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Hooked on the blues: Park High School grad Joe Filipovich blazes career as songwriter, guitarist

Cottage Grove native Joe Filipovich will play the Oktoberfest fundraiser for Friends in Need Food Shelf Oct. 11 at Hope Glen Farm. (Photo by David Fitzgerald, Full Throttle Interactive and Design)

Before he toured the Twin Cities as blues guitarist Joey Flip, Cottage Grove native Joe Filipovich went down to the crossroads to sell Kirby vacuum cleaners door to door.

“I started that right out of high school for four years,” he said.

He made money at it too, he said. But the 2003 Park High School graduate had the blues combusting in his veins and an itch to shred notes on the fretboard of his Fender Stratocaster. As a teen, he’d become hooked on the recordings of blues/rock giants Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn and especially Jimi Hendrix.

“I loved the music but I didn’t really know that you can make a career in music at all,” he said. “I thought, I’ll do it for a month. I’ll just do some guitar lessons and see how it goes.”

A little more than a year later, Filipovich hasn’t looked back. He wrote and recorded his debut CD, “Release,” in May.

Filipovich wrote all of the songs on the album, and they include a range of styles from the jazz-inflected “Not for Me” to the impressionistic instrumental “Rain.” He sings lead on “Don’t Come Around,” a primitive, overamped blues stomp. “Release” is available on cdbaby.com, iTunes and Amazon.com.

He recently played shows in Nashville to promote the disc, which features female blues singer Aurora Wahlstrom. He tours the bar and festival circuit with his band, Blue Cities. This summer they played to their largest audience ever at the Uptown Art Fair in Minneapolis. Blue Cities features Rhona Brack on harmonica, Paul Hunder on drums and Ben Tapia on bass.

His Cottage Grove business JF Music provides guitar lessons and rentals, DJ services and live music.

While he’s always enjoyed other types of music, a switch flipped in Filipovich when he played guitar in a talent show when he was a student at Park.

“I played the Star-Spangled Banner, the Jimi Hendrix Woodstock version,” he said. “I played behind my head, with my teeth. That was my big taste of playing.”

Filipovich’s 3-year-old son, Jack, is beginning to show interest in music, he said.

He wants to interest other kids as well. Filipovich gives free harmonica lessons to young people as part of the Blues for Kids program. The workshops are taught through the Minnesota Blues Society at schools, libraries and county fairs. The society was established, in part, to promote, preserve and pass along the blues.

“My goal is to kind of use them to help spread the word and use my sales abilities as far as helping grow their organization, to help other kids and teach the next generation,” he said. “I think blues is such a dying art.”

Joey Flip and the Blue Cities will play Oktoberfest Oct. 11 at Hope Glen Farm in Cottage Grove.The 3 p.m. concert is part of a benefit for the Friends in Need Food Shelf.

Through the Minnesota Blues Society, Filipovich will launch a pilot program called Blues Studio, a six-week workshop at East Ridge High School. He’ll work with the two jazz ensembles at East Ridge and introduce them to blues theory, scales and history.

He hopes to expand the Blues Studio program to other schools. To finance the venture, he is organizing a concert fundraiser Nov. 15 from 1-5 p.m. at the Minnesota Music Cafe in St. Paul.

He also created a Kickstarter program. Visitors to the site can receive pledge gifts that range from a Minnesota Blues Society can koozie ($10 or more); a harmonica ($20 or more) or an autographed CD or digital album by a Minnesota blues artist ($50 or more).

For more information, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1932846301/blues-for-kids or www.thebluecities.com.

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