Cactus

Cactology (Rhino/WEA 96) Rating: A-
Here's what happened: Led Zeppelin opened for Vanilla Fudge in the U.S. in late '68/early'69. The Fudge's rhythm section of drummer Carmine Appice and bassist Tim Bogert were awed by them and said that's what we should be aiming for - heavy rock. The singer/keyboardist Mark Stein was an art-rock/Beatles guy and didn't want to, so they were clashing and the band was on the rocks. In late '69 Jeff Beck agreed to start a band with Appice and Bogert, so Vanilla Fudge broke up, but before they could record, Beck got seriously injured in a car crash and was out of action for 15 months. So, Appice and Bogert hooked up with Rusty Day (Nugent kicked him out of the Amboy Dukes in '69) and Jim McCarty (Mitch Ryder's guitarist from '65-'68) left Buddy Miles' group to complete the band. Cactus subsequently recorded several commercially unsuccessful albums - their most famous moment was when they got arrested for smoking dope on a plane and were photographed in handcuffs at the airport in Cleveland in August '71 - none of which have been released on cd in the U.S. as of this writing, but Cactology hits most of the high points of one of the better and more overlooked hard rock bands of the early '70s. True, Day's rough-can-peel-paint voice may grate at times over the course of this compilation's 76+ minutes, they weren't great songwriters (they rectify this by doing lots of covers), and these songs can certainly plod in places. But boy could these guys play, in particular Appice, one of the few drummers who could legitimately compete with John Bonham (who he influenced) in terms of pure power, and McCarty, for my money the best of the Detroit rock guitarists after Eddie Hazel. He certainly had his own sound; the solo on "You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover" explodes out of the speakers, and other tracks such as "Parchman Farm," "One Way...Or Another," and "Rock and Roll Children" are some of the heaviest/fastest stuff ever recorded as of 1970. The band's bluesy brand of speed-boogie may not have been the most original or versatile around, but there are some lighter attempts ("Alaska," "Bro. Bill," "Song For Aries"), and besides, giving listeners a high energy adrenaline rush is what these guys were all about, and given how well they accomplish their mission throughout most of Cactology, it's a shame that they're so rarely remembered these days. Anyway, fans of hard rock would do well to seek out this album, and those who like what they hear should also at least try to download the following leftover essentials: from the first album, Cactus, there's "My Lady from South of Detroit," a great proto-power ballad, from the second album, One Way...Or Another, there's "Hometown Bust," a great anti-government/pro-drugs dirge, and "Big Mama Boogie," a speed-boogie workout, and from the third album, Restrictions, there's "Guiltless Glider," an epic slow builder, and "Bag Drag," an anti-war/government scream fest. Post-mortem: Rusty Day was a genuine nut and Atlantic/Atco Records made the band fire him in late '71, as they blamed the band's failure to break big squarely on him. McCarty also quit because he and Bogert hated each other; McCarty was great but wasn't big on the spotlight so he went back to Detroit and played there locally. Cactus briefly continued before Beck again called Bogert and Appice in September '72; the Beck, Bogert, & Appice album ensued. Day was later on AC/DC's "short list" of candidates to replace Bon Scott, but they couldn't find him because he had left the music business behind for the world of drug dealing. Sadly, his dangerous lifestyle got him and his 12 year old son machine gunned to death in 1982.

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