Backbeat Tours Gives Visitors A Moving Memphis Music Experience

Backbeat Tours
Backbeat Features Local Musicians as Tour Guides
Sun Studios. Photo Credit: Commercial Appeal
Sun Studio tours give you the opportunity to see where Elvis and Johnny Cash recorded. Photo by The Commercial Appeal.
Graceland: EPE
Graceland, Home of Elvis Presley
The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. Photo by Brand USA
Peabody Duck March. Photo Credit: The Peabody Memphis
See the ducks march in the famous Peabody Hotel in Memphis, TN. Photo courtesy of the Peabody Memphis.

In Memphis, much of our culture and history is built around music. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Al Green, Otis Redding, Booker T and the MGs, and the late great Isaac Hayes – is just a snapshot of the music legends that called Memphis home. Heck, even Aretha Franklin was born here. So, it’s not unfair to say that Memphis and the Mississippi Delta are the heartbeat of American musical creativity. Memphis tour companies understand this. They work hard to share and often recreate this history. No easy task, for sure, but all of them, at their core, are creative, authentic and fun.  

Creative. Authentic. Fun. These three words are also the perfect description for one of our most unique tour companies, Backbeat Tours.

More of a rolling concert/party bus than your traditional, stale guided tour, Backbeat has fast become one of the most popular tourist experiences in Memphis. Formed in 2006 by author and historian Bill Patton, Backbeat was designed to challenge people’s expectations for sightseeing tours. Stories, historical dates and narration are all essential ingredients of a good tour. But it all felt little flat for a city like Memphis. Backbeat went about creating a truly unique and interactive experience.

So, Backbeat bought a vintage bus, hired some highly knowledgeable music historians who could also play music, and created one of the best Memphis music tours in the city. Here are a few of the tours Backbeat offers that you could, and probably should, take on your next trip to Memphis.

Memphis Mojo Tour

If there’s such a thing, the Mojo Tour is Backbeat’s standard entry-level experience. But it’s really anything but ordinary. A great overview of Memphis music history, the Mojo Tour’s 90-minute trip (or 3-hour if you like) gives visitors a rock-and-rolling tour of such iconic sites as Sun Studio, Beale Street, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Overton Park and the early homes of Elvis, B.B. King and Johnny Cash. 

All of the guides on this tour are professional musicians who play and sing selections from the city's heritage. Heck, you can even join in. The Mojo tour comes complete with tambourines, shakers, and bongos for you to enjoy. 

Graceland Tour

While Memphis has more music legends than it knows what to do with, very few icons get their own tour with Backbeat. Elvis is the exception that proves the rule. The Graceland tour does the driving and takes visitors to Graceland, where you will not only tour the mansion, but also take in the auto museum, the Elvis Archives and even a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Plan for four hours. 

Memphis Discovery Tour

The Discovery Tour is an all-inclusive three-hour experience that is part history, part attraction, and part food, the holy trinity of Memphis culture. Things you’ll see on the Discovery Tour include the Lorraine Motel (home of the National Civil Rights Museum), the Memphis Rock ‘n’ Soul Museum, the march of the Peabody Ducks, unique architecture in Victorian Village, the historic Orpheum Theatre, Gibson Guitar Factory, and Lauderdale Court (Elvis’ early home), to name a few. 

Historic Walking Tour

Though the Backbeat experience is often defined by the rolling music bus, Backbeat knows that to really get Memphis you have to come face to face with its history. That’s why the company offers a couple of walking tours. The Historic Walking Tour tells the story of how Memphis came to be, from the frontiersmen like Davy Crockett and Sam Houston to Confederate soldiers to the golden age of Cotton. Things you’ll see include The Peabody Duck March, Beale Street, various Civil War sites, and Historic Court Square.

Memphis walking Ghost Tour

Like a lot of cities on the Mississippi River, Memphis has its fair share of legends. The Backbeat Ghost Tour takes you to some of the city’s oldest sites, telling stories of some of its “oldest” inhabitants. Stops include the Orpheum Theater, the John Alexander Austin House, The Gayoso House and the infamous Earnestine & Hazel’s, a former brothel.


Tickets, tour times and more information is available online at backbeattours.com. Many tours sell out in advance, so it’s best to plan ahead. To buy your tickets by phone, call 800-979-3370 or 901-527-9415. All tours depart from the ticket window at B.B. King's Blues Club (143 Beale St. Memphis, TN 38103), on the corner of 2nd Street and Beale. 

Backbeat Tours are great for groups, conventions, family reunions, or any party of 15 or more. Call them for special admission or a private charter. 

by Peter Short