Grand Ole Opry Producer & Nashville Americana / Folk-Blues Artist Bill Filipiak Releases New Album
Photo Credit - Kristi Filipiak
As a producer for the most hallowed of Nashville roots-music institutions, the Grand Ole Opry, Bill Filipiak has had a chance to not only brush elbows with, but really get to know and learn from, some of the finest Americana artists around. Which, of course, has been a major influence on his own work. With his latest—and most fully realized—record to date, Filipiak taps the inspiration and wisdom of these artists, honing his lifelong passion for music and songwriting into an impressive, thoughtful and healing folk-blues journey, the aptly titled Medicine I Need.
“When you have the opportunity to talk songwriting with these people and watch them perform—I’m talking about folks like Larkin Poe, Sarah Jarosz, Molly Tuttle, Bryan Sutton and Allison Russell; artists like Lera Lynn and Maggie Rose, who insist on finding their own path while staying true to who they are; or maybe you spend a couple days with a legend like Keb Mo, George Thorogood or Ray Wylie Hubbard—after that,” Filipiak says, “it's hard not to pick up your instrument, try to emulate what they've done, then come up with your own idea and follow through on it.”
And that’s exactly what Filipiak has done with Medicine I Need. The album—his third full-length—features a unique palette: the gritty blues power of a Gretsch Honey Dipper resonator guitar, mellowed by a splash of Beach Boys surf and a healthy dose of Wurlitzer electric piano. Filipiak—who recorded, engineered, produced and played every sound you hear on this singular vision of a record—simmers these ingredients into a potent and satisfying stew of down home country-blues, folk and Americana.
“I'm a rhythm guitarist,” Filipiak says. “For me it’s all about finding a groove, and that’s where the Honey Dipper comes in. Getting my hands on that guitar really turned the tables for me. It was a sound I’d been wanting for years—the rough, raw, hollow sound of a resonator. I started learning slide for this album, and from there the riffs and songs just started flowing. Around the same time, my son got into the Beach Boys—Brian Wilson and that echoing electric surf-guitar sound. I started experimenting with it as a backdrop, then I brought in the Wurlitzer as a counterpoint to balance the edge of the resonator, and it all started to meld.”
Much of it written in the throes of the pandemic," Medicine I Need's title and subject matter were driven by the deep introspection of quarantine. “I think covid brought all these feelings and realizations to the forefront,” Filipiak says. “We rarely slow down, and we’re often overwhelmed. I think as a culture, we learned a lot about the need to take a step back and look inside, about giving ourselves time to recharge, and that it's okay to be alone sometimes, which gives us a chance to learn about ourselves.”
For Filipiak—who lost his mother last year, his father five years ago, and his brother-in-law just before that—the reflective time, the powerful medicine of solitude, was much needed. He wrote sweet, heartfelt Americana ballad “My Prayer” as a tribute to his mother, and shell-shocked blues shuffle “Fearing the Dawn” about coping with the reality-shaking revelations that came in the wake of his Father’s death. “Looking back at all the things that happened with my family the last five or six years,” Filipiak says, “there was a lot I needed to work through. This new album gave me the opportunity to do that.”
Family is an essential part of Medicine I Need, and not just the grief and loss. To balance it, there’s the encouragement Bill received from his wife Kristi to make the record, and the inspiration and influence of his five kids—their passion for music and the arts, their zest for life; one daughter’s ideas about the importance of personal space even became a key lyrical focus on Medicine. And most directly, there’s Bill’s collaboration with his sister-in-law, poet Kara V. Leinfelder, who provided the lyrics for “Hope in Your Heart” as well as the album’s title track. “I love Kara’s writing,” Filipiak says. “A couple of her poems really spoke to what I was trying to accomplish with the overall theme of the record, which was, ‘Yeah, the blues are coming, and it's just part of life.’ We all want to be happy all the time, but that's just not reality. And she also touched beautifully on the idea of healing your heart through solitude. Introspection—it’s how we combat the blues. We embrace them and acknowledge they're a part of who we are and what life is about. But we also look for ways to encourage ourselves and find the positive.”
Throughout his journey, music has always been a constant for Filipiak. As a kid, he was obsessed with the eclectic set of 45-rpm vinyl singles he inherited from his older sisters—records by the Stones & Small Faces, Bubble Puppy & The Strawberry Alarm Clock, Willie Nelson & Waylon Jennings and so many others. A natural, young Bill learned the piano by ear at age three, and went on to play keys and guitar in bands throughout high school and college. “As long as I can remember, I was just enamoured with music,” he says. “My sister was playing The Doors’ ‘Hello, I Love You,’ I heard it and that was my first word—“hello.” Most kids sleep with their stuffed animals—I slept with my records. I still have them to this day.”
When he finally struck out on his own, Bill ended up working in radio, including a stint recreating popular tracks piece-by-piece for on-air parodies, an excellent musical education. Years down the road, as his career in the industry took off, he began producing music videos for Americana artists. It put him on the path to his current gig at the Opry, and to the music he’s been making as a solo artist since the laidback blues-folk of his 2016 debut, Put the Top Down, and 2020’s roots-centric Brand New Me. Now, with the blues-injected Medicine I Need, Filipiak, 55, continues his creative journey in earnest.
“I have such profound respect for the artists I work with—how dedicated they are to their craft,” he says. “I learn something every day being around them. You know, Allison Russell released her first solo album at 41, and Ray Wylie Hubbard made his Opry debut at 72—even in their later years, they’re still achieving new goals and putting themselves out there. And that’s motivation for me. Plus, my kids are all brilliant and creative, and I want them to see that I’m still pursuing this thing that feeds my soul. You’ve got to keep that fire alive. When I was growing up working on our dairy farm with my Dad, whenever we’d be digging or cutting or lifting something, he’d always say, ‘C’mon, just one more push.’ He said it all the time. And through my life it has reverberated in my head. ‘One more push’—it all comes back to this idea that the blues can keep knocking us down, but if we embrace them, and learn from them, and recognize how strong we can be, the blues can become the fuel we need to keep moving forward.”