Here at Backbeat Tours we tell people from all over the world about our unique city everyday. From Graceland to the Grizzlies, Beale St. to the Burbs we are passionate about Memphis. This blog is where we share quirky, behind-the-scenes tales of Memphis, past and present.
Meet The Tour Guides
I've been entertaining people in Memphis for the last 16 years. I moved from Tacoma, Washington in 1998, to perform at Elvis Presley's Memphis with The Dempseys, a rockabilly trio I had formed with friends from high school. I've been performing on Historic Beale Street and traveling around the country since then, both with the Dempseys, and more recently in my own band, The Brad Birkedahl Band. I perform 5-6 nights a week as well as leading Mojo tours for Backbeat tours and enjoy every minute of it!
What’s the strangest gig you’ve ever had?
I played the grand opening of a post office when I was 16.
Describe your go-to outfit for those days when you want to look your absolute best.
Any jacket I own from Lansky Brothers Clothing, the Clothier to the King!
What was your worst job?
Dressing up as Barney in between making pizzas at a high school job.
What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Don't sweat the small stuff.
What’s your dream travel destination?
I am originally from Pittsburgh, which makes me a northerner. Up north, we don't say things like "y'all." Now I say it all the time. Everybody says that I sound very country. If you live in Memphis more than three weeks the southern drawl rubs off on you. I am an entertainer here in Memphis and have two rockabilly bands, The Stunning Cunning Band and The Memphis 3. Both bands headline on Beale Street at Blues City Cafe. If you are ever in Memphis, stop by and see me. What super power do you dream of having? I think it would be the coolest thing to be able to fly. Could you imagine being able to go wherever you wanted by flying. I would want the Superman kind of flying ability. The only thing I would be concerned about is if my hair would get messed up by the wind. I'd probably just wear a big helmet over my head.
What was the worst job you ever had? When I got laid off from one of my dream jobs I had to take something to make money and it just happened to be with a finance company. I was the guy who made the loans. Then when you didn't pay I was also the guy who chased you down. I would actually have to drive out to people's jobs and homes and knock on the door and try and find them to collect the money. I hated every minute of it and one day I just said I had enough and left. If you could spend a night with any Memphian, living or dead who would it be? It would have to be Elvis. Just to be invited out to Graceland for a party would have been the coolest thing ever. Then when that got boring we could all pile in one of his Cadillac's as he drove us around town pointing out places where he used to work, live and play. What's the most nerdy thing that you do? Sit around and read history books about Memphis. I know it sounds boring but this city has such a unique history. I can be on the internet for hours researching old buildings downtown and the things that went on in them.
I was born and raised right here in Memphis. My parents were both teachers, so I grew up constantly learning, especially history. My dad always had old records playing, so I learned to love the sounds of Memphis at a young age. I picked up the guitar at 13, right before I started high school. I actually ended up in my school’s Rock and Soul Band, which was an enlightening experience and helped me explore the musical culture by playing around Memphis. I’ve even had the honor of playing at the International Freedom awards held here in Memphis on two occasions. Nowadays, when I’m not rocking out on the Backbeat Bus or showing people around town, I’m finishing up my history degree at the University of Memphis, watching classic movies, or playing around town with musicians from campus, usually in coffee shops and such.
If you could spend one night hanging out and jamming with any Memphis Musician (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
I’d have to pick Steve Cropper of Booker T. and the MGs and Stax Studio fame. He’s got some of the coolest grooves. He makes whatever song he plays on sound so good, even if he’s not really playing that much. Plus maybe I could convince him to do a Blues Brothers reunion.
Did you lose any super powers when you shaved your beard?
I did, actually. I can’t chop down trees with my axe or eat pancakes nearly as fast as I used to be able to. Plus, my pet ox no longer recognizes me. But I’m slowly bringing the beard back so I’ll be up to full capacity soon.
What’s the craziest story you've been told by someone taking your tour?
I once had a man tell me about how he saw Elvis on the Louisiana Hayride when he was first coming up in the music scene. That was cool.
What is your favorite thing that Bill, our boss, says?
“Cool Beans!” I don’t know why, but the way he says it is just too funny.
A native Memphian, I first bought a pawnshop guitar to ease the homesickness I felt as a US Marine stationed far from home. A decade of learning followed, traveling and learning from various bluesmen. I first began performing in the clubs on Beale Street in 2001, where I continue to play several nights a week as a solo entertainer, with a duo, or in front of the Eric Hughes Band. Songs from my four CD releases continue to enjoy regular airplay on blues radio programs throughout the world. My most recent CD won “Best Self-Produced CD” from Memphis Blues Society and was awarded “Coolest Blues Song of 2013” by Big City Blues Magazine. I've been called a “guaranteed crowd-pleaser” by Living Blues Magazine; and hopefully my enthusiasm for Memphis music, and authenticity, are obvious.
What’s the strangest thing someone has said or done on one of your tours? I had a group of four folks who had read an article on me in their local “Our Wisconsin” Magazine. They’d bought a bunch of my CD’s online, and brought these for me to sign along with a case of “Spotted Cow” beer, available only in Wisconsin. They read in the article that I loved “Spotted Cow” and brought it aboard the bus to give me!
Describe your most embarrassing moment growing up. My freshman year at Mississippi College, I flipped my roommate’s hot-rod Mustang, which lodged upside-down in a ditch. That ditch happened to be in the front yard of the college’s President, located on campus, where a crowd of faculty and classmates gathered to watch the fire department cut me out of the wreck. Hurray!
What’s the most unusual way you’ve ever met a woman that you ended up dating?
When I saw my wife Donna for the first time, she was in the audience as I arrived and set up; I kept looking at her, and she at me. I was so impressed by her, I thought: “If she’s still here when I start playing, I’m gonna put the mojo blues magic on her." Toward the end of my set, I purposely broke my guitar string so I could end the show a few minutes early in hopes of chatting with her. Smartest thing I ever did. If you could spend a night with any Memphian, living or dead, who would it be?
Furry Lewis (blues musician)
I am a self-proclaimed Southern Belle. Being Southern is more than where you’re born; it’s a state of mind and a privilege. Growing up I loved everything about the South and its history. That being said, my best subject in school was always Social Studies. I loved answering random historical questions. When I attended the University of Memphis I tried multiple majors, but I always came back to loving my History courses the most. I graduated in May of this year with a Bachelor’s in History with a Minor in American Studies. While in college I was the Feature Twirler for the U of M’s Mighty Sound of the South Marching Band. (Yes, I can twirl batons that are on fire.) In my post-grad days I give History Tours by day and Ghost Tours by night. My favorite Southern things are monograms, pearls, overusing y'all and magnolia trees. I also do a lot of the social media and blogging for Backbeat, so if ya'll have any tips or stories you'd like to share send 'em my way at firstname.lastname@example.org
What’s the craziest story you've been told by someone taking your tour?
A man once told me that he hit Tom Cruise with his car while they were filming The Firm in Memphis.
If you could spend one night hanging with any Famous Memphian (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
Ginnie Moon. She was a Civil War Spy for the Confederacy and supposedly she kept a Colt revolver under a slit in her skirt in her petticoat. If that isn’t awesome enough, she also saved a number of people during the 1870s yellow fever outbreaks in Memphis.
What is your favorite thing about Ghost Tours?
I love that I get to freak people out and make them uncomfortable. For the daytime tours its all about Memphis’ musical history but after-dark the city is all about former brothels, gangsters and voodoo. If I can make a grown man uncomfortable and leave a haunted room quickly, I feel like I've really done my job well.
What is the best kept secret in Memphis?
Howard’s Donuts on Summer Ave. I know Gibson’s Donuts stays open late and you can get donuts for the cheap, but Howard’s Donuts is so delicious that it wins best Donut in the City hands down. For a time I went there more than once a week.
Born and raised in Hillsboro Oregon, I started playing guitar at age 7. Later on in Jr. High and High School I became heavily involved in youth ministry and worship teams at church. I started a rock band during freshmen year and moved to Memphis shortly after graduating to pursue a career in music full time. I’m currently a full time student at Visible Music College working on my Bachelor's in Songwriting and Modern Music Ministry.During my first year here in Memphis, I went on a national tour with an alternative pop-rock band called She Said. Today, I can be found tearing up the stage at a metal show with my new band Eleutheria on a Saturday night and leading worship at a local church on Sunday morning. Besides music, I enjoy sports like snowboarding and lacrosse. Being from Oregon I also enjoys the outdoors, hiking, camping, swimming and spending time at the beach.
What was your biggest culture shock in moving from Oregon?
NO RECYCLING!!!! Being from Oregon we are crazy about our recycling, we have recycling for our recycling, RECYCLINGCEPTION! Anyway, us Oregonians are major environmentalists so it was so weird standing there with my plastic bottle and pile of shredded paper looking for a recycling bin.
What is your most embarrassing Memphis moment?
In Oregon it is illegal to pump your own gas. SO I have never experienced pumping my own gas. This one day I was at a gas station and realized, oh my gosh, I have to do this myself. I was at a gas station where you had to lift up the lever to get the gas to flow through the pump. I was at the gas pump for 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get gas to come through the freaking pump into my car. I had to walk inside and ask for help. I felt so incredibly stupid when the cashier walked out and flipped the lever for me and VIOLA, Old Faithful springs forth fountains of gasoline. *Palm to forehead*.....
If you could go on a date with one Memphis Musician, who would it be?
Do I have to say it? Definitely Elvis. I know, I know cliché, but his voice makes me melt and he is the King of Rock and Roll, and I am a rock and roll chick! So it totally makes sense :).
Whats the best thing that ever happened on one of your tours?
I was at Overton Park talking about Elvis performing That's Alright Mamma and Blue Moon of Kentucky. I was getting into the part when the crowd was going nuts, the girls were screaming and throwing themselves at his feet and their boyfriends are crying and it's ya know, rock and roll. All of a sudden this older woman starts laughing really hard and smiling super big, she says "I was one of those girls!!" So all those crazy girls that were going ballistic every time Elvis performed, yeah I met one...
The first Backbeat Baby!
I've lived in Memphis basically my whole life! I went to Delta State University in Cleveland, MS where I got my bachelor's degree in English and met my now-husband, Keith. We just welcomed our baby girl on August 23and it has been quite the adventure so far! I'm not only a tour guide for Backbeat, I am also the Office Manager and Group Tour and Event Coordinator. I started out doing the ghost tours and then moved on to do history tours, run the ticket window, answer phones, run things when the boss man and boss lady take a much deserved break, and I also book group tours for anyone who is interested in private events! So basically, I'm the go-to gal for all things Backbeat. It's honestly one of the best jobs I've ever had--it's so much fun to meet people from all over the world and get to share our awesome city with them!
What is your favorite thing that Bill, our boss, says?
Bill sings my name. I can't even explain it, he just sings when he says my name. Literally. No matter where we are or what we are doing, he sings. It's hilarious.
What exactly is a Fighting Okra, your college mascot?
A Fighting Okra is the "unofficial" (but waaaaaaay more awesome) mascot for Delta State. Our actual mascot is the Statesmen, but like I said, how could you not love a giant boxing vegetable? We have a guy that runs around the football games in a suit and everything. There are like a million stories on how we supposedly got dubbed the "fighting okra" and I'm not sure anyone really knows how it got started. My favorite story is about the baseball field: they built the new field on top of an unused field of okra plants. Okra is an incredibly resilient plant and it kept growing up through the dirt and disrupting the games because it would trip the runners. So the opposing team started calling us the "fighting okra."
What is your favorite tour?
Definitely the Dark Side of Memphis tour. It's like a history tour and a ghost tour rolled into one. There's a little bit of something for everyone. And I have a sick obsession with murder and mayhem in general.
You have can do anything you want in the city for 24 hours regardless of money. What do you do?
I would probably just hang out at the zoo for an embarrassing amount of time. I'm like a child over there.
I’m a military brat who has seen much of the United States, but no matter where I go, Memphis will always be home. After graduating from Rhodes College with a degree in Biology, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. When I’m not telling Ghost Stories for Backbeat I can be found at the Memphis Zoo, where I am the Assistant Volunteer Coordinator. I love all things haunted and creepy – which started with my obsession with Supernatural on the CW. But as much as I love the Winchester boys - that’s all make believe. When I was 19 I was approached by a medium who told me that a man was following me. From her eerily thorough description, I knew that it was a close relative that had died a few years earlier. From that moment I’ve been believer. When I’m not working, you’ll probably find me sewing or playing with my dogs. Other obsessions include reading, writing, hiking, camping, Frank Sinatra, anime, singing, kangaroos, theater, music, dancing, and other bouts of tomfoolery.
What's the creepiest thing that has happened on a tour?
All of my strangest incidents have happened at Earnestine and Hazels, and they tend to happen on nights when I have small groups. One night I was standing near the top of the staircase, and I heard someone whispering in my ear. I could literally feel the breath on my neck, but no one was near me – the closest living person was at the end other of the hall. Another night I felt someone grabbing at my ankle...and yet I still get excited every time I go inside that building!
What’s the one Memphis food you couldn’t live without?
Memphis Pizza Café’s Ultimate Cheese Pizza. I could eat it every day and never bore with it.
What’s the oddest thing you’ve seen while people watching on Beale?
When you’ve visited Beale as much as I have, noting registers as odd anymore. But watching people dance (horribly) in the middle of the street is always highly entertaining.
What is your favorite animal at the Zoo?
The giraffes! I love each and every one of them and know them all by name. (We have nine). Of them all, Maliki, the baby, is my favorite. I was volunteering behind the scenes on the day that she was born and was lucky enough to be one of the first people to meet her.