I got a chance to spend 24 or so hours in Memphis before Bonnaroo. I’d never been. But I was lucky enough to have guides.
My buddy Martin texts me a number as I’m leaving Orlando, Memphis bound. “Call Dallas” was the word, Dallas being the man who would be at the airport ready to take me to my destination, the vibrantly decomposed studio of Jim Dickinson and his boys Cody and Luther, who form two thirds of the North Mississippi All Stars. They were recording together, on the family farm 35 minutes or so outside Memphis in the North Mississippi woods. Dallas was going to take me there.
I rang Dallas while still on the tarmac. It’s been quite some time since I’ve had walking around time. You know, the kind of time where you land somewhere foreign, you know one guy maybe, or bump into someone, and that person takes you to another world. It’d been years since I’d been to Tennessee. The place lived in my mind as legend, mostly through music. And I’d never been to Memphis.
“Travel. Dallas,” he answers.
Dallas, I tell him, John.
“Alright. I’m five minutes from the airport. You on the tarmac?” Gentle, like bourbon on new ice.
Yes, I say.
“I’ll be at the top of the escalators as you come out. I’m dressed like a tourist, got a panama hat. And a badge.”
I knew I’d like Dallas.
After the obligatories (hotel, beer, ice, food), we drove across the Mississippi and headed south for a while, the highway cutting through woods and rolling farmland. Dallas regaling me with stories of the land as we tooled along in his Chevy wagon – the one with the same engine as the 1994 Corvette – same transmission, too. Thirty minutes and we took a left, we’re in low folds of resting grassland, punctuated by high elms – were they elms? – draped in kudzu. Were it not for agriculture, this would be impassable land.
Fourth driveway at the left, Cody had put a red bandana on the mailbox. We hit a dirt road, then we pass one, and another single wide. Someone might live there. Then again, someone might not. But nothing felt out of place.
A quarter mile down a clearing, and a mowed field, crowned by forty-foot kudzu skirted woods. In the field, to the left as we entered, an Airstream, seen better years, but still proud. And past it, as we pan to our right, a Chevy Grand Torino, maybe 1974, rusting but again, nobly. Immediately to its right is a 1990 or so 280Z, sweetly clenched in a decades long conversation with mother nature. We had arrived at a good moment, as Mother Nature had figured out a way to claim the old car, namely by pushing a six-foot-tall blackberry shoot – tall and straight as any tree – impossibly through the hood, and dead center to boot.
Then I saw the studio.