It’s hard to say what makes a street famous, or even infamous, for that matter. Most cities have one, but the luster of some have faded over time as the focus of what made the street famous in the first place begins to dim. Then there are some that get locked in time, and can’t change no matter what happens. Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, is one such street.
It’s been the hub of fame and fortune, and also the center of gloom and doom. But, no matter what the world throws it’s way, it still keeps coming back for more. And that is part of what makes Beale Street one of the most iconic, historic, and famous streets in the entire country.
W. C. Handy, BB King, Rufus Thomas, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Johnny Cash, and (of course) Elvis Presley have all called Memphis their home. Memphis embraces those roots as the Home of the Blues and the birthplace of rock ‘n’ roll. Almost every one of these artists and hundreds of others cut their teeth in the bars and juke joints in the Mid-South and downtown districts — and, even more specifically, Beale Street.
In the ’50s, now-famous recording studios sprouted up all over town trying to capture the next big star to step out onto this hallowed street and a few still exist today. Sam Phillips Studio and Sun Studio are mere blocks away. Those humble artists were looking to be the next big star and Beale Street came along on their ride to stardom.
Even though it fell on hard times and many businesses were boarded up in the ’60s, it still survived. During the late-’80s the street met the resurgence it waited so long for. A huge influx of money was dumped into restoring the dilapidated storefronts and Beale rose from the ashes again, just it had after the Yellow Fever outbreak in the late-1800s.
For those of us who like classic automobiles, Beale Street has that covered too, thanks to the efforts of two local hot rod enthusiasts. Clarence Goodwin and his son Trent dreamt to have something special for the hot rod crowd and negotiated with the city to allow parking on Beale Street for one night each month, April through October.
Several years ago, the dream became a reality and Hot Rods on Beale was born. Up to 120 cars can park on Beale after being assigned a pass. The waiting list has grown to well over 500 cars according to Clarence.
On special occasions, the locals are willing to give-way to some traveling tours. Past tours that have been hosted on Beale are the Hot Rod Power Tour, the Rat Rod Magazine Tour, and now the Goodguys Hall of Fame Tour. With approximately 65 cars in-tow, on Tuesday, September 24, the Goodguys HoF Tour East (there was also a West tour the same week) made a stop to the Home of the Blues on its way to Fort Worth, Texas from Michigan.
We were on-hand to capture some of the sights as people from across the globe came down to check out the cars (ok, so they didn’t all come just for the cars, but we like to think so). The great part about Hot Rods on Beale is that you never know who you are going to meet.
Tourists from all over the world come in town to take in the sights of Memphis, and they usually end their night “walking with their feet ten feet off of Beale” (as Marc Cohn would say). We’ve met people from England, Australia, France, Germany, Belgium, Japan, Norway — you name it. They are all surprised and delighted to see this little piece of Americana happening right before their eyes.
On this big night, hot rodders from the Mid-South got to see some of the cool builds from other parts of the country, and the people on the tour got to enjoy a small piece of history on their way to another destination. The following day the tour visited COMP Cams headquarters, before heading down the road to another historic town in Arkansas, Hot Springs.
We hope the road warriors enjoyed their time in Memphis and got a little bit of the flavor of what makes Memphis special. If there is one thing Memphis has, it is soul. The Memphis Grizzlies NBA team used the motto “Grit and Grind” for several years, and it describes Memphis well. It is isn’t perfect, it had a lot of turmoil over the years, but it doesn’t quit. And neither does Beale Street, it just keeps reinventing itself while still being able to stick to its roots.
If you ever find yourself coming through Memphis on the fourth Tuesday of the months of April through October, don’t be surprised if you hear the rumble of a big V8 coming up behind you on one of the most famous streets in America. Everyone who participates in Hot Rods on Beale appreciates the fact that we get to do something that no other city can do. We love to talk about our beloved rides and keep this little slice of America alive for tourists around the world. We’re even happy to step aside for a month to allow other enthusiasts the chance of a lifetime on their way to other destinations.
Click on “View Full Gallery” below to enjoy some of the photos from the evening-into-night’s festivities!