January 24, 2018
While some consider Margo Price one of country music’s up-and-coming stars, she isn’t new to the Tennessee music scene. In 2003, Margo moved to Tennessee from her hometown in Illinois and has since been doing everything she can to make her music dreams come true. From her perfectly pitched voice to the heart-wrenching honesty of her song lyrics, Margo’s talent is undeniable. As with several of the artists on Jack White’s Third Man Records label, Margo’s sound harkens back to the golden age of country music. With a widely successful first album, “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” and a musical guest appearance on SNL, the future looks bright for Margo Price.
Along with Third Man Records musicians Lillie Mae, Joshua Hedley, and Craig Brown Band, Margo played at the exclusive 333 ft. Underground concert, a celebration of Tennessee’s deep musical roots and natural beauty. Hosted by Jack White, the artists performed at the beautiful Cumberland Caverns in an auditorium 333 feet underground. Leading up to the concert, we sat down with Margo to talk about her favorite spots around Memphis and the things she loves most about the city.
Considered the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll, Sun Studio is where blues, country and a dose of rebellion were blended together to create a new musical genre. First opened by amateur producer Sam Phillips, all rules were thrown out the window at Sun Studio. From Johnny Cash to Elvis Presley, countless rock ’n’ roll icons fine-tuned their signature sound within these walls, recording the hits that made them immortal. Today, visitors can experience Sun Studio firsthand on daily tours and learn the story of how rock ’n’ roll came to be.
For Margo Price, the famous Sun Studio is more than just a must-see destination in Memphis — it’s the place that helped jump-start her career. “We were walking through the gift shop and I was like, I wonder if people still record here. And then I saw the neon sign that said, ‘Make Your Own Record.’” Margo initially recorded just two songs at Sun Studio, but after much persistence by sound engineer Matt Ross-Spang, she recorded her first album. “He just kept writing me and writing me, like ‘Please come back and do the full length here. I know you're going to do a full-length record. I'll cut you a deal.’ And nobody else was showing that much passion about the project.”
Shortly after, Third Man Record’s Ben Swank got a hold of her record and was so impressed by her sound that he brought Margo on as part of the Third Man Record’s family.
When recording in Memphis, Margo and her band usually stay at the centrally located Exchange Building, one of the city’s tallest buildings, which has both residential apartments and hotel rooms. Because it’s in the heart of Memphis, The Exchange Building is near some of the city’s most popular attractions, including the famous Beale Street, known for its vibrant nightlife and live music; the Memphis Zoo; and Sun Studio.
Less than a mile away from The Exchange Building is Earnestine and Hazel’s, one of Margo’s favorite bars in the city. “The place is great, they have an amazing jukebox. Go in there and throw on some Etta James.” This popular dive has a rich history and is known as one of the most haunted bars in the city. Originally meant to be a church, the building has gone through many iterations in the past 100 years. It housed a sundry store, pharmacy, jazz café, brothel and beauty salon before finally becoming the downtown Memphis staple it is today. In addition to ghost tours, the bar is known for its famous Soul Burger and amazing retro jukebox. Their slogan “Ragged but Right” epitomizes the low-key vibes of this must-see Memphis destination.
Pho Binh: Midtown Memphis
This Vietnamese restaurant is one of Margo’s go-to places for grub when recording in Memphis. With classic dishes like pho, lemongrass tofu, vermicelli noodles and shrimp summer rolls, this healthy eatery has some of the city’s most authentic Vietnamese food. Pho Binh also has plenty of veggie menu items, making it a local favorite for both vegetarians and meat eaters.
“There's so much musical history and culture. Whether it's the food, like going to eat ribs at Central BBQ, there's just such a great vibe and great energy in Memphis and it's got grit. It's got soul.” When Margo is craving some awesome barbecue and authentic Memphis vibes, she always heads to Central BBQ. Consistently rated the best barbecue in Memphis, Central is always packed with in-the-know locals. The original location is in Midtown, but to keep up with demand, it now has locations downtown and in East Memphis.
This awesome little record store has been a staple in the indie Memphis music scene since 1988 and is one of Margo’s favorite spots in the city. In addition to supporting local up-and-coming musicians, Shangri-La holds events, block parties and shows year-round. Any underground music aficionado will love the wide selection and friendly, well-informed staff. Shangri-La also buys records, so stop by and trade in your oldies for some new tunes.
In addition to recording at Sun Studio, Margo has also recorded at Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis. “After Sam made his millions with Elvis and all the people that he kind of broke through, he went and built his dream studio. It was shut down for quite a while, but when we went back in there and they started refurbishing it, it was just so cool to see this huge space, the room had a great feel. It was a lot bigger space, we could still all be in the same room and record live which is what we like to do.” Opened in 1960, Sam Phillips Recording continues the tradition of rock ’n’ roll that Sam helped cultivate at Sun Studio. Today, artists of all different genres come here to record their music.
From the amazing BBQ to the city’s deep musical roots, Memphis is full of heart, grit and soul. As the birthplace of rock ’n’ roll, the city has a rebellious spirit any music lover will love, so it’s no wonder why modern country rebel Margo Price loves coming here to record her music.