Add to Queue: Ryan Filchak's Hawkins in Memphis

A series of recommendations curated by the boom saloon community
words – ryan filchak

In 1930, sixteen year old Hawkins Bolden and his identical twin brother Monroe wired their family home in Memphis, Tennessee for electricity. Exceptionally resourceful, the two would also learn to build their own radios in time. Monroe taught Hawkins how to use a crystal, wire and a coat hanger to accomplish the task; Hawkins had been involved in a childhood accident that left him blind at the age of seven. Working with his hands and listening to the radio became a mainstay for Hawkins, preferring to listen to the gospel music that bolstered his faith and play-by-play from the team he owed his fandom, the St. Louis Cardinals. Ironically, Hawkins would derive pleasure from baseball games, listening to and recounting tales of star players like Ozzie Smith and Stan Musial his entire life – despite an errant pitch swung at by his brother being the culprit for his formative head injury, resulting seizures and eventual loss of vision.

Undeterred by this potential hindrance, Hawkins would establish himself as a signature voice in the South and in the world of contemporary art, prompting collectors such as William S. Arnett [Souls Grown Deep Foundation, Atlanta, GA], an early champion of his work, to purchase often and exhibit widely the found object sculptures that came to define Bolden’s practice. Sourced from materials found in the streets and alleyways surrounding the Bolden home in Midtown, for nearly four decades Hawkins would build figures, or “Scarecrows.” Installed in his yard along the walls and fences of his garden, these figures served to, as he tells it, “keep the birds away.” Surpassing the utilitarian task of crop protection, the number of figures multiplied based on the availability of resources, blending home, studio and environment to a singular destination in Memphis and abroad. 

The city’s influence transcended beyond the contemporary art world – between Sun Records, Royal Studios and Ardent Studios, you can easily cite Memphis as the burning hot centre of the American recording industry for the better part of the twentieth century. Isaac Hayes’ ‘Hot Buttered Soul,’ Big Star’s creation myths, Elvis’s late career recordings and Southern Soul could all serve as subject for the wonderfully route tracing single ‘That’s How I Got to Memphis’ by Tom T. Hall.

For your listening pleasure, I have compiled a playlist that references the musical history of Memphis by featuring songs recorded in the city as well as tracks recorded elsewhere but with direct lyrical references [including ‘Graceland’ by Paul Simon]. Songs such as ‘Crazy Arms’ by Jerry Lee Lewis and ‘The Greatest’ by Cat Power can each cite Memphis in their liner notes, whilst songs such as ‘Never On My Mind’ Tobacco City [Chicago] and ‘TLC Cagematch’ MJ Lenderman [Greenville, NC] reflect a contemporary take on the city’s aforementioned legacy and influence. Studio and timeline specifics aside, this playlist ultimately works as a collection of possible artists and genres, as may have been heard by Hawkins Bolden as he twisted the dial on his homemade radio. 

01_I’ll Meet You On that Other Shore
St. James Primitive Baptist Church congregation

02_That’s How I Got To Memphis
Tom T. Hall

03_She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin Double) [Gary Stewart]
Wednesday

04_Rolling Mills Are Burning Down
Jake Xerxes Fussell

05_Like a Ship
Keite Young, Leon Bridges

06_Woman To Woman
Shirley Brown

07_TLC Cagematch
MJ Lenderman

08_(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville
R.E.M.

09_Like Hell Broke Away
Lonnie Holley

10_Never on My Mind
Tobacco City

11_O, My Soul
Big Star

12_Found Out About You
Gin Blossoms

13_Gimme All Your Love
Alabama Shakes

14_Time Is Tight
Booker T. & the M.G.’s

15_One Woman
Isaac Hayes

16_The Greatest
Cat Power

17_Dos Gardenias
Buena Vista Social Club

18_Crazy Arms
Jerry Lee Lewis

19_Can’t Hardly Wait
The Replacements

20_Blue Moon of Kentucky
Elvis Presley

21_Roll With It (feat. Project Pat)
Project PatThree 6 Mafia

22_Happy
William Bell

23_Graceland
Paul Simon

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