Paul Filipowicz

Wisconsin Blues Legend
by Dave Leucinger
September 2013

Jefferson native Paul Filipowicz on the cover of Maximum Ink September 2013 - photo by Nick Berard

Jefferson native Paul Filipowicz on the cover of Maximum Ink September 2013
photo by Nick Berard

For guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Paul Filipowicz, making music isn’t about the big theatric shows at stadiums or huge halls. Although his shows are no less intense, his venue of comfort and familiarity is the American roadhouse – a rough-and-tumble venue for a rough-and-tumble style of music. “There are still quite a few out there – even some new ones,” he said in a recent telephone interview. “A lot are still out in the middle of nowhere. We just played at one in the middle of nowhere – Lohrville – it’s between Oshkosh and Stevens Point, outside of Redgranite. We got there at three – just the bartender and one of his staff there. We were set up on a trailer – and two hours later, there’s a hundred people there – many riding in on cycles. That’s one of the interesting things I’ve found about Wisconsin – you can get there when nobody is there, and two hours later, you have a big show.”

Filipowicz’s origins, however, trace to a big city – Chicago, where he was born in 1950. “I lived there through my teens, and my biggest influences began with Otis Rush and Magic Sam,” Filipowicz said. “I love that West Side Chicago sound – I really was drawn to Magic Sam’s finger-picking style, even though I never got the chance to see him.” Years later, Filipowicz got the important benediction that propelled him forward. “We were just starting out when we opened for Mighty Joe Young in 1976. I played (Magic Sam’s) ‘All Your Love’ – and after our set, Joe took me aside – he’d been on Sam’s ‘West Side Soul’ album – and told me that I was doing it right. That gave me the confidence that I was on the right track. I got to open for him many times – he was a great musician.”

Two other West Side blues icons also shaped Filipowicz – and still shape him today. “Jimmy Dawkins was another great guy. We spent many hours shooting the breeze – talking about everything from music to raising kids,” Filipowicz said. Another gritty guitarist may have left a more enduring impression. “I was a big fan of Hound Dog Taylor, right from the first album,” Filipowicz said. “Then at one show they did, Brewer (Phillips) called me up to the stage. I was still a harp player at the time, but I did ‘Peepin’ and Hidin’ – and lived to tell about it. Then I got my band rolling, and we opened for Hound Dog and the Houserockers a bunch. Hound Dog would always grunt when he saw me.” 

The three-piece Houserockers were a template that Filipowicz has borrowed from. “I never aspired to have a three-piece band – I always used to carry bigger bands - two guitars, a harp, and horns,” Filipowicz said. “But with the economics, I’ve had to cut back to a three-piece, with an occasional extra member. That means everybody has to bring their ‘A’ game when we play. There’s this weird intensity – Dave (Remitz, bass guitar) is playing the best that I’ve ever heard from him – and we go back to the ‘70s. And Brian (Howard, drums) is continuously knocking it down. We have that Hound Dog Taylor spirit – it’s just in the last few months that I realized that.”

That trio fuels most of the cuts on the latest of Filipowicz’s releases, Saints and Sinners. “It’s a slice of what we do now,” he said. There are also three cuts from a previously-unreleased 1982 session, which features “The Texas Band,” Filipowicz said. “These were guys I played with in my Texas years – Fat Richard Drake and other Luther Allison band members. It’s still viable music. I really miss those guys – but when friends pass away, well, that’s the way it goes.”

Away from music, Filipowicz’s fun comes from his rodded 1949 Ford F1 pickup. “It’s a really good diversion – I have busy fingers and need to do things,” he said. “The motor in it now is a ’50 flathead with two 94 carbs on it, but that motor is tired. I’m starting to work on a ’47 motor that came from an old Civil Defense truck I drove in the ‘70s, hauling steel to Michigan. Years later, I found the truck got scrapped, but the motor was saved – so I bought it back. I’m gonna put a Mercury crank in it, among other things – I got a history with it.”

Filipowicz also keeps busy by giving back to the community through benefits. “It’s a neighborhood thing,” he said. “We send money overseas but there are plenty in our own neighborhoods that need help. It’s the least I can do – if there’s a decent cause, I try to help. And it also is my way of trying to keep people in tune with what blues is all about.”  Some other things that are getting sent overseas are Filipowicz’s CDs – and writers in Europe have taken notice. “I’ve had three articles about me out in the past year or so – one from Blues Matters in England; one from Blues.Gr in Greece, and a third one from Belgium,” he said. “The Internet puts my music out there globally – I get played globally, and I sell albums globally – I would have never even conceived of that 15 years ago. Now, I even have someone in Sweden who is trying to get me on a tour in Scandinavia. I’d love to travel there – who wouldn’t? In the meantime, though, I’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other, playing West Side Chicago blues with a dose of Texas sugar.”

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Paul Filipowicz
CD: Saints & Sinners Record Label: CD Baby

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