Cactus, Cactus (1970)
Quite simply one of the best heavy rock records ever released, and more likely than not you don’t need me to tell you that. The 1970 self-titled debut from Cactus, with the classic lineup of vocalist Rusty Day (The Amboy Dukes), guitarist Jim McCarty (The Buddy Miles Express), bassist Tim Bogert (Vanilla Fudge) and drummer Carmine Appice (Vanilla Fudge) stands among the all-timers. Put it up against Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Cream, I don’t care who. The first in a heavy rock holy trinity of original-lineup Cactus releases with 1971’s One Way… or Another (discussed here) and Restrictions behind it, it was originally issued on Atco Records and retains a country-blues swagger the better part of half a century later that utterly distinguishes them from their peers, and from the manic thrust of their take on Mose Allison‘s “Parchman Farm” which opens to the harmonica-laden swing of “Bro. Bill” on down through the rush of “Let Me Swim” and the finale drum showcase of “Feel so Good,” there is not a fuckwithable second to be found herein. Hyperbole? You bet your ass.
Among the many elements Cactus‘ Cactus boasts over its heavy ’70s peers from outfits like Dust, Mountain — both also Long Island bands — as well as groups like Atomic Rooster, Leaf Hound, and so on, is that it’s unabashed, unashamed fun. Even the wistful “My Lady from South of Detroit,” which is an immediate and bold departure from the opener into acoustic balladry, is basically a song about getting laid. And then they move into “Bro. Bill,” which remains one of the best heavy rock hooks ever conjured, and through Willie Dixon‘s “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover” — listen to Bogert‘s bass! — revive the thrust with “Let Me Swim,” blues jam on “No Need to Worry” with McCarty‘s astonishing lead work, tie the blues and the rock together on “Oleo” (again, the bass, this time in a well-earned solo) and then wrap with the aforementioned “Feel so Good,” which, yes, does pull back from its drum solo to give the record a proper ending, and god damn, it’s just perfect. There’s no other word for it. It’s everything a classic American heavy rock album should have been and should be in its attitude, energy and execution. No pretense, no posturing — only 40 of the most efficiently killer minutes ever put to tape. Though I’ve always kind of associated it as a summer record, it remains an utter joy to revisit year-round, and seems to heat up any room in which it plays from the inside out. Fire on a platter.
As will almost invariably happen, the history of Cactus post-original lineup becomes more complicated the farther one follows it through the years. After Restrictions, the band split with Day and McCarty. Bogert and Appice brought in keyboardist Duane Hitchings, guitarist Werner Fritzschings and vocalist Peter French (Leaf Hound) for 1972’s ‘Ot ‘n’ Sweaty, which opened with a redux of “Let Me Swim,” and though Hitchings would soon lead the short-lived The New Cactus Band and Day had his own version of Cactus prior to his still-unsolved murder in 1982, it would not be until 2006 that Bogert, Appice and McCarty played together again, joining forces with ex-Savoy Brown singer Jimmy Kunes for Cactus V and playing reunion shows.
They’ve done gigs off and on in the decade since — bassist Pete Bremy replacing Bogert in 2008, Fritzschings once more stepping in on guitar for a time — but in 2016, Cactus released a sixth full-length, Black Dawn, with Kunes, McCarty, and Appice alongside Bremy and harmonica-ist Randy Pratt, and toured to support it as well. Not that one needed proof of the continued relevance of the original lineup, but the final two cuts on Black Dawn, “Another Way or Another” and “C-70 Blues,” are lost cuts featuring Day, McCarty, Bogert and Appice, and well, if those don’t qualify as bonus tracks, nothing in the universe does.
All that shuffling of personnel makes Cactus‘ Cactus seem even more like simpler times, and getting lost in the languid blues flow of “No Need to Worry,” one not only misses Day‘s raw-throated whiteboy soul, but can’t help but imagine what Cactus would’ve gone on to do had they held it together following Restrictions, which offered some jammier stylistic expansion. But maybe that’s being greedy. Any way you want to approach, the self-titled Cactus is a special, special album, and there’s nothing else — nothing they did after, nothing anyone else has done — quite like it. Classic. Essential. The words seem pale.
As always, I hope you enjoy, and I’m quite confident you will.
If you’ll forgive me, I’m going to try to be somewhat expeditious in wrapping this up. Not out of any particular hurry to be done with it so much as a hurry to get to work on the ‘Tomorrow’s Dream’ post of 2017’s most anticipated albums. There are, according to my half-assed count of the list, over 150 of them, with 35 of the year’s biggest upcoming releases highlighted and the rest listed under three categories of likelihood that they’ll happen — from ‘Gonna Happen and Likely Candidates’ to ‘Definitely Could Happen’ to ‘Would be Nice’ — and like the complicated history of Cactus, it’s a lot to sort through.
My hope is basically to write that all weekend and get it posted on Monday. Here’s how the rest of the week is shaping up so far:
Mon.: 150+ Most Anticipated Releases of 2017 list. Also some news from Bison Machine and others.
Tue.: Track premiere from Altar of Betelgeuze, video premiere from Pater Nembrot.
Wed.: Either a PH track premiere or a Hymn review, and a Dr. Keyboardian video.
Thu.: Either a Hymn review or a PH track premiere.
Fri.: All Them Witches review.
Obviously all of that could change, and the day for that PH premiere is still TBA, but I’m hopeful it will be one or the other.
Quite a week this week. I had Monday off and left work early on Wednesday and was out yesterday just for being kind of wiped out, but still plenty beat. Family coming up this weekend though from Connecticut, and the universe seems to be in a pretty constant state of chaos, so I’m just gonna drink my coffee and try to get by. That’s what I’ve got.
Of course, I wish you a great and safe weekend. Please have some fun, be safe, and check back Monday for that mega-list and more besides.
And don’t forget the forum and radio stream.