Sylvester Stretch revives original Pictou County lineup

Amanda Jess
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It was their day off from the studio, and they chose to spend it in a Tim Hortons, talking about their craft and easily bantering as old pals.

They could retire, but who wants to do that? John Duncan MacKenzie and John Boudreau, vocals, guitar and songwriters, are reviving Sylvester Stretch, a Pictou County band from the 1970s. They’re been in the studio since the beginning of May. AMANDA JESS – THE NEWS

It’s been more than a few years since Sylvester Stretch was on the music scene in Pictou County, but they’re ready to pick up where they left off.

John Duncan MacKenzie of Pictou and John Boudreau of Westville were decked out in their band jackets, ready to show that they’re still alive and coming back for a 35-year reunion.

“We don’t know how much time we got left. It’s an opportunity to get together,” Boudreau said. “Hopefully they’ll enjoy it as much as we do.”

MacKenzie moved to Alberta when he was 21, receiving what Boudreau says was the major recording contract for someone out of Pictou County from Century II Studios.  

The band members eventually went their separate ways, prompting MacKenzie to return to Pictou County in the late 1970s.

He replaced the lineup with more locals, and away they went, playing a mix of blues, rock, country and folk in the many venues of the time.

They never had a hard time finding people to come to their shows, or any show.

Now, it’s not as easy.

“The economy drives it. With no economy, you don’t have any culture,” Boudreau said.

Part of the problem is inflation and liquor laws – they were playing when a 12 pack of beer cost $3.85.

They’re hoping to draw a crowd of the former size for a comeback concert as they unveil their new album at the end of June.

Boudreau, MacKenzie, John Howitt, Richie Richmond and Barry Ryan have been in the studio since May 3, recording tracks about “love and life.”

One of the tunes is an oldie, but has rarely been heard.

It’s safe to say everyone was affected in some way when the Westray mine exploded in 1992, including the local musical community, inspiring a song from the Boudreau and MacKenzie.

Larry Bell, an aspiring musician, wasn’t supposed to work that day. He was filling a shift.

“All musicians were really devastated. The whole county just died,” MacKenzie said.

They remember being asked not to play that song that year.

Although they may not have played that song, they never stopped making music.

Sylvester Stretch, named after the stretch of road between the two friend’s homes, was only one of the bands they were in.

When they weren’t playing in bands like Granfalloon or Nite Cult with locals such as John Muirhead and Henry Lewis, they found the time to have other jobs, Boudreau in ad sales and business consulting, and moving away to Alberta and Florida to start families.

However, they never stopped playing and writing.

“It’s like being injected with a deadly disease. It never goes away,” Boudreau said about music.

On Twitter: @NGNewsAmanda

Geographic location: Pictou County, Alberta, Westville Florida

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