Lost Tuneage: Cactus

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Introducing a new column in which Rocks Off delves into the music of short-lived or overlooked performers of the classic-rock era...

Who Dat?

Billed as "America's answer to Led Zeppelin," this quartet was formed in 1969 by Vanilla Fudge rhythm section Tim Bogert (bass) and Carmine Appice (drums), Their first attempt to form a band with Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart fell through when the former suffered injuries in a motorcycle accident and the latter agreed to join the Faces.

Eventually, the pair recruited guitarist Jim McCarty (ex-Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels) and wildman vocalist Rusty Day (ex-Amboy Dukes) to capitalize on the newly-popular blues-based hard-rock boogie practiced by acts like Led Zep, Cream and Free. 

Cactus, "Evil" (Howlin' Wolf cover)

Cactus quickly released three studio records - Cactus, One Way...or Another and Restrictions - which showcased their bombastic sound, punctuated by Bogert playing bass as a lead instrument and Day's off-kilter but powerful screaming. After McCarty and Day split due to the usual reasons of creative tension and heavy drug use, Bogert and Appice added three new members - guitarist Werner Fritzschings, keyboardist Duane Hitchings and vocalist Peter French - for 'Ot 'n' Sweaty.

By 1972, Cactus had withered in the heat.

Why should I care?

While a very popular live draw, the group's record sales just never met expectations. Perhaps it was their nearly equal mixture of originals and blues/early rock covers that hurt them, the infighting or even Day's less-than-leading man looks.

Nevertheless, they had strong support among other musicians, including a young David Lee Roth, who modeled his act heavily on Day and Black Oak Arkansas' Jim Dandy from Black Oak Arkansas.

What happened?

Latter-day member Hitchings tried to launch the "New Cactus Band," but it fizzled. The Fudge rhythm section finally got together with Jeff Beck in the short-lived trio Beck, Bogert and Appice before the drummer (and his distinctive mustache) hitched a ride on the Rod Stewart Disco Express. The pair also occasionally performed as Vanilla Fudge.

McCarty played with bands locally in Detroit. Day - who tried to resurrect the band even while his drug use escalated - was murdered along with his son and another person in a 1982 drug deal gone bad. The killer has never been found.

Cactus, "One Way or Another," live in 2006

Where are they now?

Buoyed by the unexpected success of specialty label Rhino Handmade's double CD sets of studio and live recordings (both of which have sold out), Bogert, Appice and McCarty reformed Cactus in 2006 with ex-Savoy Brown vocalist Jimmy Kunes, and released a new studio record and concert DVD.

Rhino also released a third 2-CD set of live recordings. However, the reconstituted group has only played a handful of dates, and Fritzschings has apparently replaced McCarty once more.

Essential Listening

Cactology: The Cactus Collection (single-CD best of their studio material)

Fully Unleashed: The Live Gigs Vol. 1 (out of print). - Bob Ruggiero

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