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Sunday Old School: Cactus

It’s always interesting to look back at the very early days of heavy metal. That first batch such as Black Sabbath, Budgie and Blue Cheer that would influence even iconic bands such as Judas Priest before they were even formed. One such band which is often put into this group, straddling the line between hard rock and the new heavy metal genre, would be Cactus. Cactus were formed in Long Island, New York by former Vanilla Fudge members Tim Bogert and Carmine Appice, initially planned to include English guitar hero Jeff Beck before he had an automobile accident and was forced out of the music world for a long while. Instead, they brought in Jim McCarty and vocalist, Rusty Day, who had previously performed in The Amboy Dukes with Ted Nugent.

The quartet released their first full length album in July of that year, a self-titled debut which was adorned with a rather crude looking cactus. It’s become a genuine staple of early seventies hard rock, taking great influence from the blues, as evidenced by the covers of "Parchman Farm" and the Willie Dixon song, "You Can’t Judge a Book By the Cover," as well as their own compositions.

It was followed only a year later by their sophomore effort, "One Way... Or Another," which kicked off with another cover, this time of the Little Richard classic, "Long Tall Sally." It also contained some truly excellent original songs such as the title track and "Rockout Whatever You Feel Like," ultimately crafting another well received and influential album.

That same year, Cactus released their third album, "Restrictions," which was their last to feature the group’s original lineup, though it was another stellar effort and a worthy release to conclude this period with. It included a fantastic cover of the Howlin’ Wolf song, "Evil," perhaps one of the heaviest recordings up to that point and featured more solid new music such as the title track, which was a splendid blend of hard rock with mellow vibes, along with the bluesy, "Alaska" and the single, "Token Chokin’." Shortly afterwards, Jim McCarty decided to leave the band and a little while later, Rusty Day was fired.

In their place came former Atomic Rooster vocalist, Peter French, as well as Werner Fritzschings on guitar and Duane Hitchings on keyboard. This new quintet version of the band recorded and released a new album, "’Ot ‘N’ Sweaty" in 1972. It had something of a strange opening, in that the first three songs were all recorded at a live show in Puerto Rico, while the rest were studio recordings. It wasn’t quite up to par with previous releases but nonetheless featured some strong tracks such as, "Bad Stuff" and "Bringing Me Down." It was decided after this release that Cactus had run its course and so was laid to rest that same year, with the rhythm section joining forces with Jeff Beck as they had always hoped to form, Beck, Bogert and Appice.

For a long time afterwards, Cactus was placed in the legends category, being brought up by bands that they had a profound impact on such as Aerosmith and Van Halen in interviews, as well as being one that older rockers would show off to the younger headbangers. Rusty Day sadly passed away in 1982, ruling out any chance of a reunion with the original quartet. Over thirty years later however, Appice, Bogert and McCarty brought Cactus back to the fold, being joined by vocalist, Jimmy Kunes, himself a veteran of blues rock having been a member of English outfit, Savoy Brown. They performed two shows in New York City, before heading to Sweden to perform at the Sweden Rock Festival six days later. They also released a new album, "Cactus V," which featured a tribute for their former vocalist in the form of, “Blues for Rusty Day.”

Cactus are still around today, having changed members a few times here and there, though whether or not they’ll return to the studio is anybody’s guess. For now, let’s just appreciate what they brought to the table, their understated but nonetheless big influence on heavy metal as we know it and the fact if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to catch a live show again.

Cactus - "Parchman Farm"

Cactus - "Let Me Swim"

Cactus - "One Way Or Another"

Cactus - "Rockout Whatever You Feel Like"

Cactus - "Evil"

Cactus - "Restrictions"

Cactus - "Bad Stuff"

Cactus - "Muscle and Soul"

Diamond Oz's avatar

Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com since 2007 and a metal fan since 2001, going as far as to travel to other countries and continents for metal gigs.

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