FOLSOM PRISON BLUES

Any story about Johnny Cash wouldn't be complete without a mention of Folsom Prison Blues, one of his stand-out songs from his Sun years and, of course, the opening song of the prison concert album that made him a legend.

In terms of the story though, I dwelt with the Sun version as well as the impact of the blues on Memphis and on the rest of the world. The only shame is that the song is a virtual copy of someone else's song, Crescent City Blues, but he was young, foolish, and needed to come up with a song. He paid his dues when the At Folsom album made the track huge again.

Any discussion of the blues in Memphis has to dwell on Beale Street, of course, the epicentre of the Memphis blues scene in the fifties and which influenced Elvis. Beale Street is now the tourist hub of Memphis, which makes the city a delight for fans of music history, with Beale Street, Sun Studio and Graceland, it's a great place to dwell.

Beale Street today, however, bears no resemblance to the Beale Street that bounced all those decades ago. Beale Street was Beale Street because it was the hub of the black community, but with that came inequality and low incomes. Although many of the bars that profess to be juke joints up and down Beale Street are in buildings that are from those years, most of them were loan shops and pawnbrokers, with the juke joints upstairs or in the back rooms.

Beale Street fell into decay in the seventies, but local business people wanted to revitalise it, so it was developed and repackaged. It's a tourist version of Beale Street now, presented as authentic to those walking up and down, but the reality is that if Beale Street was like it was back then, the tourists wouldn't go near it. Beale Street is what it is, a tourist trap, but the bars serve beer and, for that reason, all is forgiven.

One tip though: take proof of age. I wasn't allowed in two bars because I'd assumed that my age-ravaged face and grey hair would satisfy the door staff that I was over twenty-one. Apparently not.

In the Folsom Prison Blues chapter, James and Bruce visit the Green Beetle bar on South Main Street, not far from the Lorraine Motel. In researching the book, my bagman and I visited the Green Beetle, a great little place, and the couple we met there made it into the book. After all, they bought us the beers. It was the least I could do.

Beale Street

The first part of Beale Street proper on the walk from Sun Studio

Beale Street

The start of tourist Beale Street

Beale Street

Beale Street

Beale Street

Beale Street

Juke Joint

One of the blues-themed bars on Beale Street

Jerry Lee Lewis's bar

Jerry Lee Lewis's bar, called, of course, Jerry Lee Lewis

Bagman and beer

My bagman getting the beers in

Schwab store

The famous A. Schwab store, the only original business on Beale Street, since Abraham Schwab opened the store in 1876

Beale Street

Beale Street

Dyers Memphis

Dyers burger bar

Beale Street panoramic

Beale Street panorama

Green Beetle

Green Beetle on South Main Street, the oldest bar in Memphis

South Main

South Main Street

Beale Street at night

Beale Street at night

Green Beetle

Green Beetle. This couple made it into the book.

Lorraine Motel

Lorraine Motel, where Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated

Beale Street at night

Beale Street at night

Blues Bar

Blues bar at night

BB King's club

BB King's club

Blues bar

Blues bar at night