Friday, 6 December 2013

F is for Fred

Fred was my guide on the tour of the Sun Studios in Memphis. I took it on a bleak November morning and fortified myself for the trip with breakfast in the attached cafe, third booth from the window — which is where Sam Phillips used to conduct his business in the early days of Sun when it was known as Miss Taylor’s Restaurant. 

I ate — of course — a fried peanut butter and banana sandwich. Truly, ‘a breakfast fit for a king’. (Anyone interested in repeating the experience in the privacy of their own home should consult one of the Elvis recipe books: Are You Hungry Tonight? by Brenda Arlene Butler, say, or Fit For A King by Elizabeth McKeon. Or go to Higella's version here.)

I laughed as I ordered it from the waiter. He gave me a dishwater look. ‘Do people always laugh when they order that breakfast?’ I said. ‘Yes,’ he said, resignedly.

Because of the earliness of the hour and the chill of the day, I was the only one making the tour. I had Fred all to myself. But he did the whole thing as if there were a big crowd. He is, after all, an actor of sorts. The story he told is really a script he’d learned. But he’d learned it well and spoke it with surprising freshness. 

It was a very good story, anyway, a well-constructed history — from Sam Phillips starting the label right through to U2 using the tiny studio to record When Love Comes To Town with BB King. 

Fred outlined the social background, told me about the musicians, played snatches of songs, showed me the instruments and the equipment used. It’s literate, accurate — and honest. At one point, Fred stood in the corner by the door to the control room and grabbed hold of a big old microphone, a great hunk of time-dulled stainless steel. You think: I know that microphone, I’ve seen it in pictures, it’s the one Elvis used when he recorded at Sun. And Fred said: ‘This is a microphone just like the one Elvis used when he recorded at Sun. Not the real one. But one just like it.’ 

Thanks, Fred.

Tomorrow Bill Gates and the untold secret truth about Elvis

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