I’ll Stay in Memphis: Sun Studio

Here’s everything I know about Sun Studio: Elvis once recorded there. Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis owe their career to a long-nosed man named Sam Phillips. It’s still a working studio. U2 has come in. So has Maroon Five. Bob Dylan stopped by just to kiss the worn X, taped on the floor, where Elvis once stood (fun but very unhygienic).

I'll Stay in Memphis: Sun Studios Featured

And it has a draw for any fan of music. Every tourist and traveller in Memphis flits in and out of Sun Studio, forking over twelve dollars for a guided tour. We stand in the waiting-area before ours starts.

Please, be worth it. Please, be worth it.

I'll Stay in Memphis: Sun Studios Entrance

We glance around the room – a parlour and cafe of sorts. It’s old-fashioned with a collage of brown and red hues striking the brick wall. There are stains on the ceiling, but you don’t notice them. All you see are the stacks of black shirts bearing the name Sun Studio. And the Sun Studio mugs. And the Sun Studio baseball caps. Don’t forget your very own Elvis record.

Please, don’t be a tourist trap. Please, don’t be a tourist trap.

We check out the rest of our tour group and slice its underbelly. Two sides slump out: the ones that lived Elvis and the ones that lived through Elvis. I remove my reigns as the resident tour guide when a perky young employee takes the stage. The tour guide rips off the top of our ticket and lets us parade up the stairs with the others. Watch your step!

I'll Stay in Memphis: Sun Studios Light

The first room has the distant ambience of a museum. The world of Sun Studio is hidden behind glass panels, too far from our reach. We walk through silence. The only sounds we hear are the collective tapping of sneakers as the group sways from placard to placard. There are over twenty people, making this mid-size crowd far from intimate.

Is that it? Seriously. What a waste!

Then the tour guide glides into the room and begins weaving the tale of Sun Studio. This is not just about Rock and Roll. This is about Blues. This is about a backlash against pop. This is about creating music. This is about inventing music. Slowly, the panels seem to thin and the stories are staring us in the face. Each item has new meaning. Elvis doesn’t even enter the picture for the most part.

I'll Stay in Memphis: Sun Studios Record

We learn of the story behind Sam Phillips. We learn of a group of prisoners who came to record in handcuffs and were released because their song was much-loved. We learn that the fast-talking Country accented radio jockey with a commanding voice, who played the new Sun Studio releases, had a raging passion for music more than you could ever imagine.

Each collection increases your love for the studio by leaps and bounds. This studio is history.

I'll Stay in Memphis: Sun Studios Typewriter

We are then allowed to prance around once more and soak in a new image with fresh eyes. We walk down the stairs to a separate room, with just a desk and a typewriter, and past that to a rack of guitars and images on the walls. There is a drum-set and three Xs on the floor.

The tour guide shuffles to the front and begins narrating a light-hearted speech on the Millionaire Quartet. Then, she draws out a mic – the very mic that graced the hands of all of the legends. It’s a interesting bequest from Sam Phillips who was kind enough to let music-lovers dream an untouchable fantasy that one day, they too could be like the King.

We stand in the X where Elvis stood, holding the mic as Elvis would. We strike our poses and snap our pictures. Then we walk out.

Tick. Tock.

An hour has passed and we smile because it was worth it. Goodbye, Sun Studio. I think we’re ready to see the rest of Memphis.

Have you ever been to Sun Studio? Did you enjoy this Memphis: Sun Studio guide? Let me know in the comments below!

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21 Comments

  • Reply
    Patricia Conte
    August 27, 2016 at 7:12 AM

    I would love to visit there! How exciting!

  • Reply
    Travel Pockets
    August 27, 2016 at 4:24 PM

    Wow, so many legends were at this place! Added to my list of places to visit when I’m in Memphis! Had no idea this was there.

    • Reply
      Anshula
      August 28, 2016 at 5:41 PM

      It is definitely not as popular as Graceland! But there were so many names dropped that are still recognizable today! Hope y’all get to visit soon! xx – Anshula

  • Reply
    lemisstache
    August 28, 2016 at 9:00 AM

    wow your shots are amazing, cant help but ask how you edit your pics? I haven’t been to Tennessee but hopefully I will get to visit it next year when I come to the US 🙂

    • Reply
      Anshula
      August 28, 2016 at 5:39 PM

      Awww…thank you so much! You are so sweet! These pictures actually weren’t edited (I only adjusted the brightness since the lighting was a little dim inside), but I have a lovely DSLR camera that works magic! I hope you get to visit Tennessee! The best way to see the states is a road trip – West Coast, East Coast, Midwest Loop, Route 66, or South (which will take you through Memphis)! xx – Anshula

  • Reply
    Joseph Humphreys
    August 28, 2016 at 9:17 AM

    The Sun Studio is one of those places that has an almost legendary reputation. I can understand why you were a bit apprehensive about visiting here: I would’ve entered with high expectations too! I think what helped make it work is that it doesn’t just focus on the big names and brings the stories of others who have recorded there to light as well. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Reply
      Anshula
      August 28, 2016 at 5:47 PM

      Oh yes! With places that draw such huge amounts of tourists, I’m always a bit apprehensive. Some places are just pretty stops for pictures, but this was definitely not one of them! You are absolutely right though…focusing on the smaller not-so-famous stories was part of the reason this tour was an enjoyable experience! xx – Anshula

  • Reply
    Maggie
    August 28, 2016 at 2:14 PM

    We went to Memphis but didn’t have time for this. Now I wish we can go back! Love the pics.

    • Reply
      Anshula
      August 28, 2016 at 5:35 PM

      Oh, there is so much to see and do in Memphis, it is completely understandable. It would take more than a week to cover everything! I hope you had fun during your trip! xx – Anshula

  • Reply
    Dash the Map
    August 28, 2016 at 3:51 PM

    I’d love to visit Sun Studios. How long was the total tour time and cost?

    • Reply
      Anshula
      August 28, 2016 at 5:33 PM

      Yes! It is a fabulous place to visit! I believe I mentioned both the cost and tour time in the article 😉 But the cost is around twelve dollars (a little more with tax) and the tour is one hour. Hope that helps! xx – Anshula

  • Reply
    Kyleigh Glass
    August 29, 2016 at 1:54 AM

    Love Memphis! Hope your trip
    Was fabulous!

  • Reply
    Vyjay Rao
    August 29, 2016 at 7:54 AM

    This is a trip full of nostalgia of Elvis. The place seems to have captured the aura of the music legend and enshrined it for all music lovers to experience.

    • Reply
      Anshula
      September 5, 2016 at 5:13 PM

      Yes it was! You captured my sentiments perfectly! xx – Anshula

  • Reply
    TheSoulofSeoul
    August 29, 2016 at 12:32 PM

    Glad it wasn’t a tourist trap in the end. I do love some blues and music tale weaving. But where’s your pic on the X with the mic? ^^

    • Reply
      Anshula
      September 5, 2016 at 5:12 PM

      Yes! I’m such a huge fan of good storytelling! This is only a mildly embarrassing picture that I dug up 😉

  • Reply
    Travel Pockets
    August 30, 2016 at 12:21 PM

    Memphis is on my list of places to visit next year! At first $20 seemed like quite a bit, but glad to hear the tour was worth it 🙂

    • Reply
      Anshula
      September 5, 2016 at 5:07 PM

      I was so worried at first because of how popular it is (and how touristy the first floor is)! But I’m so glad that it was worth it! xx – Anshula

  • Reply
    Joanna
    August 30, 2016 at 2:33 PM

    I have never visited a music studio, just passed by the one where Beatles used to record their songs, in London. I bet it’s quite a feeling to stand in the same room as Elvis did and see the exact same objects he used. That typewriter is so vintage!

    • Reply
      Anshula
      September 5, 2016 at 5:06 PM

      Ooohhh! I’m such a huge fan of the Beatles, I think I would completely lapse into fangirl moments if I was in that music studio! xx – Anshula

  • Reply
    Preschool2Teen
    September 4, 2016 at 1:42 AM

    I attended University of Memphis and did a lot of touring while there. I don’t recall Sun Studio. Must go on my list for a visit when we take the kids to see where we met.

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