The new Hard Rock Café location on the northwest corner of Beale and Second Streets opened this Fourth of July holiday weekend after nearly 20 years on the other side of Beale at Hernando Street, which is about to become a “Tin Roof” restaurant.
The Hard Rock franchise is immersion into the rock and roll culture, with its original locations touting rock stars before such celebrity endorsements became part of the marketing textbook.
Hard Rock is also a big player in the rock and roll and rock memorabilia collecting world. Many of the 80,000 items in the Hard Rock collection are rotated from one Hard Rock to another and are also loaned for exhibitions.
So as the finishing touches were being put on the new Beale location, Jeff Nolan, the music and memorabilia historian for Hard Rock, talked with us at length just about that.
Some of his points are in our original piece which ran in the July 2 edition which was a broader look at more than just the artifacts at the new Memphis location.
Here are a few more points from Nolan for those of you who follow closely whether our almanac has a picture of the right Deep Purple line up that played the Overton Park Shell in 1971 and similar points of great consequence.
On artifacts that relate to Memphis in the Memphis Hard Rock Café:
“We definitely try to regionalize a bit which in a place like Memphis is a heckuva lot easier to do than in a place like Anchorage, Alaska. For a place like this, it was a series of more intense meetings than we typically have because the last thing anyone wants to do is come to a place like Memphis and act like we are going to teach you guys anything. We just want to be part of it and we have been for a number of years. … Our goal is really to just respect the history and pay tribute to it.”
When the musician who owned an object or another famous rocker comes into contact with an artifact:
“One time at the Atlanta café, John Entwistle came in and saw his bass on the wall. … We get that from time to time and it’s exciting.”
On the Scotty Moore guitar at the Memphis location that Nolan regards as the most important item in the Hard Rock collection because it was also played by Elvis Presley during Presley’s 1968 comeback television special.
“I showed that guitar to Jeff Beck back a couple of years ago. This is where I think the power of these artifacts is – watching Jeff Beck turn into a 12 year old when he saw that guitar and I put it in his hands and he was just grinning like a child. … You put him in touch with his childhood hero, he’s just like anyone else.”
Enough about guitars, what about the stage outfits?
“So many artists stage outfits, you think of them as these meticulously tailored wonderful things. And in a lot of cases they are. But as often as not, they were just cheaply thrown together to look great onstage for one tour and they weren’t necessarily designed the way a Lansky Brothers would do actual clothing with that sort of impressive tailoring and built to last. There’s a lot of upkeep involved, especially for things that have natural fabrics. As you can imagine with rock and roll stuff, we have a lot of leather. Some times leather ages great and sometimes it doesn’t. So it’s job security for our memorabilia folks. Things that have Lycra and Spandex and things like that, sometimes it doesn’t age well. … We do what we can and we keep them protected, but it’s important to keep it on display.”
Where do these items come from:
“I think that a few years back when you had baby boomers starting to retire it kind of changed the collector market for this kind of stuff. You’ve got folks who did pretty well in life and now they are retired and their kids are grown and they think, ‘If I don’t have the handwritten lyrics to Let It Be in my basement, my life is not complete. Money is no object.’ There is this later generation of private collectors that have kind of skewed people’s view of this kind of thing. Also the rise of eBay and television programs like Antiques Roadshow and American Pickers. Now everybody thinks that they have a ticket stub in their attic from 1982 and it’s Motley Crue and ‘I’m going to put my kid through college with that ticket stub.’ Well, no. You’re not. It’s a real neat thing. … It’s not about collecting stuff. It’s not a restaurant theme. Especially for America, this is part of our cultural heritage. I hate to sound too precious about it, but it really is. I think rock and roll and popular music is sort of western culture’s 20th century gift to the world. A huge chunk of it happened here.”
Collecting from current artists and the perils of predicting rock and roll stardom and/or immortality:
“We are extremely active with young bands and emerging artists. We do a lot of tour support. We work with artist charities a lot in exchange for memorabilia. We have a lot of baby bands that are on the Warped tour that we are working with now. We are sponsoring a stage. But then on the flipside of contemporary music, we just did a major partnership with Rhianna. We got a ton of outfits from her. Attempting to stay on the vanguard of modern popular music is a big part of the job. It’s probably the most difficult part of the job. It’s not unlike an a&r gig at a record label. You’ve got to kind of place your bets. … Are they going to really have a career because hardly anyone does any more. Popular music is almost like it was in the 50s. It’s all singles now. The idea of a multi-album long career seems like it’s in its dormancy now.”