With a heavily preoccupied mind and adrenaline on overdrive, all feelings of exhaustion were quickly disregarded the moment of my arrival. Safely, I parked my car in a lot just two short city blocks shy of the heart of Memphis, and began treading my way up to historic Beale Street. At four in the evening, I only begun to taste the excitement that was yet to be experienced at a far later hour. I stood aside W.C Handy's home, mouth agape, outward projecting butterflies as music filled my ears and as I peered down three blocks of night clubs and restaurants. I hadn't even made it ten feet off of Beale before my attention was diverted to a band playing in W.C Handy Park. Catching only part of their last song before break, the lead singer hopped off stage before me, introducing himself to me as Chick. I'm not sure whether it was the blue and white polka dotted dress, oversized pink flower, or pink heart shaped shades that caught his attention, but immediately he begun questioning where I was from.
Far less exotic my accent revealed, I explained that I was a musician traveling from New York. Into my obnoxiously oversized silver bag I rummaged, and successfully pulled out a cd.
Peering down, and reciting my name as he read; "Well, Miss Amanda Ashley, I knew there was something special about you."
I smiled, and at his request, briefly begun to inform him of my journey thus far leading up to the moments which we were encountering. I politely declined his invitation to make his performance at Jerry Lewis's place up the road due to the conflict in timing in regards to my performance that evening. I obliged to give an honest attempt to make their performance if time permitted, but to be there later regardless to meet for a drink afterwards.
Leaving Chick and the boys behind only temporary, I proceeded to explore Beale Street with perked ears, and a palpitating heart. The sweet aroma of Southern barbecue entered my nostrils and were exhaled from a watery mouth. A few steps, a snapshot, another few steps, another snapshot. My eyes couldn't decide where to focus. I carried on like this for about twenty minutes, until my attention was diverted to a five dollar, thirty two ounce beer stand. Did I mention you could buy a drink anywhere and wander the streets without getting arrested? OH, and INCREDIBLE, live music, from EVERY, direction. Life suddenly tasted like the box of chocolates that rested on Forrest Gump's lap. I was in Memphis forty five minutes long enough to know that what I felt inside was genuine. I had only fallen in love twice before then.
Departing Beale Street, I made my way to Broadway to set up for my first performance at Jack Magoo's. Outdoors I was directed to assemble my equipment where a rather significant number of individuals were enjoying one another's company and an early start to their weekend.
For three and a half hours I performed to a receptive and welcoming crowd of Memphians, some whom which sung along and danced, and others which went out of their way to compliment me upon my break. Pleased with the outcome of my first performance in Memphis, I packed my equipment and loaded it into my car. As I finished my last drink and got paid out at the bar, I found myself engaged in conversation with the jocular bartender and drummer by trade. Mentioning Nashville and couch surfing in the same sentence in regards to my next destination, the bartender began dialing his phone and held one finger up to silence me mid-sentence:
"Hello Marie, It's Keith. I am bartending at Jack Magoo's, and tonight's performer is a lovely, young lady named, Ashley….er, Amanda, and she is sitting right before me as we speak. Anyway, she is a singer-songwriter from New York, touring musician, and is a total sweetheart. Her next stop along the way is Nashville and she is in need of a place to crash for a week… do you think you can put her up? Okay. You are just going to LOVE her. OH, and she's cute too! Alright, no problem….. four o'clock? I'll let her know. Love you babyyyy, ba-bye."
Our eyes made contact as he looked up at me and replied, "You have a place to stay while you are in Nashville! You are just going to adore Marie, and she is going to eat you up with a spoon. She's a VERY good friend of mine…..talented, beautiful, and a TOTAL firecracker. Call her tomorrow between two and four to touch base with her."
LIKE THAT, one of the most heartfelt connections among my ENTIRE journey was established.
Keith wished me luck as I thanked and hugged him goodnight. To a much livelier Beale Street I backtracked, illuminated with neon signs, and swallowed whole by the pedestrians inhibiting the streets. Magnetized by the energy, my excitement reached an all time high. I arrived at Jerry Lewis's place, and made my way towards the back of the establishment, bumping into Chick, the lead singer from earlier, along the way.
"Ahhh, Amanda Ashley, I've been looking for you all night! Come, come with me. I want to introduce you to someone."
Disappointed but true to my prediction, I arrived too late to catch the remainder of the band's performance. Flattered and impressed that I remained true to my word having had showed up regardless, Chick re-introduced his band members to me in addition to Greg King, a touring bass player and producer who was filling in for the evening's performance. Striking conversation only briefly, Greg and I spoke music, touring, and our aspirations before exchanging numbers and a CD. By two thirty in the morning, I had a text from Greg regarding the cd I had passed along to him.
The following morning I woke up with an agenda to explore, to experience a true authentic Southern meal, to work on my new song, and to perform a strong second performance leaving a lasting impression on Memphis. Enjoying the remainder of my Saturday morning, I strolled Tom Lee park with coffee in hand, snapping pictures, enjoying the view. Around afternoon, I made my way to Kudzu's Bar and Grill to set up my equipment, and to meet Jerry, the owner, whom which I had been in contact for months leading up to my arrival. Continuing our conversation initiated at the bar, Jerry and I found ourselves seated alongside two other unfamiliar gentlemen at Dejavu, a cajun/creole eatery offset of the inhabited stretch of downtown. We inhaled an outstanding authentic southern feast of okra sautéed in a tomato marinara, friend catfish, crawfish, fried plantains, bourdain, and corn bread.
With a satisfied palate and full stomache we left Dejavu. By car, Jerry graciously guided me through Memphis; narrating the history as we passed Graceland, Sun Studios, Stax Records, the Lorraine hotel, and ending in the South Main Arts District at Ernestine and Hazel's. With a cold Amstel in each of our hands I marveled as I walked through the charmingly dilapidated, dimly lit, grandiose dive bar, with walls crumbling with plaster. Home of the Soul Burger, once a Pharmacy and former brothel, also filming destination for many contemporary movie scenes such as "Elizabethtown" and "21 Grams," the place oozed with history. As we ascended the slanted stairway, decades of cigarettes, beers and other unsavory delicacies scented the stark former bedrooms. Enraptured in all it's character, I ran my fingers along the keys of an old, out of tune piano in one room. In another room rested an original claw foot tub, and aged furniture occupied the empty space in additional rooms. Memorabilia from past movies, pictures, and write ups filled the downstairs wall space. The place clearly never had undergone any renovations, making it uniquely a beautiful sight.
Back to Kudzu's we returned around four. Jerry ever hospitably poured me my first taste of Apple Pie Moonshine to top off my southern experience, and I phoned my worried mother to assure her that I was still breathing. Without true agenda, a beautiful evening ahead, and an unoccupied patio in the back, I remained at Kudzu's, working out the lyrical content for the song which I had been working on throughout my short stints in Atlanta and Birmingham. Taking in the silence, swallowing my emotions and rinsing it with moonshine, the lyrics easily begun to flow. It felt very natural breathing in Memphis, and for the first time I was allowing myself to admit things that I wasn't able to admit before.
Buzzed on moonshine and with my song near completion, I was more anxious than ever to hit the stage. Song by song the tables began to fill, to soon find myself entertaining a room full of music admirers. Voicing my soul I executed an hours worth of originals, ending with a strong finish and an applause of approval. Yubu and the Africans followed my performance, for whom which I hung around to listen and admire. An approximated twelve person ensemble, I absorbed the sweet sounds of soul, gospel, blues and Reggae which filled the room. Taking in what were originally intended to be the remainder of my Memphis experience, I couldn't help but feel an overwhelming sadness. In my heart, I felt that I needed more time.
The immediate regret that I felt for having had not planned a longer stay resulted in a one day extension. I called Greg King on my way back to the hotel notifying him of my decision, and to see if he was interested and available in meeting for some session work the following day. To my blessed advantage, Sunday was his day off.
I woke up the following morning in time to throw on a wrinkled article of clothing and to accumulate what was remaining of the continental breakfast stand, which wasn't much of anything. Downing one cup of orange juice, and a packet of instant oatmeal, I returned to my room with a cup of coffee and the will to finish writing the bridge of my new song. Confident that I composed my best song to date, I ran through it a few times before showering and getting ready for my session with Greg.
I arrived at Greg's place with my guitar strapped on my back, excited to share with him what I had been working on. Slipping right into work mode, we wasted no time. I played through the song multiple times, as we figured out the beats per minute, and a matching drum loop to work with. We begun tracking layers; recording guitar, keyboard, strings, B3 and bass. Our music chemistry was irrefutable. After a few hours of writing and recording all various components, we ran into software issues preventing us from furthering to lay down any vocal tracks. Frustrated, disappointed and hungry, we decided to break for dinner. Homemade southern cuisine cooked by the hands of Greg's talented room mate, we chatted over a full plate of home made southern delicacies consisting of Barbecued ribs, corn bread, cow tail, and okra.
Conversing with Greg was effortless. It felt as if we had known one another for years. We both agreed that our working relationship was one that had sincere potential to relish, and that we both wanted to continue working together despite the distance.
After dinner Greg played the tracks which he produced and envisioned my vocals on. Assured without hesitation, I told him I could write to it. Afterwards I directed Greg to my website, and my new video for original song "Tell Me a Lie." He began frantically dialing his phone.
Although we were unable to accomplish finishing the song we had put hours into, I departed having had gained an R&B band interested in backing me, a producer to exclusively work with, a musical tip on how to strengthen my guitar playing, additional recording experience, production knowledge, and a promise for work in the new year. Greg and I have been in contact every day since.
I solemnly turned in my room key to the hotel concierge at the front desk the following morning, and loaded up my car. I met my Cuban friend George midtown for Cuban Coffee and a farewell lunch at eleven at Havana's Pilon. One authentic and plentiful cuban course of Ropas Vieja, arroz con pollo, habichuelas rojos, and plantainos was enough to fill me up for the entire day. Feeling right at home, it's authenticity reminded me of my Aunt Anita's homemade cooking. Two Cuban coffees quickly perked me up for the three hour drive ahead to Nashville. I hugged George goodbye, and promised him and the sweet, hospitable owners of Havana to be back again soon.
With a full box of left overs in my passenger seat, I headed east with faucet like tear ducts, bidding farewell to my third love.