306-308 Poplar Avenue
Calling itself "Memphis' Original Record Shop," Poplar Tunes lived up to its billing. Founders Joe Cuoghi and John Novarese opened the store in 1946, selling records for the retail, wholesale and jukebox trade. Demo records lined the shelves with turntables at the end of each row, allowing customers to hear records before deciding to buy. A young Elvis Presley, who lived nearby, bought his first record here. As his career began to take off, Elvis frequented the shop, hiding in a corner to hear how customers were reacting to his latest release. Another drop-in was Sam Phillips of Sun Records, often introducing Cuoghi to new talent, such as Jerry Lee Lewis. The store's success led to the founding of Hi Records, headquartered next door. Hi's most famous artists were the Bill Black Combo, Willie Mitchell and Al Green.One-Stop Shop
Before the days of "Top 40" charts, Poplar Tunes, circulating its own chart, became a barometer and major influence of popular music tastes. Boosting the store's reputation was disc jockey Dewey Phillips. With his free-wheeling, rapid-fire banter, "Daddy-O-Dewey" urged his listeners to: "Get yourself a load of goober dust, take it to Joe Cuoghi at Poplar Tunes and tell him Phillips sent you." During off hours Phillips and local artists would visit the shop, spin new releases and rate them. He compared his picks and exchanged industry gossip with Cuoghi, who was regarded as the city's foremost music insider and often a make-or-break critic of new releases. Young artists felt they had arrived if Cuoghi invited them to hold autograph signings at Poplar Tunes. Phillips died at age 46 in 1968. Cuoghi died two years later, at age 48, leaving Novarese to run the shop. It closed in 2009.