Exposé print issues (1993-2011)
Cactus — Tightrope
(Purple Pyramid CLO-2201, 2021, CD / 2LP / DL)
Cactus — The Birth of Cactus - 1970
(Purple Pyramid CLO2589, 1970/2022, CD / LP / DL)
by Jon Davis, Published 2022-03-26
Cactus was formed in 1969 out of the ashes of Vanilla Fudge, with Tim Bogert (bass) and Carmine Appice (drums) getting together with Jim McCarty (guitar) and Rusty Day (vocals). McCarty had played with Mitch Ryder’s Detroit Wheels and The Buddy Miles Express; Day came from The Amboy Dukes. With their hard-hitting take on blues rock, the band gained a large following. They only lasted until 1972, but left their mark with four classic studio albums. The group resumed activity in 2006 with all the original members except Day, who had been murdered in 1982. Subsequent Cactus activity featured a varying lineup, with Bogert retiring in 2008 and McCarty bowing out in 2017. (Bogert died in 2021 from cancer.) The two albums at hand represent the earliest and latest work from this band. The Birth of Cactus - 1970 is a live set from Temple Stadium in Philadelphia. It was the band’s very first gig, and they were on the bill with Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead, and Steve Miller Band. From the very first notes of “One Way… or Another” (which would feature on their second album), it’s clear these young men mean business. They’re filtering Delta and Chicago blues through a rock lens in much the same way as Led Zeppelin was on the other side of the Atlantic, though without diversions into folk music or anything else. It occurs to me that 40 or 50 years ago, it wouldn’t have been necessary to explain this, but somehow Zeppelin’s music has remained in the public consciousness much more than that of Cactus. In any case, this vintage live recording is surprisingly listenable even by today’s standards — Bogert’s bass and Appice’s drums are massive without being too distorted, and McCarty’s guitar just blazes. There’s occasional distortion on the vocals and harmonica, but that’s hardly a negative in this context. Tunes from the first three Cactus albums, along with some blues covers, make for a valuable look back into the history of a band that deserves more attention.
Skipping ahead to 2021, we find a Cactus that includes Appice behind the kit; McCarty is on board for a couple of tracks, with the rest of the guitar work handled ably by Paul Warren, whose CV includes Rare Earth and many other bands. Jimmy Caputo plays bass, and Jimmy Kunes (formerly with Savoy Brown) takes most of the lead vocals. There are also guests on keyboards, harmonica, backing vocals, percussion, and so on. This version of the band acquits itself well, being tight and polished without losing a gritty edge. Their hard rock take on “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” might seem like a no-win proposition, but it works remarkably well. Blues rock isn’t normally my thing, but there’s something infectious and catchy about Tightrope that makes me want to stand on my chair and shake my fist to the beat. These old dudes know how to rock, and a lot of young dudes could learn a thing or two from them. Don’t expect anything profound or intellectual, but there’s nothing stupid either. It’s rock and roll, it’s entertaining, and it’s got attitude to spare.
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