Sacred Sites

 Posted by
Jul 052011

When Mr.Mod mentioned recently that he was making a trip to France, people wondered whether he would be taking the opportunity to visit Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris.

Jim Morrison's gravesite

I don’t believe he did, but I was wondering if any other Townsperson had ever made that pilgrimage. I can’t imagine doing that myself, not being a big Morrison fan, though I imagine it might be an interesting sociological experiment to see what kind of people would be there.

How about visits to other sacred rock sites? I wrote about by visit to the Experience Music Project and to Jimi Hendrix’s gravesite a few years ago.

Hendrix memorial

Hendrix memorial

I can’t think of many other famous rock graves one can visit, maybe because so many of the biggest rock stars refuse to die, or even retire. Can one visit the sites where Otis Redding’s or Buddy Holly’s planes went down? I guess they’d be kind of remote.

Sun Studio

I believe I’ve mentioned before that my pilgrimage to the Sun Studio was truly one of the high points of my life. This would have been twenty or more years ago, and at the time the tour was a very low-key affair, though now it seems a bit more commercialized. Standing in that room where a miracle took place, not once but many times, was seriously a religious experience.

Elvis' birthplace

Elvis' birthplace

I’ve always refused to visit Graceland, because I don’t want to tarnish my vision of Elvis by seeing its tackiness, though I must admit that it’s part of who he was. I did, however, visit his birthplace in Tupelo, Mississippi. That was not miraculous, but it was pretty cool. Elvis’ father Vernon borrowed money to buy the materials and built that shotgun house before the King was born. That house is preserved and now there’s a museum/gift shop nearby.

What they don’t tell you on the tour is that the Presleys lost that house because Vernon couldn’t keep up with the payments. He ran afoul of the law trying to make ends meet and ended up spending nine months at Parchman Penitentiary after being convicted of forgery. I didn’t know that at the time, but it was nice to spend an afternoon in Tupelo trying to imagine what it must have been like in the 30s and 40s. At the shop I bought a poster of the famous photo of Elvis shaking hands with Richard Nixon, but I could never make myself display it after I got back home.

Elvis and Dick

Once driving through Kentucky I passed a sign that said “Birthplace of the Everly Brothers Next Exit.” There’s a monument in front of city hall in Central City KY, but I think it’s one of those places its favorite sons got out of at the first opportunity, and they don’t have much connection to it. Nice diversion on a long drive though.

Everly Brothers monument

When I lived in New Orleans I used to take visitors to the former site of Cosimo Matassa’s studio, where rock&roll was invented. At least now they have a plaque on the wall that you can have your picture taken in front of.

Cosimo's Factory

And yes it is a laundry now.

Have you guys in the Philadelphia area visited Walt Whitman’s grave right across the river in New Jersey? He’s our most rock&roll poet, and the cemetery is really nice.

Walt's resting place

Have you ever visited a sacred rock site? Did it live up to expectations?


  54 Responses to “Sacred Sites”

  1. Sun Studios caught me off guard. It’s an unassuming place but has such a cool vibe. To think what went on in that little room…

    On the same trip, I took the tour of Graceland and enjoyed it quite a bit but in a much different way than Sun Studios. Unfortunately, Stax had been torn down.

    Do working studios count? I recorded a demo in Hyde Street Studio in SF in the early 90s. It used to be Wally Heider Studio and among the albums recorded there were: Green River by CCR; American Beauty by the Grateful Dead; Tupelo Honey by Van Morrison; the first CSN album; Electric Warrior by T-Rex and a bunch of stuff by the Airplane.

    My demos didn’t turn out as well as those recordings except for maybe the stuff by the Airplane.

    I think that Townsmen DB (or was it Hank Fan?) was blogging about his trip on the Blues Trail at one point

  2. I did the Abbey Road walk-across as a teen and recently went to the Stax Museum, but I’m most proud of paying a cold call to Ardent Studios in Memphis (c. 1990), where we (the Wishniaks) were given a tour by Jody Stevens, complete with a showing of the spot where Paul Westerberg threw up.

  3. Been to Jim’s grave. It’s much different now and sans bust and not that far from Frederick F’n Chopin’s spot. Had a GREAT evening in Barney’s Beanery, legendary LA watering hole that I believe served Janis her last goods.


  4. Is it possible to visit London without stopping out to Abbey Road or 3 Savile Row? I would say stopping by those two places carried enough personal buzz to make it worthwhile.

    Liverpool was also worth the trip.. .Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, Forthlin Road, Mendips, St Peters Woolton…

    I thought it was pretty cool visiting those spots.

  5. tonyola

    I once got to do some minor session keyboard work at Criteria Studios in Miami. The list of artists that have recorded there is pretty heavy.

    Also, I spent 1989 touring with a showband which featured an Elvis impersonator. We made a brief stop in the middle of the night in Memphis and I had my picture taken in front of the famous Music Gate at Graceland.

  6. Would love to be able to say I visited Sun.

  7. I did visit Jim’s grave when I was in Paris last summer. We were walking everwhere and found ourselves just a mile or so from it. There were many people walking through the graveyard at 2:00 pm in the afternoon. You could get a free map. It was pretty low key. I briefly considered a loud Morrison-esque rant followed by an acapella “five to one” and smashing a bottle of whiskey on the street, but then decided that the many camera phones would pick this up and YouTube would not properly convey my intent.

  8. My Memphis trip to Sun (to record!), Stax, Beale St,,Graceland and the home tour/meeting of Cordell Jackson meant much more to me that seeing Jimbo’s tombstone.

  9. Recording at Sun blew my mind. I have the video somewhere, I’ll need to post it. (camera phone sitting on a music stand, but it’s still damn cool)

  10. Went to Memphis in 2003 or so. Loved Sun and Graceland, but I really loved the Stax Musuem, a place that really reaffirms everything that’s great about America! Sure, it’s a new building where the recording studio used to be, but still!

    Going to London and Paris in October for my honeymoon. Most assuredly not going to Jimbo’s gravestone. Might check out Abbey Road. Kinda want to go to Sheffield, but it’s a little far, I think.

  11. Most of you know, I used to live in Memphis, but I also worked for a couple of years at Graceland. Needless to say, I’ve done the whole “Memphis music history”.

    Whenever I bring guests up to show them Memphis, I always start with Sun. Of course, everything stems from there. The reopened Stax is really nice and definitely a cool site. Rock N Soul Museum also has some interesting things in it.

    Graceland is always surprising. I remember the first time I went through, I thought it would just be this tacky dude’s tacky house, but it’s actually done wuite tastefully. While it doesn’t touch the holiness and history of Sun, it’s certainly worth a visit while in Memphis.

    I have yet to visit Chris Bell’s grave, oddly enough. Probablythe only thing I haven’t done in Memphis.


  12. I’m pretty sure Chicken and I went to visit Jimbo’s grave when we went to Paris together in 1985.

    I was actually *in* Apple Road Studio #2 for about 20 mins – I have the illegal picture somewhere -it may have been posted on RTH earlier

    Of course I visted the extremely holy “Stations of The Boss” 18 months ago.

    Next up: Jimi Hendrix grave when I visit Seattle later this summer.

  13. ladymisskirroyale

    Mr. Royale has been to the Morrison grave and in his words “was really in to it” particularly because some German tourists offered him a joint. As an artist, he also went to Modigliani’s and Oscar Wilde’s grave sites. We haven’t been to JM’s grave in our mutual trips to Paris, but we did go to have a drink at Hotel Costes, the base for many eponymous Euro dance mixes.

    In London, we walked the King’s Road and stopped into what was Vivienne Westwood/Malcolm McClaren shop, Sex. It was (at that time) called World’s End and had a backwards clock on the wall.

    When we lived in CT, we used to go hiking in the Devil’s Den Park which abuts Keith Richard’s place. We would hear the music he was playing (loudly), and it was usually classical.

    We’ve been to the corner of Haight and Ashbury a bazillion times. It think it’s sort of depressing now – just pan-handling kids.

    We still haven’t been to the Experience Music Project although we go to Seattle frequently. Hopefully next time.

    We’ve driven along Sunset Strip in LA many times but have never had an interest in going to the clubs there.

    Mod, didn’t you go to the Chateau Marmount on your trip to LA?

    Oh, and Chuck Klosterman has that book, “Killing Yourself to Live” in which he tours the sites of many rock legends’ final moments. It had some interesting factoids in it, but he offers too many snarky personal asides to make it great.

  14. BigSteve

    I forgot to mention that I’ve been to Hank Williams’ grave in Montgomery AL a couple of times.

    It’s nice, but it’s weird because it’s a double memorial to Hank and to his (to be kind lesser known) wife Audrey. There’s a museum downtown, but it’s kind of low rent. The Jimmie Rodgers Museum in Meridian MS is much cooler.

  15. bostonhistorian

    I know the family who owns the field where Buddy Holly’s plane crashed, so they took me out to the crash site. It was about as depressing as you might expect.

  16. cliff sovinsanity

    During my vacation in LA, we visited the Johnny Ramone memorial in Hollywood Forever cemetary.

  17. I had two meals in one day at the Chateau Marmont, the first one with sammymaudlin! What I got to see of that place was excellent. More later on this fine thread.

  18. ladymisskirroyale

    Isn’t it a great cemetary? Did you see Mel Blanc’s memorial, too? For others, it reads, “That’s all folks.”

  19. ladymisskirroyale

    Also, when Portishead’s first record came out, I dragged a family member out to Bristol and it’s suburb, Portishead, and managed to snap a photo of the road sign. It was a very big deal to me at the time.

  20. I like the personal vein of these “Landmarks.” The only two times I’ve been to L.A. I insisted on staying on the tenth floor of the Hyatt on Sunset. To me, that’s a landmark


  21. bostonhistorian

    A friend of mine recorded an album at Ardent with Jim Dickinson. Said the atmosphere was tremendous.

  22. Most unusual one was when a friend and I got photographed in front of the road sign for the White City Estates (a public housing project) in N London in an attempt to re-create Townshend’s White City cover. Also been to Memphis, New Orleans, Haight/Ashbury and taken slight detours in NYC to see CBGB before it closed and the Chelsea Hotel.

  23. Reading your stories of visiting rock’s sacred sites makes me realize that I’ve visited little if any beside my recent jaunt to the Chateau Marmont! I think I once drove past the Stone Pony, but that’s nothing compared with andyr seeing one of the Stations of The Boss. Ah, another one: chickenfrank and I once shaved and nearly got kicked out of the bathroom of Toronto’s legendary El Mocambo!

    Sadly, the day we were planning to visit Morrison’s gravesite, it was 98 degrees and we were beat after a long walk to and from a cool modern art museum, the Pompideau (?) Centre, and the surrounding area.

    Along with the sites already listed I’d love to one day get to see the towns were The Undertones and XTC came together. I’d like to see a Motown museum, if one exists and it doesn’t suck.

  24. I’m not a fan of the Hard Rock Cafe concept and they are hardly sacred places, but when the HRC in Miami opened in the early 1990s, they had something very cool in the parking lot as part of the opening – a bus that was said to be the very same one used in the Magical Mystery Tour movie. Although I have no way to verify the claim, it certainly looked identical right down to the psychedelic paint job and it looked fairly well-used and worn. I got to climb inside and look around. Though not permanent, I’d call it a sacred rock place.

  25. I happened to stay overnight outside St. Louis in a cheap Holiday Inn that the cast and crew commandeered while filming “Hail! Hail! Rock and Roll!” Discovered this from the bartender who I originally took to be a tad slow and perhaps beaten down over the years to the point of slurred speech. With no one else there I took over the juke and when “JJFlash” came on, she sort of sparked and said with a lilt (yes, a lilt!) “Oh, Keith Richards! They were so much fun.” Turns out she’s a Brit ex-pat and passed every test I strung along to verify her story. So rather than a pleasant buzz and to bed by nine I got sloshed on Jack and her stories and wrote off looking for Chuck the next day

  26. Visited 2120 S. Michigan Ave in Chicago a few years back. It was the home of Chess Records back in the day. Today, it’s the Willie Dixon Blues Heaven Foundation (or something similar). There’s a gift shop when you enter the building (of course), then you can walk upstairs where all the magic happened.

    Chuck, Willie, Muddy, etc. Legend has it when the Stones when there in ’64 to record, Muddy Waters was painting the celing and Keef was appalled. Quite a cool vibe in that small room.

    Highly recommended.

    Bonus: as I chatted with the guy running the gift shop, an elderly African-American woman walked in the front door. I was quickly introduced to Mrs. Willie Dixon, who had just recently acquired the rights to all her husband’s songs.

  27. hrrundivbakshi

    I may have the WINNER rock holy spot — but here are my runners-up:

    – Stax Museum in Memphis, which really is all that and a bag of chips

    – Graceland — the last year an actual living Elvine relative lived in the house, whom we saw being pushed around the grounds in a wheelchair

    – Duke Ellington’s house

    – Various bluesy landmarks along Highway 61

    – Swindon (birthplace of XTC) — also saw the Uffington Horse from a train

    – The club in Bath, England where Tears for Fears made their debut (this meant nothing to me, but excited my wife)

    – Grand Ole Opry

    – Kelvin Hall (where the Kinks recorded the screaming-est live album in rock history)

    – Saw Elvis’ 1973 Stutz Bearcat parked outside a Holiday Inn in Pecos, texas in the mid-70s prior to E’s passing

    … but the most amazing Rock Landmark I’ve ever spent any time in was… in the company of President Gerald Ford, no less …


  28. Sounds like a cool visit!

  29. Details, please, on the President’s reaction to Budokan. Thanks.

  30. alexmagic

    Do they let you on the roof at Apple? I think that might be a holy grail kind of thing for me.

    Also, I would totally take a leak on that pillar out in Easington from the cover of Who’s Next. Which would actually put me one up on most of The Who, since “most of the members” were apparently pee-shy when it came time to shoot the album cover.

  31. bostonhistorian

    I completely forgot about standing on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium. Nashville is a really cool place.

  32. bostonhistorian

    That’s a pretty awesome catalog of songs. Good for her!

  33. If you visit Minneapolis — First Avenue and the adjoining 7th Street Entry are worth a visit. Maybe some of you folks have played there. The place hasn’t changed much since I started going there in the early 80s. It was/is ground zero for the bands coming out of Mpls. and Prince shot the concert scenes in Purple Rain there.

  34. hrrundivbakshi

    I forgot about my trip(s) to Prince’s “Glam Slam” nightclub.

  35. hrrundivbakshi

    My brother was supposed to be participating in a children’s judo tournament, to which the Prez paid a visit. Just before the gig, he sprained a finger, and had to be sidelined. (Or was that me? It’s a pretty dim memory.) Anyhow, I remember sitting in the stands with my Mom. It was loud, and seemed huge, but I was a kid. I don’t recall any wet panty stank from recent Cheap trick or Scorpions shows.

  36. I forgot to mention that I had my picture taken on the steps of the Grateful Dead house (710 Ashbury St) seen here

    Also, just this weekend I was at my in-laws’ house which used to be owned by Artie Shaw. He was already divorced from Lana Turner and Ava Gardner before he lived there, but he might have still been married to Dorris Dowling at the time. She was the barfly in the Lost Weekend who hangs out with Ray Milland and says things like “Don’t be redic.”

  37. BigSteve

    Impressive list, hvb. When I lived in the South, I always intended to drive up Highway 61 and meet the devil at the crossroads, but I never got around to it. Now that I live in Kansas City, I was shocked to discover that you’re out of luck if you want to ‘stand at the corner of 12th St and Vine.’ There’s been some urban renewal, and there’s now a park there, so the intersection, to say nothing of the music clubs etc, no longer exists.

  38. BigSteve

    I don’t expect ever to be in London, but it would be fun to follow this Kinks tour that has been devised by some obsessive fans:

  39. For a few days I thought I’d been in the house where The Boss’ Darkness on the Edge of Town album cover was shot. We’re friends with a family that lives on the block where that shot was taken. A music critic, who also lives on that block, thought it was our friends’ house and “ran with the story” until a few days later, when he learned it was another house on that block. I don’t know the owners of the other house, but I pass by it frequently.

  40. Nice — love that movie and Artie Shaw! He was a man’s man.

  41. BigSteve

    And apparently a ladies’ man too.

  42. misterioso

    Thank heavens it doesn’t say “I t’ought I taw a Puddy Tat”!

  43. misterioso

    The Motown studio was well worth visiting, as cool in its way as Sun.

  44. ladymisskirroyale

    Mr. Royale took a dip in the cold winter waters at the Brighton Pier a la Quadrophenia.

  45. I forgot about my visit to Winchester VA — birthplace of Patsy Cline. She had a conflicted history with the town, but they are trying to do more to celebrate her legacy — if she’s going to get her due outside of the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville (worth a visit to see one of Gram Parsons’ Nudie Suits), it will be in Winchester.

    This blog does a nice job showing what you can see there.

  46. There’s lot so places I would love to go.

    When I was in L.A., I made sure to stop by Hawthorne and pay tribute to the site of the Wilson home. No house there any more. There’s a monument there.

    Of course, I try to spend my spare time visiting all the sites on Mississippi’s Blues Trail. No updates lately, but I plan on getting backon the horse soon.

    Here’s your shameless plug:


  47. alexmagic

    Is the monument where the Wilson home once stood just a giant glass eye? Because I would go see that.

  48. cliff sovinsanity

    Didn’t see Mel. But the memorial is near Fay Wray, Jayne Mansfield, Cecil B DeMille, and Tyrone Power.
    Anybody who enjoys celebrity cemeteries must visit Westwood memorial. Everybody is there…Dean Martin, Zappa, Orbison, Marilyn Monroe, Capote, Fawcett, Knotts, lots more.

  49. I love the Elvis home in Tupelo. From 1997-2003 I took an annual road trip through the south buying folk art, and always stopped at the Elvis house to set a spell on the porch swing.

    I visited the Woodstock site on the way back to Chicago after attending ATP ’08 in the Catskills — was hard not to imagine the nearby stream filled with bathing hippies.

  50. plasticsun

    Speaking of Hank Williams, a couple of summers ago whilst in West Virginia, I came across place where Hank Williams actually died. There was a road which had been named Hank Williams Hwy Memorial Road which led to the Hospital where he was declared dead.

  51. BigSteve

    Cool. The stretch of I-65 south of Montgomery AL is officially designated the “Hank Williams Memorial Lost Highway.” Driving there kind of creeps me out, being familiar with the song:

    Now, boys, don’t start your ramblin’ round,
    On this road of sin or you’re sorrow bound.
    Take my advice or you’ll curse the day
    You started rollin’ down that lost highway.

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