[Today: Big dumb blues…]
The official website for the band Cactus bills them as “the world’s first supergroup”, but it’s a title that withstands the harsh reality of math about as well as the Oakland Raiders’ claim to be “the winningest franchise in professional sports.” The original supergroup – Cream – broke up a full two years before Cactus formed from the pieces of Vanilla Fudge (rhythm section), the Amboy Dukes (lead singer) and Mitch Ryder’s Detroit Wheels (guitar). Cactus might not have been the first supergroup, but their version of blues/rock sounds much more modern than the “pure” blues of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers or the blues-based psychedelic noodling of Cream.
Drummer Carmine Appice and bassist Tim Bogert disbanded Vanilla Fudge in 1970, at the height of its popularity, in favor of the opportunity to start a band with guitarist Jeff Beck and singer Rod Stewart. But when Beck was injured in a car accident and Stewart pulled out of the project to join The Faces, Appice and Bogert suddenly found themselves without a group. Enter guitarist Jim McCarty of Mitch Ryder’s Detroit Wheels and singer Rusty Day from the Amboy Dukes. Cactus was called “the American Led Zeppelin” and the points of comparison are obvious: they bludgeoned the blues behind pulverizing drums, loud, distorted guitar and a wailing lead singer. Of course, Appice, McCarty and Day were no Bonham, Page and Plant, and their version of the blues was even more simple and brutal than the variety that Led Zep was peddling.
Album opener ‘Parchman Farm’ is an aggressive, ill-tempered take on Mose Allison’s blues standard, while ‘You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover’ is a turbo-charged update of a Willie Dixon tune. The rest of Cactus features original songs, highlighted by the mellow sweetness of ‘My Lady From South Of Detroit’, the last rites of ‘Bro. Bill’, the molten fuzz of ‘Oleo’ and the humid sexual aggression of ‘Let Me Swim’. This isn’t the kind of album that will cause you to lose any sleep or brain cells interpreting lyrics, but it’s a critical midpoint in the development of hard rock. The blues-based bands of the mid-60s eventually mutated into the hard and heavy sound of the 70s, and like the Black Sabbaths and AC/DCs that altered that landscape, Cactus was more sledgehammer than diving rod.
Listen: Parchman Farm
Listen: Let Me Swim
Listen: Bro. Bill