CACTUS Evil Is Going On: The Atco albums 1970-1972 (8CD box) Cherry Red
Another box that does what is says on the tin – and done wonderfully it is too.
Cactus were an American hard rock band with heavy blues leanings, formed in 1969 by drummer Carmine Appice and bassist Tim Bogert, both formerly of Vanilla Fudge. They signed to Atco and released four albums before splitting. This set collects those four albums, three of which have bonus tracks, and two live shows, each spread over two discs each.
Appice is considered the father of heavy metal drumming, influencing many. When I interviewed him for Record Collector Magazine a few moons ago, he said of his style: “I grew up playing jazz, and I played rock also. So I just started using the jazz Big Band tuning that my drum teacher taught me, so it was intentional but it wasn’t intentional, it was more accidental..I was playing loud and heavy because I couldn’t be heard with the amplification being used. I used to throw my sticks around and beat the heck out of the drums and all that stuff”.
After the break up of Vanilla Fudge, Appice and Bogert had intended to work with Jeff Beck, but that project was put on hold due to a car accident putting Back out of action for a while. Appice: “Yes we got tight pretty quick, Tim and I, we both liked the same kind of music, r’n’b, James Brown, Motown, all of that, so yes we got right pretty quick.
The band broke up because when Tim and I wanted to play some rocking kind of music with some more guitar, we were planning on putting a band together with Jeff Beck, so that’s pretty much why we broke up, you know, we’d been together for like four years and we were just ready to move on to something different. So probably blame it on me and Tim Bogert.
We actually should have just gone on and done a solo thing and come back to the Fudge. But in those days it was cool and hip to break up, you had Blind Faith break up, made a super group, so, that’s what our plan was. Jeff got in car accident in 1969 and had to take a year and a half off, me and Tim didn’t want to wait around so we put together our own band called Cactus with Jim McCarty and Rusty Day. It was an awesome band, it was hard rocking, very fast band. And we loved it, we loved playing with Cactus.
Jim McCarty was found through a friend of ours, Duane Hitchings, he was playing with the Buddy Miles Express and he played with Mitch Ryder so he was a definite candidate for Cactus and once we got Jimmy, he suggested Rusty who was with the Amboy Dukes. That’s pretty much how we formed.
We rehearsed at our manager’s rehearsal place, and just worked out all the stuff for the first album, it was very easy.
It wasn’t going to be Back, Bogert & Appice, it was going to be a band called Cactus with Rod Stewart singing. Before the accident Rod bowed out and then it was going to be a trio and we were going to get somebody else. It ended up being Back Bogert & Appice because super groups were in, you had West, Bruce & Laing, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Emerson, Lake & Palmer so we thought Beck, Bogert & Appice would be a good way to do that.” So the planned BBA project finally materialised in 1972, after Cactus’s Atco run ended, but that’s another story.
The 1970 eponymous debut opens with a blistering cover of Parchman Farm, heavy blues rough and ray, really thrashed out. Vocalist Rusty Day plays a mean harmonica too, and guitarist Jim McCarty has pretty quick fingers. In stark contrast, My Lady From South Of Detroit is pretty mellow. Much of the album is a blues rock exploration, ranging from mellow to proto metal, and some touches of soul along the way.
Recorded soon after and released early in 1971, the second album One Way Or Another was another fab slice of blues rock. The album opens with a chunky and little slowed version of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally. The album throughout also highlights the solid rhythm section and the very underrated guitar work of McCarty.
Third album, Restrictions, was also released in 1971, and opens with the more polished title track. But then the rawness edges in for later tracks, and the 8 minute Guiltless Glider is well worth checking out. The album as a whole seems a little tighter but just as good.
1972 and the fourth album Ot’n’Sweaty saw a change, with the guitarist and vocalist gone, and in came guitarist Werner Fritzschings, former Leaf Hound / Atomic Rooster vocalist Pete French, and keyboard player Duane Hitchings. The first three songs (side 1 of the original LP) were recorded live and sound absolutely amazing. The album’s worth buying for the opener Swim alone. I’ve not been too familiar with Cactus before now and to be honest, I’m blown away.
Also included in this set are two live shows, over 4 discs. These are well recorded, and the live shows feature both covers and original material, and often the songs are extended. Between extended jams and medleys, you got a good long show and value for money.
While much of this material has been previously released (I think both live shows have had a limited release on Rhino), where this set excels is that they’ve not overreached themselves, a perfect balance of style and substance, and everything is brought together nicely. Everything is well annotated, you know where everything comes from, it’s well packaged. And within it’s remit it’s complete too.
Cherry Red have not only set a bar, but they’re sticking to it.
And to give Carmine Appice the final word on Cactus: “We just cut albums that we liked, we didn’t go for radio or anything, we didn’t go for singles, we just did albums that we liked and were rocking hard and kicked ass, good musicianship all around. I’m really proud that those Cactus albums became hard rock classics. Then Cactus influenced a lot of bands, like Van Halen, I’ve heard they influenced AC/DC. I know Anvil and Kings X, it goes on and on. But Cactus was a really great band, we did a lot of really great stuff with Cactus”.
Joe Geesin | Now Spinning Magazine