Listen To This Eddie is a weekly column that examines the important people and events in the classic rock canon and how they continue to impact the world of popular music.
Memphis is America’s musical Jerusalem. It’s a rough and tumble town set high on a bluff overlooking the wide, brown Mississippi river; the de facto capital of the southern Delta region that birthed blues, rock and soul music. As a passionate admirer of that canonical triptych, it’s a city that’s resided in my dreams and fantasies for as long as I’ve been alive to have them. Of course, when I finally visited Memphis just last week, I inevitably found a place far different from the one I’d conjured in my head.
The city had died and been reborn half a dozen times since B.B. King first rolled into town from Indianola, Mississippi, most traumatically in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968. On a cold, January night — a dead-end weekday — I sat, heavy-lidded, sipping on absinthe on the second floor of what appeared to be a former brothel overlooking the neon-painted façade of Beale Street. I tried to imagine the figures and accouterment that lined the walls when Sleepy John Estes, W.C. Handy, Bessie Smith, or Son House strode through this fiefdom all those years ago, but came up short. Fortunately, I had an appointment the next day with someone who could help me fill in the blanks of my suddenly fuzzy imagination.
I woke up early the next day, head a little sore, but filled with eager anticipation to learn from the feet of a master. I’d gotten his information from a friend, who obtained it from another friend and passed it along to me with an enthusiastic “Good luck!” I tried calling the provided number shortly after I landed, but got an “inbox full” message. As a last-ditch effort, I sent off a cold email request along with the promise of a free lunch. I wasn’t hopeful of receiving a response. Sure enough however, a few hours before I ended up in the Absinthe Room, I got a reply. “I’d be glad to speak with you.”