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Roadside Rock

A guide to music’s U.S. tourist attractions

Travel, Rock & RollTravel, Rock & Roll

Antar Dayal

It was inevitable. Rock lovers who once saw America from the back seat of their parents’ station wagons are now behind the wheel. Savvy entrepreneurs and city fathers were bound to start exploiting their local rock heritage to promote their towns as tourist havens.

The country-music community already knows how to turn its stars into tourist attractions. Nashville, which bills itself as Music City, offers museums and gift stores dedicated to country greats. Barbara Mandrell even has her own chain of one-hour-photo shops. The group Alabama’s complex in Fort Payne, Alabama, is slicker than most civic museums. And good luck to the belated Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in matching the excellence of Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

Until now, rock’s only roadside honors have been bestowed posthumously. But as rock fans rise in local governments, still-rocking idols are creeping into Chamber of Commerce brochures. It is the dawning of a new age in travel: rock tourism.

Unlike reptile farms and mermaid shows, rock roadside attractions are constantly changing. Sites come and go, scenes sprout and wither. We’ve tried to present some of the best examples of these musical Meccas.

Hibbing, Minnesota

The only tour bus in town takes you to the world’s biggest open-pit iron-ore mine. On the way, it passes the boyhood home of Bob Dylan. Hibbing has no other salute to its rocking poemster. Fellow native superson Gary Puckett will perform on August 22nd at the Ironworld, USA theme park — a short hop from Highway 61.

Chester, Pennsylvania
Bill Haley’s home on the corner of Fifth and Crosby streets was damaged by fire and demolished, but musical notes (the Comets) and a star (him) are still embedded in the sidewalk out front.

Central New Jersey
Several of Bruce Springsteen’s childhood homes remain standing in his home town of Freehold. The Stone Pony, the club he used to frequent, is in the seaside town of Asbury Park, and inside are photographs on a Springsteen wall of fame. Across from the boardwalk, in the Palace Amusements arcade, is a fledgling rock museum, open weekends. A sizable portion of the collection is made up of Springsteen memorabilia, but other musicians are represented as well.

Berry Park, Wentzville, Missouri

The stone marker outside Berry Park says, Welcome. Established by Chuck Berry and his family For The People, this grassy, ninety-eight-acre retreat has picnic tables, an outdoor bandstand, a pond and a pool. Set back from the road is Chuck Berry’s house, and though visitors are asked not to disturb him, when Chuck is home, he is not above personally greeting fans who have come to pay tribute. From St. Louis, go west on I-70, forty miles to Exit 209, Church Street. (south exit). Take Highway Z to Buckner Road. Go right, to 691 Buckner Road.

Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, Memphis
This church, served by the Reverend Al Green, is located at 787 Hale Road, which intersects Elvis Presley Boulevard, not two miles from Graceland. When we attended services one Sunday, Green sang many of his hits, but lest one think about getting something for nothing, note that the collection plate was passed more than once.

Carl Perkins Music Museum, Jackson, Tennessee
Tucked Behind the Casey Jones Home and Rail-road Museum is this tribute to rock pioneer Carl Perkins. Artifacts include some blue-suede cowboy boots (Perkins’s currently preferred style of footwear); a letter from Johnny Cash commenting on Carl’s “beautiful hair”; and “the world’s most valuable record,” a warped copy of TV Guide Presents Elvis Presley. Unfortunately, Carl has ransacked the museum and taken cases of displays away to decorate a Memphis restaurant, the Blue Suede Shoes Saloon, on Beale Street.

Twitty City, Hendersonville, Tennessee
Conway Twitty’s Twitty City theme park has to be the grandest tribute a celebrity ever paid himself. The Twitty City experience begins with Conway’s Showcase, a walking tour with a prerecorded narrative of Twitty’s incredible life and career, from his childhood on the banks of the Mississippi to his ownership of the local Aaa baseball team, the Nashville Sounds. (At Sounds home games, Conway’s music is piped in between innings.)

The Showcase traces Conway’s development from Fifties rock idol (he was the model for Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie) to catbird-seat status in the country-music pecking order. You are reminded that Conway has had more Number One hits than anyone in history. His mascot, the prodigiously annoying Twitty Bird — a knockoff of the Warner cartoon Tweety Bird — is everywhere; a colossal version appears as the climax of the Showcase, squeaking his devotion to Conway.

The highlight of your visit is a trip to the front lawn of Conway’s actual home. Since he’s constantly on the road in a tireless quest to please his many fans, there’s not much chance of seeing Conway here, but you might glimpse his mother or four children, whose homes are also part of the tour.

Dollywood, Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
Pigeon Forge has long been known as a redneck Mecca for those on vacations or senior-class weekends. Dolly Parton grew up here, and Dollywood fits with the tradition of the area. Dolly doesn’t really own this theme park, but some of the attractions have her life as their focus. A replica of the cabin where she was raised is on the grounds — except that this one is air-conditioned. On the hour, Parton’s kinfolk sing covers of her hits, and a Dolly Parton museum showcases wigs and other mementos. Souvenirs can be purchased at the 9 to 5 and Dime.

What bugs us is that adult admission is $14.80 (kids, $10.80) and parking $1. That’s more than $60 for a family of five, before food or souvenirs. Dolly is proud of her roots but seems to forget that many of her old neighbors haven’t yet air-conditioned their cabins.

San Francisco
This year marks the twentieth anniversary of San Francisco’s fabled Summer of Love, but don’t expect the Haight-Ashbury district of the city to be happening (a Gap store now stands at the legendary intersection). If you’re still determined to stalk the wild hippie, however, be sure to drive by the one-time homes of the era’s best-loved groups. The Jefferson Airplane’s Mansion (2400 Fulton Street) is no longer painted black but continues to reek of history. Big Brother’s former pad at 1090 Page is still here, as is the Grateful Dead’s old home at 710 Ashbury.

Hüsker dü might be making some headway nationally, but the local scene still revolves around Prince. The secret suburban refuge he had painted bright purple is now occupied by his father, but you may find His Royal Badness hanging out at Shinder’s magazine and book store downtown, Rudolph’s rib joint or maybe even the First Avenue nightclub (featured in Purple Rain). Flyte Tyme Studios, on Nicollet Avenue, is the office of chartmeister producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

Motown records moved to Los Angeles in 1972 but has only recently begun a big fund-raising drive to convert the old Hitsville, USA building, at 2648 West Grand Boulevard, into a museum. The Motown Museum already displays some of the Temptations’ silky threads, and visitors can walk through the studio where Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, et al., shaped the music of the Big Chill generation.

Sun Studios (706 union avenue), the most historic studio in America, has just reopened after seventeen years. A plaque out front and blown-up photos of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins inside attest to its past. Owners Gary Hardy and Bob Westbrook are gathering vintage Sun equipment, such as mikes and the original soundboard, for this working museum. Tours run all day, recording still goes on at night.

Muscle Shoals, Alabama
During the sixties and seventies, the Muscle Shoals airport probably processed more stars per capita than any other transport hub in the land. Wishbone Studios, on Webster Street (across from the airport), Fame studios, on Avalon Avenue (Where It All Began, the sign says), and Muscle Shoals Sound, in nearby Sheffield (at 1000 Alabama Avenue), have given us some of the bossest sounds of our times, from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, the Stones, Traffic and Paul Simon.

Woodstock, New York
Woodstock still has a tie-dye shop along its hippie strip, but the area’s top rock attraction is the Band’s old Big Pink pad in nearby West Saugerties. The house is still big and pink.

The dinner key civic auditorium, site of Jim Morrison’s notorious flesh flash in 1969, is now known, interestingly enough, as the Coconut Grove Exhibition Center (3360 Pan American Drive, Coconut Grove).

Los Angeles
Because everybody comes to Los Angeles to perform, record or just hang out, the area, especially Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, is laced with rock history. Song references and video locations come alive, and because so much is compressed into such a small area, it is not uncommon to be visiting one site and have a nearby bonus attraction present itself.

The Guitar Center (7425 Sunset) displays hand prints of such stars as Eddie Van Halen, Little Richard, Les Paul and Heart’s Wilson sisters in cement in front of the store. Inside, check out the oversize drumheads covered with autographs. Bonus: The Sunset Grill, made famous by Don Henley, is next door.

Farther west, at the intersection of Sunset and Crescent Heights, is the former location of Pandora’s Box nightclub, where a riot occurred in protest of plans to close the spot to widen the street; the incident inspired the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth.” Pandora’s is still here, Love and Peace is etched in the concrete of the traffic island where the club once stood. Bonus: One block west is the Chateau Marmont, where Blues Brother John Belushi died.

The Tropicana Motor Hotel (8585 Santa Monica Boulevard) was once home to Tom Waits and Jim Morrison and is still popular with visiting musicians. The lobby is lined with autographed photos of guests like George Thorogood, Jimmy Page and Joe “King” Carrasco, and the hotel seems proud of its rock & roll connection.

People still come into the Highland Gardens Hotel (7047 Franklin) asking to see Janis Joplin’s next-to-final resting place. Formerly called the Landmark Hotel, the place was, at one time, also groupie Valhalla.

The stars that run down Hollywood Boulevard are better known for preserving the memory of older showbiz talents, but a few rockers have managed to join the club. Elvis (6777 Hollywood Boulevard) is there, and so are Peter Frampton (6819), the Spinners (6723), the Bee Gees (6845), Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (666) and Fleetwood Mac (6608). Bonus: The famous platter-shaped Capitol Records Building (1750 North Vine) is visible from here.

New York City
Musical tourism here consists of standing outside places, paying lots of money to enter historic clubs or buying stuff.

For the standing-outside tour, start at John and Yoko’s apartment building, the Dakota (Central Park West and Seventy-second Street), then walk into Central Park along the short, winding path to Strawberry Fields, which has an Imagine mosaic. Boogaloo to the gilded Brill Building (1619 Broadway), where songwriters like Leiber and Stoller and Carole King penned their gems. You’ll also want to go to the Chelsea Hotel (222 West Twenty-third Street), Sid and Nancy’s last address, or maybe Electric Lady Sound Studios (Fifty-two West Eighth Street), where Hendrix recorded. The Fillmore East (105 Second Avenue) is now the Saint, a nightclub. Hustle to Brooklyn for what was once the Saturday Night Fever prototype, the 2001 Odyssey Disco (it’s now Spectrum, a gay club, 802 Sixty-fourth Street).

The club tour starts at the Bowery, where CBGB, the venue for late-Seventies punk-New Wave, is still in action. The Lone Star Cafe (Fifth Avenue at Thirteenth Street) has the world’s largest iguana on its roof. The Hard Rock Cafe (221 West Fifty-seventh Street) has good memorabilia but is patronized by people who enjoy Joe Piscopo commercials. The Apollo (253 West 125th Street) still holds talent nights on a regular basis.

Menuditis (Third Avenue near Twenty-sixth Street) is the best Menudo-only store in town, if you’re in the mood to shop. Chirpy Menudettes love the window display — miniature Menudo figures playing to an adoring audience of dolls. The It’s Only Rock & Roll store (49 West Eighth Street) is a tribute to rock merchandising. Nearly everything is for sale, from a posable Boy George action figure to a Bee Gees sing-along strobe phonograph. Even gold and platinum albums are for sale. The most collectible bands this year are Kiss (scale-model custom Chevy Vans and do-it-yourself makeup kits) and the Beatles (John Lennon “cabbage dolls”).

Little Richard, Otis Redding, Lena Horne and James Brown all broke through in Macon at the Douglas Theater, off Martin Luther King Boulevard, but the abandoned remains of the structure are an eyesore.

Little Richard’s boyhood home still stands at 1540 Fifth Avenue. Otis Redding had several childhood homes (including the Tindall Heights projects), but it’s easier just to drive over the Otis Redding Memorial Bridge (Coliseum Drive at the Ocmulgee River).

The site of Duane Allman’s fatal motorcycle crash, at the corner of Hillcrest Avenue and Bartlett Street, is a few blocks from the intersection of Napier Avenue and Inverness Street, where Allman bassist Berry Oakley died in a car crash a year later. They’re buried side by side at Rose Hill Cemetery, on Riverside Drive. Fans pay tribute with flowers left in bottles. All-night vigils are commonplace, but cemetery rules explicitly ban drugs, drink and swim wear. Elsewhere in the cemetery, you can find the headstone of Elizabeth Reed.

The Southern-boogie label Capricorn Records has gone under, but Capricorn Studios, on Cotton Avenue, is still rolling; Redding’s sons are currently recording there. Down the street at the H and H soul-food restaurant, Mama Louise maintains a shrine to bands — “my boys” — that took their snack breaks there. Along with photos and memorabilia of the Allmans and Molly Hatchet is a painting of Duane and Berry as guitar-playing angels.

The Athens scene hasn’t yielded much tourism yet, but you can visit the decrepit church (394 Oconee Street) where R.E.M. lived as squatters and even played their first show. Musicians still live there today. Other historic digs are on Barber Street, north of Prince Avenue, where such bands as R.E.M., Pylon, Love Tractor, Kilkenny Cats and Dreams So Real lived as neighbors.

The Uptown Lounge, at 140 East Washington, is the current club of choice, while the art crowd still accouters at Potter’s Thrift Store, 285 West Washington Street, where the B-52’s did a lot of their shopping.

The Reverend Howard Finster, a Septuagenarian who calls himself “the mouthpiece of another world,” has long tended his vast grounds here, melding colored glass, bicycle parts, concrete, foliage and found objects into a folk-art frenzy.

Finster, star of Athens, Ga. — Inside/Out, a film about that town’s music scene, is a favorite of R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe. The group’s “Radio Free Europe” video was shot in the garden here, and Finster did the Reckoning album art. Talking Heads commissioned Finster to paint the cover of their Little Creatures album, for which Finster says they paid $5100; he’s heard the work is now worth $100,000. Is he upset? No, because the mass exposure spreads his word: “The rock & rollers are my missionaries,” he says.

Elvis Museums
Elvis museums abound. No matter which you visit, you will see Elvis outfits, gaudy jewelry and at least one Elvis car. What sets Elvis museums apart is the odder items displayed at each.

Elvis Presley Museum, Potomac Mills shopping mall, Woodbridge, Virginia: Includes a letter written to his wife, Priscilla, in code (with translation); also a set of his X-rays. The car displayed is a limo that Elvis saw in the movie Shaft and had to have.

Elvis Museum and Gift Shop, Nashville: Notable because Dee Presley, Elvis’s attractive stepmother, is often there, autographing and reminiscing. Also worth seeing is a TV set actually shot out by the King. A block away, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum runs tours of RCA Studio B, where Elvis recorded from 1958 to 1971.

Elvis Museum, Orlando, Florida: View his gold-plated Beretta, his Exxon card and his wedding ring. Copies of his death certificate can be purchased in the gift shop.

Elvis Hall of Fame, Gatlinburg, Tennessee: Contains an Elvis nasal-spray applicator, some bikini underwear and an old address book opened to the phone numbers of Seventies siren sisters Ann and Janice Pennington. (Both posed for Playboy. Oh, that Elvis.)

Tupelo, Mississippi: Tupelo is Elvis’s birthplace, and you can tour the house in which he was born; it’s in front of the Elvis Presley Recreation Center, on Elvis Presley Drive. Next to this two-room house is the Elvis Presley Memorial Chapel, a popular spot for Elvis fans to wed. The Tupelo McDonald’s has glass salad-bar sneeze screens with his likeness etched into them and a collection of Elvisabilia.

Graceland, Memphis: The rock tribute to the rock legend, Graceland (3797 Elvis Presley Boulevard) is a fitting memorial to El Elvis; the excesses here are due to his own tastes, not those of some huckster. The tour includes Elvis’s game room, with three TVs, and the Jungle Room, with wooden chairs carved in the shape of monkeys, green shag carpeting on the ceiling and fur-covered lamp shades. The trophy room is filled with gold records, Elvis’s police-badge collection, slot cars and Elvis and Priscilla’s wedding outfits. Elvis and his parents are buried in the meditation garden near the pool.

Across from Graceland is a row of gift stores and museums. Graceland Enterprises is slowly renovating and taking control of this strip in order to upgrade its once-tawdry image. The Elvis Up-Close Museum, on this block, contains Elvis’s well-thumbed copy of the Physician’s Desk Reference.

We recommend a visit during Elvis International Tribute Week, August 8th to 16th. This year marks the tenth anniversary of his death, which will be observed with the annual candlelight vigil. Fans will also be able to see the Legacy in Light laser show, a memorial karate tournament and various live tribute shows.

The Edgewater Inn, Seattle: The slogan “Fish from your window” has made this motel a longtime favorite with rock musicians. Led Zeppelin caught the fish that starred in the band’s infamous “shark incident” here. Zep’s legacy continues, and today photos of various leering musicians displaying their catch can be seen on a wall in the lobby.

The Shilo Inn (formerly the Royal Inn), Salt Lake City: Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake and Palmer was arrested here for swimming naked in the pool.

The Sheraton Inn, Madison, Wisconsin: Van Halen thanked this hotel on the liner notes of Van Halen II. The boys destroyed their rooms and broke a toilet, but their impish charm is still fondly remembered by the staff. T

he Holiday Inn City Center, Columbus, Ohio: The lounge, Filibusters, was called the Rumble Seat when Bonnie Bramlett KO’d Elvis Costello after his provocative remarks about Ray Charles. The Hotel Royal Plaza, Lake Buena Vista, Florida: You can actually stay in the famous Michael Jackson Suite here, where gold records and memorabilia are on display. The luxury suite can be divided into fourths for the budget minded, or heck, you can rent the whole shebang for $720 a night.

Buddy Holly, Lubbock, Texas
Of all the civic tributes to rock’s favorite sons and daughters, Lubbock’s is the best. At Eighth Street and Avenue Q, the town has put up an eight-and-a-half-foot heroic bronze of Buddy and his guitar. Beneath the statue is a walk of fame honoring other local musicians who have made it big, including the Crickets, Waylon Jennings and Mac Davis. The path to Holly’s grave in Lubbock Cemetery (Thirty-fourth Street) is well marked; guitar picks from fans dot the soil around the tombstone. His 1957 home (1305 Thirty-seventh Street), his birthplace (1911 Sixth Street) and the Buddy Holly Recreation Area are all parts of the tour. Plan to visit during the annual Budfest, a birthday celebration that takes place during the first week of September.

Jimi Hendrix, Seattle
Unfortunately, Seattle has no similar tributes to Jimi Hendrix. A bust was made, but never sanctioned, and now sits in the library of the school that kicked Hendrix out, Garfield High. The best offering is a less-than-stirring monument at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. Because of the damp climate, a heated rock, broad enough for six to eight people to sit on, was installed for those who want to stay warm while viewing the African-savanna exhibit. Sponsored by radio station KZOK, it is designated the Jimi Hendrix Memorial Hot Rock, though the radio station’s call letters are more prominent than Hendrix’s name. The guitar hero is buried in Greenwood Memorial Park, in suburban Renton.

Gram Parsons, Joshua Tree National Monument, California
Joshua Tree National Monument held a special fascination for Parsons, leader of the influential Flying Burrito Brothers. After he died in a room at the Joshua Tree Inn, Parsons’s coffin was stolen from the L.A. airport and burned, and his cremated remains were supposedly placed in a rock grotto in the park.

Janis Joplin, Port Arthur, Texas
Port Arthur is making an honest effort to properly memorialize the Pearl and has commissioned a clay model of an unusual multi-headed statue that simulates Janis’s trademark head rolls. Right now, the city doesn’t have the funds to cast a bronze version, but officials are working on it. The vacant lot upon which Janis’s childhood home once stood (in the 4800 block of Procter Street) is well visited by her fans, and rare is the day when fresh roses and messages are not left on the lot.

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