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Monday, September 28, 2009

Our Moroccans At The Old Daisy

When the Moroccans (Charming Niece Shannon & hubby Hassan) visited this summer, we didn’t do much socializing due to Mother’s hospitalization, but we did some of the good Memphis things during their ’08 trip.

Of the many interesting stops downtown and on Beale Street, the Old Daisy Theater is always a must. Thank goodness for the preservation of historic buildings.

The Mississippi Delta, which is said to begin in the lobby of Memphis’ great Hotel Peabody, gave birth to the blues and a trail of bluesmen who eventually made their way to the waiting venues on Beale Street. Appreciative crowds welcomed such blues icons as the legendary Robert Johnson from Hazlehurst (, Son House (Riverton), John Lee Hooker and Ike Turner (Clarksdale), Mississippi John Hurt (Teoc), Muddy Waters (Rolling Fork), Willie Dixon (Vicksburg) , Elmore James (Richland) and B.B. King (Indianola). These musicians not only defined blues in their day, but they also influenced the inception and development of rock and roll.

It’s written that B.B. King once said, "I didn't think of Memphis as Memphis. I thought of Beale Street as Memphis.” There are stories of a young Elvis Presley sneaking into the mostly black Beale Street clubs for an influential taste of the blues in the fifties.

A 17-year-old Mike and a buddy were allowed in the back door of a near-Beale black club a couple of times and even permitted to sit in. In later years he had the privilege of playing at both the Old Daisy and New Daisy which are across the street from each other.

At least once at the New Daisy he was playing with Jerry Lee Lewis. He was with the house band at the Old Daisy for a while and met an older, black jazz piano player who sat in with them a few times. Mike later learned that the man was Phineas Newborn, an “underappreciated” jazz musician who had previously worked with the likes of Lionel Hampton and Charlie Mingus. When Mike met him, Newborn was reduced to sitting in for drinks anywhere he could. When he died in the 1980s, Newborn was laid to rest in a Memphis pauper’s grave.

The beautiful Old Daisy, pictured above with Shannon, Hassan and me) was built in 1902 in the nickelodeon style of architecture.

If those walls could only tell the tales of the music and musicians who have walked that stage!

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