Isaac Hayes’s Memphis restaurant closes

April 23, 2007

Voicing a chef on South Park doesn’t necessarily translate into success in the restaurant world. Isaac Hayes’s Restaurant & Nightclub closed its doors in Memphis on Saturday night. The club/restaurant, located in Peabody Place, had been a popular nightspot for over five years. The website happily soldiers on, however, at least for now.

No word yet on how many employees or suppliers will get the shaft.


The best rib recipe ever

April 22, 2007

Tennesseans, especially those living outside of the Volunteer State, are expected to have more than a passing knowledge of barbecue. I cooked 12 linear feet of pork ribs on Friday–the occasion was the 22nd birthday of Number Two Son–and here’s how I did it.

I prefer Memphis-style ribs. By that, I mean ribs with a dry rub that need no sauce. Sauce is a pain. If you need to mop the ribs with sauce as they cook, you lose all the heat from the smoker every time you open the lid. Sauce is messy to eat, especially for a man with a moustache, so I like my ribs dry.

I begin with pork loin backribs. Full size ribs have too much fat on them. The night before I plan to smoke them, I mix up the rub. The recipe comes from Smoke & Spice, a book by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison published by the Harvard Common Press, which has published three of my books as well. Here’s the recipe, which the Jamisons call “Wild Willy’s Number One-derful Rub”:

3/4 cup Paprika–I like to use Hungarian paprika, which has more of a kick to it

1/4 cup black pepper

1/4 cup salt

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons chili powder

2 tablespoons garlic powder

2 tablespoons onion powder

2 teaspoons cayenne

Mix these together and rub them all over the ribs, then put them in the refrigerator overnight.


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Travel writing bits and blues

April 19, 2007

For over ten years, I wrote Moon Handbooks: Tennessee, which came out in four editions over that time, plus a book on the Smokies, which I co-wrote with Mike Sigalas. The day I got my hands on the first copy of the fourth edition, I got a call from the designated hatchetwoman at my publisher, Avalon Travel Publishing , telling me I was fired from my own book. That’s a long story for another time. As the late Kurt Vonnegut says, so it goes.

Fortunately for me, I own the copyright to all the text in the 500-page book, and I have put almost every word of it onto my website, Tennessee Guy, of which this blog is a part. While some unknown soul is laboring on the fifth incarnation of the Tennessee book, my last edition remains in bookstores, making money for me and the knaves who cut me loose.

But not too much money, it seems. I remain on an email list of Avalon authors, and they are singing the blues about a steep decline in royalties for the last quarter of 2006. Several are reporting drops in income of one half, two-thirds, or even 75 percent. My last royalty check is one fourth of its predecessor. One longtime Avalon author tells us that we should consider writing travel books as a hobby, and to “look for another revenue stream.”

While I have all sympathies for my fellow authors, many of whom depend on those royalties for their livelihood, a lesser person would chortle at the plight of my former publisher and gleefully anticipate the laying off of particular individuals. But I digress.

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No endangered rivers in Tennessee

April 18, 2007

As regular readers of this blog know, I focus on various lists to see how Tennessee gets ranked in various categories–many of them not so favorably, alas. Today, however, I am happy to report that when American Rivers, an advocacy group for clean water, released its 2007 list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, no Tennessee waterway was on that list.

This is good news. The last time a Tennessee river appeared on the list was 2004, when the Tennessee River was listed as the fourth most endangered river in the country. The report from that year gave some interesting facts about the river that shares its names with the state:

“The Tennessee River watershed is one of the most biologically diverse river systems in North America. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the Tennessee River and its tributaries are home to 125 species of freshwater mussels, 96 species of snails, and an astonishing 319 species of fish — including the legendary snail darter.”

The photo below is of the Holston River flowing past my grandparent’s farm in Kingsport


National ‘Discover Your Inner Elvis’ campaign launches

April 17, 2007

The keepers of the Elvis flame have rolled out television ads, a new website, and print ads to revive the lure of the King and to get people to visit Graceland. Here’s a New York Times article on the effort, which notes that “Cirque du Soleil is developing an Elvis-themed tour and has signed a deal for a permanent Elvis show based in Las Vegas from 2009 while American Greetings is planning to expand its line of Elvis Christmas tree decorations and greetings cards.”

The Elvis folks need to do something, for the King has begun to slip. Last year he dropped to second place in the roster of top-earning dead celebrities. This year marks the 30th anniversary of his death.

I downloaded the latest brochure for Graceland, which you can do here, and looked to see how Elvis is being pitched. To say that the brochure disappoints is an understatement. An older couple on the cover looks as if they are killing time while waiting for the four-hour effects of Cialis to wear off. A white-bread family of four is seen oohing and ahhing over the Elvis artifacts. There is not one black face in the entire piece.

Elvis became The King because he was a white trash rebel with nothing to lose who had the audacity to take black music and blast it into the consciousness of white America. That Changed Everything. He became who he was because he came of age in a city where the musical planets had lined up for a Mississippi-born boy who would listen to the Statesmen one night and buy clothes on Beale Street the next day.

The way to keep Elvis alive is to keep the focus on the music. Encourage people to remix his songs. Remember what Junkie XL did with “A Little Less Conversation” in 2002? That song, one of the minor pieces in the canon, became a number one hit in over 20 countries.

Just a few miles from Graceland is Soulsville, the celebration of Stax Records. The Elvis people should enter into a partnership with Soulsville and encourage some of the 600,000 people who come to Graceland to visit this studio where black music, loved and championed by Elvis, came into its own.


Outside Magazine reveals Smokies ‘secrets’

April 17, 2007

I’m a great fan of the outdoors, most recently spending a week camping in Utah, and I subscribe to all manner of outdoor magazines. Every month, these periodicals almost always have some sort of collection of short articles on parks or towns across the United States. The May issue of Outside Magazine has a headline across the cover that reads “National Park Secrets–22 New Hideouts. Zero Crowds.”

So, hope springing eternal, I turn to the section on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the “secret.” The first part is some good advice from guidebook writer Johnny Molloy, who knows his stuff. He suggests crossing Fontana Lake and approaching the Appalachian Trail from the Eagle Creek arm of the lake via Lost Cove. Sounds good to me, and certainly counts as a secret.

The rest of the article is a joke. The unnamed writer, under the heading “Crash Pad,” suggests staying at LeConte Lodge and gives the contact information. What he or she doesn’t tell readers is that LeConte Lodge is the singlemost difficult hostelry in Tennessee for which to secure reservations–an entire season gets snapped up just days after reservations are opened up for the year. There’s no “crashing” there–you have to plan months in advance.

Uh, thanks for the insider information there, ace.

The writer also makes the very common mistake of confusing the number of visits to the Park with the number of visitors. The Park Service reports that 9.3 million visits were made to the Smokies in 2006. Visits are not the same as visitors–the actual number of which is a mere fraction of 9.3 million. If that many people actually came to the Park in one year, the roads would be gridlocked beyond imagination.


This blog is part of a much larger website, also entitled Tennessee Guy, that contains travel and cultural information about Tennessee. Visit it here.

Mule Day makes it big

April 16, 2007

Today’s New York Times takes a break from their relentless coverage of jackass Don Imus to focus on Columbia’s Mule Day. This delightful celebration in Maury County reflects the time when Columbia was a center for mule trading, and keeps alive the connections Tennesseans have to their agricultural past.

According to the article, the state’s mule population is on the rise: “A department (of Agriculture) survey from 1999 counted 4,600 mules in the state. In 2004, the last year for which data is available, the number had risen to 10,300.”

William Faulkner, who knew a thing or two about mules–and jackasses–said it best: “A mule will labor ten years willingly and patiently for you, for the privilege of kicking you once.”


Tennessee Guy meets Travelgirl

April 15, 2007

The Conference on World Affairs just concluded here in Boulder. One of the participants was Stephanie Oswald, co-founder of Atlanta-based Travelgirl magazine, who held forth on various panels. She discussed how her magazine was launched right after 9/11, not exactly the most auspicious time to pour money into a travel venture, and has succeeded–subscriptions now total 300,000.

Oswald quoted a survey that claims that women make 75 percent of the decisions related to travel–where to go, where to stay, etc. Here is Travelgirl’s take on Memphis.


Making whiskey the George Washington way

April 15, 2007

Making whiskey on one’s farm or plantation was an honorable tradition in the days before the Federal government saw distilled spirits as a reliable source of tax income. No less than George Washington distilled whiskey at Mount Vernon. Now, according to this article, the good people who run Mt. Vernon now have the Father of our Country’s distillery up and running.

This was no backyard still. According to the Mount Vernon site , “Washington erected a large stone gristmill in 1771 to increase production of flour and cornmeal, and to be able to export high quality flour to the West Indies, England, and Europe. In 1797, Washington’s Scottish farm manager James Anderson encouraged him to build a whiskey distillery adjacent to the gristmill. The distillery was the largest in America, producing 11,000 gallons of whiskey in 1799, making it one of the most successful economic enterprises at Mount Vernon.

“Distillers demonstrate 18th-century techniques operating five copper stills, mash tubs, and a boiler in the two-story building that also includes and office and living quarters.”

According to the Associated Press article,”Mount Vernon says the distillery is the only one in the nation, and possibly the world, that authentically demonstrates 18th-century distilling techniques.

“The stills will distill liquid on a daily basis to demonstrate the process to visitors; whiskey will be made only on special occasions.

“The whiskey will be available for purchase at the estate and at the gristmill site, but it may be an unfamiliar taste to modern palettes. Washington did not age his whiskey as distillers do today.

“The product is colorless and less refined. It would have been considered high-quality whiskey in its day, but Mount Vernon director James Rees once compared it to “white lightning,” slang for homemade whiskey or moonshine.”

And which state is the most famous one for making moonshine? (Hint: it’s not Virginia.)

Why doesn’t someone in Tennessee create an operating still? If they can do it at Mount Vernon, we can so it here. Having an operating still would be a sure-firewater way of luring visitors and separating them from their dollars. I nominate the following places as the short list of where to put a still:

Cocke County. Heck, this place could demonstrate 21st Century whiskey-making techniques

Rocky Mount. Folks at the capitol of the Southwest Territory no doubt fought off chills with a homemade toddy

Andrew Johnson’s home in Greeneville. This president was known for taking a nip or two in his day

The Hermitage. Andrew Jackson’s inauguration was the wildest party ever held in the White House

If Mount Vernon can navigate through the thicket of regulations involving making whiskey at an historical site, then so can people in Tennessee.


Age discrimination at the Opry?

April 14, 2007

This morning’s National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition did a story on country singer Stonewall Jackson’s age discrimination suit against the Grand Ole Opry. Jackson, a member of the Opry since 1956, claims that he is getting less airtime because of his age–he’s 79–and is suing Gaylord Entertainment, the owners of the Opry, for $20 million.

The Opry still carries a lot of old-timers–Charlie Louvin and Porter Wagoner are prime examples–so it’s hard to tell whether the suit has any merit. The biggest reason that Jackson is getting eased aside may be that he hasn’t had a big hit since his 1959 “Waterloo,” which he still chugs through whenever on stage.

The irony in the case is that “Waterloo” is a song whose lyrics ask “where will you meet your Waterloo?” The final line is “Everybody has to meet his Waterloo,” and Jackson’s lawsuit may be just that for him.