Pink Williams: Queer Leftist Cowboy

Pink Williams is not an artist one forgets. The musician sports bright pink hair and substantial sideburns, large engaging eyes, and flashes a disarming dimpled smile. He answers the phone for his interview with Focus magazine unusually dry, from a Covid booster followed by a performance at an open stage show at Dru’s Place. “I drank too much.” The self-proclaimed “Man in Pink” tickles the ears and the mind with political parodies played to music with a classic country influence, as well as original music with relevant, thought-provoking prose. The pink sideburns are just the icing on this layer cake, bypassing “Hick Hop” for classic tones and modern storytelling.

FM: For those who may not follow you or know of you yet, how would you describe yourself in three or four words?
PW: Queer Leftist Cowboy. Retro Queer Commie Cowboy.

What was your musical or cultural Influence, and where did you grow up?
I grew up in Northern California, wine country, playing in vineyards and on farms and stuff because my mom worked for the county government, and she was constantly invited to these big farms/orchards/wineries. I never really felt at home in California. I used to feel at home in San Francisco, but in my lifetime, I’ve seen it change from a very inclusive place for weirdos to you’re either living in a tent or you’re working on computers.

My whole family originally is from the south. My grandpa is from Texas, even older family is from the deeper south, like Alabama, and moved during the great depression to Bakersfield, CA.

My actual heritage isn’t in California and knowing that got me interested in moving to the south. My grandpa would tell me stories about growing up poor during the dust bowl, and in high school, I saw O Brother, Where Art Thou? It started this love affair with the south, listening to southern rock, early country, bluegrass. Doc Watson, etc. I moved just over two years ago for a relationship when Covid hit. I don’t recommend moving for a new relationship.

What’s your style?
Suits, sparkly hats, and fun guitars. I started thinking about old country music- always been a fan of Johnny Cash, Elvis, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson- my brother is the guitarist in a psychedelic Americana band.

Who were your favorite adults when you were a kid?
I’m very close with my family. They’ve been very supportive. My grandfather taught me a lot about our past, and my dad used to play guitar!

Who is your support system in Memphis?
My best friend and roommate is Zach- we call him Black Beard because he has a black beard. Moved here for a relationship that didn’t work out, moved out with my best friend and now roommate.

Photo by Zach Miller

What sets your music apart from other artists in Memphis?
There’s not a lot of country artists in Memphis, and there’s a lot of punk but I’m a little bit of a lot of different types of things, filtered through an old-school redneck sensibility. The only time you really hear very political or queer music is in punk or hard rock. I’m very much not punk, but I get grouped in by the topics. [My music] is not just songs about tractors or love. What I’m doing has been a part of Memphis music history for a long time, it just isn’t that prevalent anymore. I don’t “walk the line” of politeness, pun intended. I’ll get very specific in my message. I’ve written a lot of satire and comedy, so even the non-satire songs I write have a heightened sense of anger/disbelief/advocacy because it gets people to listen. When you hear a line in my song that makes you laugh, but then you think about it later… it’s hard being an advocate. I want people to smile and laugh, but also hear what I’m trying to get at.

Phil Ochs, a contemporary of Bob Dylan’s, who never got the attention he deserved, his writing is probably the closest, tonally, to my writing.

Why do you think these influences strike such a chord with you, creatively?
“Hick Hop” is what I call the new bad country. There’s no message. Every movement in the world that has ever done anything has had music behind it. People singing, We Shall Overcome, or The Times they are a-Changin’, or Which Side are you On? marked those historic moments in time. I stand up for marginalized people.

What are two things you think Memphis as a city does well?
Memphis knows how to protest! That’s been clear since Dr. King’s time. When they blocked the bridge, that civil disobedience was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

Where can our readers listen to your music? See you live?
Recently I’ve played at Hernando’s Hideaway, HiTone Queer Fest, Black Lodge, and Murphy’s. I have a love/hate for TikTok and sometimes use Instagram and Facebook.

Follow Pink Williams on TikTok: @pink.williams, Instagram @pinkwilliamsband and YouTube Pink Williams. Buy his albums on Bandcamp, stream on iTunes, Amazon Music, and Spotify.