Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Barra Songbook: The Second Wind of Marc Pettigrew

For Marc Pettigrew life is good. The best is yet to come.

Marc Pettigrew has a new album out and no it's not his second album. The album is called Second Wind and could just as easily be called Second Chance.

Last year, Marc underwent a double lung transplant after being hooked up to bottles of oxygen since the late 1990s. The ever present bottle earned him the nickname 'Oxygen Marc' from his friends in Mexico.

When we communicated with Marc for this interview he was putting the finishing touches on the Second Wind disc.

Those touches are complete and the Second Wind CD Release Party is Friday November 15 at the Moonshine Cafe in Oakville, Ontario. Tickets are $10 at the door. If you can't make the gig to buy a CD in person, Marc has Second Wind available on his website.

How are you feeling? Healthwise and musicwise?

Great to hear from you.

Well, lots of questions. The last one — Last thoughts? — sounds like I'm in front of a firing squad. "Would you like a cigarette? Any last thoughts?"

Anyway, here we go! About 16 years ago I knew something was wrong with my lungs and I quit smoking. Two years later I was diagnosed with Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency — a degenerative genetic lung disorder. At that time I was told that I would eventually need a TX (transplant). So, I sold my [firewood] business about ten years ago and went to Mexico — carting all my o2 supplies with me — and had more fun than I ever had in my life.

Yes, I did get quite sick and the surgery wasn't any time too soon. The last year or two I didn't have a life. Now, I can't tell you how I feel. I can breathe! I can ride my bike, cut my lawn, climb stairs and sing! Yes, I can sing way out loud!! I wake up every morning really happy to be here and get on with my day. To meet people. To sing and write. To tend to my gardens and just do the mundane chores.

Life is rich. I am — as Arnold Beggs [a friend in Mexico] put it — "One lucky son of a bitch!"

You've had the nickname 'Oxygen Marc,' before that you were 'Firewood Marc.' What are people calling you now? What do you want them to be calling you now?

People call me Marc. I like it. Lucy [of Lucy's Paradise Bar] called me 'Señor Milagro.' JR [another friend in Mexico] called me 'Sintanque.' It's all in fun.

You were fading fast the last couple of years, what has this opportunity given you?

This opportunity has given me a life. The thing is, after staring death in the face and then being brought back to good health it is a far richer life I lead. Every moment is a good moment. Even a bad day is a good day to be alive. Sometimes, when I'm driving my car or doing something mindless it just strikes me. I get watery-eyed, how great it is to be here.

While the oxygen tank hampered your ability to perform in front of an audience you kept writing music. Are these songs on the new album or are they all new songs from the last year?

There's a bit of both on Second Wind. There is one song I began writing 40 years ago. There are three that I wrote in Barra de Navidad and the rest are new, written during my recovery.

Speaking of performing, it was a matter of weeks after your transpant that you performed again on a stage. What was that like? Was that a moment of triumph?

Yes! My first time on stage was with my great friends — Dave and Zero from The Kings and Ward Giroux. It was six weeks post TX and I performed two songs. What a rush it was to have the lung volume and power to do two songs in a row without being out of breath. It's all part of having a life again.

Enough about the health issues. Let's talk about the music. What's your musical background and where did you get your start?

I took five years of piano when I was young but they wouldn't teach me Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard. I didn't like that too much and so I quit. Then when The Beatles came around I learned how to play guitar on my own and formed an R&B band in high school.

I worked with an original band around 1970, dabbled in music for several years then formed another original band in the early 80s. I did a few years of cover material with bar bands and a couple of years with King Biscuit Boy AKA Richard Newell playing rocking blues.

That was the best of times and the worst of times. Richard was an amazing talent and an often drunk eccentric. I have to say that playing with him — when he was on — could be the highlight of my musical career. It was with him that I played before my largest audience at the Northern Lights Festival in North Bay, Ontario.

Who are your musical influences? Who are you compared to?

I'm influenced by every piece of music that I hear. Jazz. Blues. Rock. Country. Even rap. What I hear from other people is that they compare me to Jimmy Buffett...Johnny Cash...Neil Diamond...you decide.
Marc (second from left) and the crew at The Narrows.

Any special guests on Second Wind or is it all you?

The special guests on Second Wind are The Weber Brothers. All the tunes are mine.

When and where was Second Wind recorded?

Second Wind was recorded at The Narrows in Peterborough, Ontario September 3-5, 2013. We recorded ten songs in three days — I love the intense focus of recording.

Upcoming gigs? Tour dates? Mexico?

At present, I'm looking for gigs. I have a couple lined — they are solo gigs. Hopefully, the Second Wind CD release will change that. I will need to try and put a band together. That's another challenge — the quality of musicianship on my CD is so good that the bar is set pretty high.


Back to that "Last thoughts?"

I’m rockin’ again, I’ve got my second wind.


The Barra Songbook is an occasional feature with the Bar None Group that looks at some of the musicians who play in Barra de Navidad. A video of Marc's song Meet Me at Ramon's — one of ten tracks on Second Wind — was one of the first entries on this website and was the most popular item on the website during our first year online. In addition to this Q and A with Marc Pettigrew we have previously featured drummer Ian Hoffman and all around musician Angel Orozco Jr.

Images courtesy Marc Pettigrew.


— Mark Butkus