hawkins crashed back in 1963. While there, I’m sure we’ll stop by the Station Inn for another evening of great music from The Time Jumpers! Or, we might make a California swing looking for the place where John Denver crashed his experimental airplane, along with the apartments where Art Linkletter’s daughter jumped to her death, or the places where Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye were shot and killed. There’s also the place where James Dean crashed his car, or the street where Jan Berry of Jan And Dean crashed his car near the spots they sang about a couple years earlier in Dead Man’s Curve. There are so many other similar places that I’m sure we’ll never hit them all in just one trip.
You may be wondering if we’re obsessed with death when you hear about all the crash sites and other morbid stuff. Yeah, maybe we are a little guilty of that. On the other hand, many of these places are unmarked and difficult to find. It’s a challenge to track them down, then find people who are kind enough to let us onto private property and share stories with us about what happened. We’ve learned a lot from these expeditions! We’re trying to assemble all the photographs we’ve taken during these trips. I’ll share some of the better ones with you in future posts. Here are just a few of them.
But I digress. I wanted to take a moment to recognize another rock and roll icon who died tragically. Elvis Aaron Presley passed away at his Graceland home in Memphis on 16 August 1977, just four days shy of 35 years ago. Elvis had a twin brother, Jessie Garon, who was stillborn. I can’t help but wonder what Jessie might have done had he lived. What if he had the same kind of talent as his brother? He might have been the original Elvis impersonator. Or, maybe the King’s concerts would have been duets!
Elvis was born on 8 January 1935 in a two room house in Tupelo, Mississippi. His parents, Vernon and Gladys, moved to Memphis in 1948 where Elvis attended Humes High School. He graduated in 1953, the same year I was born. In 1954, Elvis visited the Memphis Recording Studios, home of Sun Records, for the first time to record a song called My Happiness as a gift for his mother on her birthday. Here is that recording:
His last recording session, done in October 1976 in the Jungle Room at Graceland, produced four final songs: It’s Easy For You, Way Down, Pledging My Love, and ending with his cover version of the ironically titled, He’ll Have To Go. A few overdubs later, that song was released. He was working on another song called Fire Down Below at the time, but never laid down the vocal track for it. That’s the Elvis hit we’ll never get a chance to hear, at least while we’re down here on Earth.
Rest in Peace, Elvis.