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Music, Maine and life in general - An interview with Foghat's Craig MacGregor

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Foghat bassist Craig MacGregor at a performance in 2014.  Foghat bassist Craig MacGregor at a performance in 2014. (Photo courtesy of Foghat/Steve Sirois)

When he was a boy, Craig MacGregor - bass player for the band Foghat since 1975 - lived in Maine with his family; he has deep-seeded memories of massive snowfalls and chilly autumn days picking potatoes in Aroostook County.

'I did that for a couple of years,' MacGregor told me in a recent phone interview from his home in Pennsylvania. 'Picking potatoes was not the most fun I've ever had (laughing). That was manual labor no two ways about it. It was a learning process. It taught you what real work is like. I said I'd rather play in a band (laughing).''

MacGregor's father, a music teacher, brought the family to Maine, teaching in both Mars Hill and Portland.

'There was more snow than I've ever seen in my life but they never cancelled school,' MacGregor remembered. 'I also remember climbing Mt. Katahdin with my father. I have a picture of me crossing Knife Edge with a 10-pound backpack.'

A native of Sioux City, Iowa, MacGregor also spent time living in Connecticut and New York City before joining Foghat just before the British-formed band released their breakthrough album 'Fool For The City' in 1975. The title hit and its predecessor - 'Slow Ride' - are mainstays on FM rock radio to this day.

Today, Foghat's new studio album, 'Under The Influence' is very much on MacGregor's mind and he wishes he could be with the group, playing shows and meeting fans. Unfortunately, his focus these days must remain on his health.

Last year, MacGregor was told that he has advanced lung cancer. Equally shocking for the musician was the fact the cancer had actually been discovered three years earlier in a CAT scan to check for broken ribs after a fall.

Why wasn't that (at the time) 10-millimeter nodule disclosed to MacGregor back then? He's still trying to find an answer while at the same time advocating for patients to receive full disclosure of their medical records. Answering proposed legislation, the Pennsylvania Medical Society argues that patients might not understand complicated test results and that those tests should continue to be addressed only by doctors.

MacGregor said he has been responding well to immunotherapy, a treatment that utilizes the body's immune system to fight cancer.

'It's pretty amazing,' MacGregor told me. 'Compared to chemo, this is so much better. I'm at Fox Chase Cancer Center which is one of the best cancer hospitals in the country. It's an amazing place to be.'

Immersing himself in the new music of the band he loves has been therapeutic for MacGregor, he says.

'I'm very happy with Under The Influence.' There are some unique things on this album. I've always enjoyed the song Slow Ride' and it was great to do the new version with (actor, singer, musician, composer) Nick Jameson. Nick was on the original version and he produced the Fool For The City' album.'

On the new version of Slow Ride,' both MacGregor and Jameson play bass. 'I recorded my parts at home,' MacGregor said. 'They were recording in Nashville and I was doing chemo then, so I couldn't be there. Brian Bassett (lead and slide guitarist and co-producer) came up here with his laptop. When I hear what Brian picked out, with both Nick and I interjecting on that song, it blows my mind.'

MacGregor co-wrote eight of the new songs on Under The Influence' and says he is very pleased with the finished album. I asked him what he feels is more important: to record an album that satisfies the band or one that satisfies the fans.

'That's a great question but we have to love it or we won't put it out. The band has to be happy first.'

'Under The Influence' is Foghat's 17th studio release and is a record that can proudly sit with the best of the band's back catalog. Craig MacGregor says that the record has given him something positive to focus on during the most difficult time of his life.

'When we know we've done our best, we know the fans will like it too.'

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