Q&A with Chicago Blues Hall Of Famer Paul Filipowicz, a veteran blues hero of the world scene todays

"Life in general. Getting up and going to work every day as a roofer for forty seven years will give anyone an attitude. I believe that attitude comes out in my music. I believe I represent the true working man in my words and music."

Paul Filipowicz: The Blues Is Alive & Well

Singer, guitarist, songwriter and harmonica player Paul Filipowicz is a blues hero of the world scene todays. He is one of the last blues guitar players that literally were brought up on Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Hound Dog Taylor. With strong Chicago roots you can hear all great Chicago bluescats in his playing. Paul 40 years of one nighters, touring, parties, clubs fairs, festivals, and just about any other venue namable. He has molded his playing into a distinct original immediately identifiable sound. Singer, songwriter, guitarist, and harp player; Paul was born in Chicago and raised in the Lockport, Ill. corn fields in the 1950’s. “My sisters played piano in church and of course we all sang there. About the only other music we could get was the radio.” One night while cruising the dial Filipowicz pulled in a radio station out of Tulsa, OK. They played Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters back to back. That was his first exposure to blues. His first witnessed live blues was early 60s, while waiting outside a club on Chicago’s South Side, Otis Rush and his band were tearing it up right there in broad daylight. Electric guitar was it! Learning by ear was about the only way to go about a blues education in those days.           (Paul Filipowicz / Photo by Sweet Music Chica)

Over the years of fronting his own band, Filipowicz has played venues from the mid-west to Denver to stints in Texas and Mississippi. Some of his fondest memories are the shows with Hound Dog Taylor,Otis Taylor, Lefty Dizz, Jimmy Dawkins, Luther Allison, and Mighty Joe Young in the 70’s. In 2015, Paul Filipowicz inducted into the "Chicago Blues Hall Of Fame". Fifty years of one nighters and 10 albums. What does a bluesman do next? How about “Old Time Superstition” with slide guitar and voodoo drums? How about a gut-bucket Howlin’ Wolfstyle shuffle called “Angel Face?” How about a little old and a little new? “Pier 43” (2022) titled Paul Filopowicz's new 11th album.

Interview by Michael Limnios    Archive: Paul Filipowicz, 2018 interview @ blues.gr

Special Thanks: Frank Roszak & Paul Filipowicz

How have you grown as an artist since you first started? What has remained the same in your music making process?

I have physically put sixty years into my musical growth. I have wrecked relationships, wrecked cars, got married and raised three kids and worked heavy construction for over 50 years. All the time plying my trade of being a professional Bluesman, sometimes up to five or six nights a week and up to three shows on Saturdays. It’s hard to put it into perspective. On my latest release “Pier 43” you can judge for yourself how I have changed. There are two bonus cuts on this album from 1979. You can compare for yourself. About the only difference is that I started using Reverb on my guitar in the mid 1990’s. What remains the same in the process is I still practice as much as possible. I have to keep my hands loose. I have arthritis and it can be painful. I find it better in the long run to work through this. I subscribe to the ‘move it or lose it’ philosophy.

I still write songs by taking an everyday thought or feeling I am experiencing and try to sing it. If it is a true inspiration, I can’t stop singing it. Then I wright it down so I will remember most of it. Sometimes I will wright down other abstract ideas to save for later experimentation. At times I can go days, or even weeks without an inspiration. Sometimes I can’t wright the stuff down fast enough. It’s a very emotional experience for me. Things that have changed is the talent pool. Most musicians are learning from people who never experienced the original blues founders first hand. Watching a group of tuned in blues professionals is syncopation itself. Now I’m mostly the teacher instead of the student. Much harder work for me.   

Why was the Blues never part of the pop/popular music? What is the balance in music between technique and soul?  

I might be misreading the first part of this question. I think blues is in almost every form of original American music. For example. “Moon River” by Henry Mancini, to me just a weak knock off of “Summertime”. I was given a unique gift. The first time I heard blues on the radio I was six or seven years old, and I thought they were playing this music just for me. That’s how powerful blues music is to me. I knew it right away. Although it took me a quite long time to figure out how to even hear more blues or what to do about it. So what I have done throughout my preforming and recording career is try to share my feeling for this music through preforming what comes through the muddled messages we all receive daily and clarifying it into a musical impulse. That’s a lot of words for the word soul.                                                    (Paul Filipowicz / Photo by Sweet Music Chica)

"Chicago is a great town. Why a blues Mecca? With the onset of the war (WWII) there were an incredible amount of jobs to fill. Chicago was a manufacturing giant and a lot of people of all persuasions migrated there for jobs. Upon arriving black people found there was less entrenched Jim Crowism and so many families, black and white, brought the rest of their people up from the southern states."

Is it easier to and play the blues as you get older? What do you think is key to a music life well lived?

For me the ‘act of playing the blues’ is pretty much the same now as it was years ago. My hands are not a limber as they were but once I get rolling most of the time it doesn’t matter. Sometimes I have a gig coming up and I’m like “aw hell, not again. I gotta drive three hours to where?” But then I go through my routine of shaving and showering and loading my guitars into the van and by then I’m like “Let’s Roll.” And I put on some Howlin Wolf and some Hound Dog Taylor and start getting psyched up and by the time I get there I’m not thinking how old I am, I’m thinking how lucky I am to even have a gig let alone be representing the music I love and being even alive to do it. So that kind’a leads into the second part of the question. My gratitude to be able to go out and show people the actual impact that my friendship with real live blues masters; Luther Alison, Jimmy Dawkins, Mighty Joe Young, Lefty Dizz, Hound Dog Taylor, The Fabulous Buddy Guy just to name a few, the impact they had on a live performer. Their encouragement, and guidance. It is important to me to not comprise what the West Side Guitar Tradition entails.

The other guitar players that personally influenced me in their live performances were of course Freddie King, and Muddy Waters as I saw each at least ten times but there was never enough time for more than a few kind words and a hand shake. Otis Rush casting a spell on a room an incredible emotional experience. When I was inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame in 2015 I became aware that this is a bit more than I bargained for when I headed the call to be a blues guitar player. So I make it a point in every performance to invoke the names of the greats who shared the gift of music with me. So many more I saw live like “Wolf” Howlin Wolf, Willie Dixon, Albert King, Albert Collins. The list is endless. Don’t forget Sam Lay. A great cat.

How do you prepare for recording and performances to maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

I prepare the same way for both. I play my guitar every day. If my arthritis is bad I will give it some rest but I do play every day. Sometimes I will take an acetaminophen before playing live. I have to admit we came off of a three day run before recording “Pier 43” and every note I played hurt so I didn’t think I was playing well. But I listen back and it’s where I was at in that time and space. I say to myself “We’ll maybe try it again next time.” I got a bunch of those saved up.  Of course before a recording session we have run most of the material. In the last ten or so years I try to have the “new” material down enough so we can play it on our shows. When I have a new inspiration I work it right into the show. Then it can evolve into what works and what doesn’t.

"I still write songs by taking an everyday thought or feeling I am experiencing and try to sing it. If it is a true inspiration, I can’t stop singing it. Then I wright it down so I will remember most of it. Sometimes I will wright down other abstract ideas to save for later experimentation. At times I can go days, or even weeks without an inspiration." (Photo: Paul Filipowicz, Dubuque bridge, 2021)

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and artist and has this helped you become a better musician?

Life in general. Getting up and going to work every day as a roofer for forty seven years will give anyone an attitude. I believe that attitude comes out in my music. I believe I represent the true working man in my words and music.  

John Coltrane said “My music is the spiritual expression of who I am…” How do you understand the spirt, music, and the meaning of life?

I think I covered a lot of those angles in the answers above. John Coltrane is a deep thinking genius. Out of my league. But I agree, Blues is a spiritual experience. The meaning of life, death, laughter its all there in the music. Sometimes one note at a time.  

A meeting point for people of all ages who are wild at heart, Chicago is ahead of its time as it embraces. Why this city was a Mecca of blues?

Chicago is a great town. Why a blues Mecca? With the onset of the war (WWII) there were an incredible amount of jobs to fill. Chicago was a manufacturing giant and a lot of people of all persuasions migrated there for jobs. Upon arriving black people found there was less entrenched Jim Crowism and so many families, black and white, brought the rest of their people up from the southern states. As Muddy Waters plugged his guitar into an amp blues evolved and started the Chicago Electric Blues tradition. Muddy and Wolf’s music reminded people of their southern roots and became popular first locally then nationwide, then internationally when the Rock and Roll guys did copies. I would venture to guess that Willie Dixon has written as many R&R hits as almost any one. I’ve played gigs throughout the south, all over the US and did a quick trip to Mongolia and in my opinion Buddy Guy’s Legends is the epicenter of modern day Chicago Blues. What a great person. Long live Buddy and All. 

Paul Filipowicz - Home

(Paul Filipowicz / Photo by Lamar Filipowicz)

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