Sunday, November 29, 2020

Early Beale Street, Memphis Tennessee


Back in the late 30s and early 40s Memphis' Beale Street was one of the centres for Blues in the United States. If you were a blues Man without a regular gig and were broke you could go to the back door of the Elks Club and talk to Rufus Thomas "Walking The Dog" who was also stage manager at the Elks. If he knew you and you were good he would let you go on, play a few songs and he would pay you $1.

You then went to the Minute Cafe to buy a large bowl of chili for $0.15, a large roll for a nickel and a "bottomless" coffee or lemonade for another nickel and this meal would last you all day. So as BB King said in a documentary I just watched you could get by for 4 or 5 days on that dollar! You had to get the odd regular gig to pay the rent but that dollar from Rufus Thomas saved the careers of many struggling Blues Men including BB King's.
Norma and I spent an afternoon and evening on Beale Street a few years ago wondering from venue to venue and listening to a lot of really good blues music. She asked someone on the street where she could get a good hamburger and he referred her to a building down the street which turned out to be the oldest standing house of ill repute in Tennessee. 
The main floor was the old bar which still had the old mahogany bar that went the entire length of the building. We were the only ones in there at the time so she ordered a burger which in fact turned out to be one of the best greasy burgers she has ever had. They only sold burgers but he made this non meat eater a grilled cheese sandwich. 
The current owner came down the stairs and we all chatted for a while and then he offered to take us upstairs for a tour. The working part of the establishment was a long hall with maybe eight tiny bedrooms. At the end of the hall was another small bar where the gentlemen would sit and wait until a bedroom became available. That building actually appeared in a movie back in the 90s the name of which I can't remember.
And that is the rest of the story.

1 comment:

  1. I sold a house last summer that was built as a brothel, no kitchen or bathroom when it was built in 1888. There were little sheds out back for making food and bathroom needs. I found the foundations. It was basically a bar down stairs with six rooms upstairs. By the time I bought it in 2008 it had been a single family house, a duplex and a boarding house. I used it for weekends with my wife, and stags with my buds. It was on a steep hill in Ashtabula's entertainment district on Lake Erie. It got to where we were not using it much so we sold it.