They were one of the most underappreciated hard rock 'n' boogie bands of the era, but few would have predicted their short, but prickly story would still not be finished in 2014.
Formed in 1969 and hailed (somewhat prematurely) by Creem magazine as "the American Led Zeppelin," Cactus was a semi-supergroup bringing together members of Vanilla Fudge (Tim Bogert, bass; Carmine Appice, drums), Ted Nugent & the Amboy Dukes (Rusty Day, vocals), and Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels (Jim McCarty, guitar).
But by 1971 after three records and scores of live gigs, the classic quartet split amid (what else?) drugs, egos, and creative differences, with a different lineup producing a final LP. They were the subject of the very first Lost Tuneage column here.
Cut to June 3, 2006, when a Cactus grew again as Appice, Bogert, and McCarty took the stage at B.B. King's Blues Club in New York City for their first gig together in decades. The trio also brought Jimmy Kunes (ex-Brownsville Station) on vocals -- Day was murdered in a 1982 drug deal gone bad -- and Randy Pratt on harmonica.
A live CD of that show, Cactus Live in the U.S.A., is one of four initial releases from Appice and partner Mike Cusanelli's new startup label, Rocker Records. A DVD of the show was previously released, while bootleg CDs had already appeared.
Others in the batch include Bogert and Appice: Friends, Travers and Appice: TNA Live in Europe, and Cactus Live in Japan, and are available for download the Rocker Records Web site.
"That was an amazing show, and who would have thought it would have happened?" says Appice, who has also drummed for Rod Stewart, Ozzy Osbourne, Blue Murder, and Beck, Bogert, and Appice.
"We had already been doing some recording for what became the record Cactus V, and got an offer to play the Swedish Rock Festival," he continues. "But we needed a warm up gig, so that show at B.B. King's worked out great."
It turns out that the impetus for the three-quarters reunion was musician Pratt, a "billionaire" (thanks to inheritance, according to Appice) and huge fan of the band whose late father was the CEO of Pfizer.
As for replacing the charismatic Day, Appice says Kunes had a challenge, but met it.
"Sometimes it was scary he sounded so much like Rusty," he offers. " [Although] Rusty was a great front man and could get the crowd in the palm of his hands, but he wasn't a great singer, just like Mick Jagger. But he did write incredible lyrics. I mean, just listen to 'Alaska,' 'Restrictions,' and 'One Way or Another.'"
Today, Cactus continues to tour, though Bogert has since left the group.
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Appice says that the idea for Rocker Records came after he had some business dealings with Cusanelli, who inquired if Appice or any of his many other classic rock pals had material they'd like to release.
"He was looking for bootlegs, live shows, unreleased things, and I looked on my hard drive and had a lot of it. And the live CD with [Pat] Travers actually came from a fan." Appice offers. "So we cleaned them up, remastered them, and here you have the first four records."
At this stage, the current and future Rocker music is available only as digital downloads. And while Appice doesn't rule out physical releases, he says that the realities of the music industry today provide some steep challenges.
"The way the business is today, there's no way to sell hard copies -- especially for music like this -- unless you're AC/DC or Van Halen and you make a deal with Wal-Mart," Appice laughs. "Plus, given our [age demographic], some of our fans might not even know how to use a computer to download stuff!"
Coming Thursday: How Appice came to co-write Rod Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?", his plans for a very busy 2014 and why Houston is the setting for the opening scene of his upcoming autobiography.
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