Filed Under:

The Vintage Cadillac With The Memphis Soundtrack

Play associated audio

In the town where I grew up — Memphis, Tenn. — Tad Pierson has made a career out of his love for cars and American music by working as a tour guide. We meet in the grand lobby of the Peabody Hotel, the downtown landmark famous for its ducks and Southern elegance. But it's also considered the starting point of the Mississippi Delta, a region steeped in the blues.

Parked along the curb outside is not just any '55 Cadillac. It's pink and authentic, with fading leather bench seats and no air conditioning. So we head out, windows down on a thick, steamy August morning. Before we've made it a block, the scent of wood-smoked BBQ wafts into the front seat.

"Man, you know I love the smell of Memphis," Pierson says, "and the sound of Memphis."

Blues, soul, funk, gospel and rock 'n ' roll all have roots here, but one name is by far the biggest draw: Elvis Presley. Pierson's Cadillac might be pink, but don't expect him to take you to Graceland. His American Dream Safari starts at Lauderdale Courts, the former housing project where Presley lived as a young teen, sharing a bedroom with his grandma Minnie.

"Elvis is sort of a prism through which we can look at the American Dream," Pierson says.

After seeing the King of Rock 'n' Roll's humble beginnings, we head to the south side, home to the legendary Stax Records and some Memphis originals. We pass the church where Aretha Franklin's dad was a preacher, and the boarded-up clapboard house where she was born.

"What I have to deal with in my business is what I call 'cultural collateral,'" Pierson says. "I rely on real things in real culture to inspire my customers."

But he's seen some of it fading in the 18 years he's been giving tours of Memphis and the Mississippi Delta.

"There's fewer and fewer real-deal places to go and hear the real stuff," he says.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

Opulent And Apolitical: The Art Of The Met's Islamic Galleries

Navina Haidar, an Islamic art curator at the Met, says she isn't interested in ideology: "The only place where we allow ourselves any passion is in the artistic joy ... of something that's beautiful."
NPR

Tired Of The Seoul-Sucking Rat Race, Koreans Flock To Farming

More than 80 percent of people in South Korea live in cities. But in the last few years, that has started to change. Tens of thousands of South Koreans are relocating to the countryside each year.
WAMU 88.5

Virginia Republicans Warn Of High Energy Costs With Obama's 'Clean Power Plan'

Republican leaders in Virginia say Obama's clean energy plan would drive up energy costs and damage a struggling economy. Democrats say saving the planet is more important than the short-term problem of higher energy bills.
NPR

Hope Or Hype: The Revolution In Africa Will Be Wireless

Young entrepreneurs in Africa say that they're leading a tech movement from the ground up. They think technology can solve social ills. But critics wonder if digital fixes can make a dent.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.