Tag Archives: Cactus

T.G.I.F. – Ten More For Jimmy Mac

Had I not already had tickets and an entourage headed to Buffalo to see Elvis Costello – a magical show, by the way – I would have made a (Johnny) bee line to Detroit to catch the album release party for Jim McCarty. The legendary guitarist (Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Cactus, The Rockets, The Hell Drivers) was hosting a star-studded show at Callahan’s, the Mecca I drove ten hours to for my last Detroit pilgrimage.

McCarty is often asked to jump onstage with bands who come through the area, and this latest album features collaborations with Duke Robillard, Jimmy Thackery, Johnny A, John Nemeth, Jason Ricci, The Millionaires and long-time partner in crime, Johnny “Bee” Badanjek. My friend Kevin thinks we should sell our houses and move to Auburn Hills. Not his worst idea.

I couldn’t be at this show. But thanks to Al Gore’s Internet, I was able to enjoy the magic after the fact. So too, now, can you as this week’s TGIF features Ten More For Jimmy Mac. If this doesn’t convince you that Jim McCarty is one of the greatest guitarists in rock’n’roll history…you are Tommy.

(01) – Prisoner of Love

(02) – Tell Me What’s The Reason

(03) – Loan Me A Dime

(04) – Knock On Wood

(05) – Good Morning Little Schoolgirl

Buy Jim McCarty and Friends at Amazon

(06) – Black Night

(07) – Goin’ Down

(08) – Oh, Well

(09) – LaGrange

(10) – Can’t You See

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T.G.I.F. – Ten for Jim McCarty

What’s the difference between Detroit and Upstate New York?

On any given Friday night I can hit a bar and find a bunch of middle-aged guys playing covers. In Detroit, my buddy Sue can do the same thing, except the guitar player is Jim McCarty.

McCarty blazed on axe for Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels. Jammed at Electric Ladyland with Hendrix. Played toe to toe with Buddy Miles. Took Cactus into the stratosphere. Kicked ass all over again in The Rockets. Recently rocking again in The Detroit Revue, The Hell Drivers and finally, the 2010+ reincarnation of The Rockets.

But all the way through, he kept playing the blues, often on a Friday night in a Detroit bar, with friends.

I’ve been listening to this guy for over forty-five years and two things always come to mind – (1) holy shit, is he great, and (2) why is he not mentioned in the same breath as Blackmore, Page, Clapton, Beck, Gallagher and other consensus giants? He can blow your doors off or lay it bare. He can play anything, anytime, anywhere. I’m not going to argue with you.

I’m going to prove it to you.

Here are Ten Titanic Jim McCarty Tunes for this week’s TGIF.

(01) “No Need To Worry” / “Parchman Farm” (live at the Atlanta Pop Festival, 1970)

(02) “Taking It Back” (The Hell Drivers, live in Detroit 2009)

(03) “Hoochie Coochie Man” (live with Mystery Train and Willie D Warren!)

(04) “See See Rider” (live with the Detroit Rock Revue)

(05) “Oh Well” (sitting in with The Reefermen!)

(06) “Turn Up The Radio” (The Rockets, 1979)

(07) “Evil” (Cactus, live in Buffalo, 1971)

(08) “Goin’ Down” (live with Smokin’ Moses, 2008)

(09) “Let Me Swim / Long Tall Sally” (Cactus reunion, NYC, 2010)

(10) “Rock and Roll” (The Hell Drivers, 2009)

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New Album! Cactus

A classic bootleg gets a proper release.

I’ve certainly waxed poetic about Cactus before. Growing up in the NYC area I was a lot closer to the flame, but as time passes on more people realize that these guys were monsters. Carmine Appice and Tim Bogert were the pulse of the Vanilla Fudge, a Long Island legend made good, while Jim McCarty and Rusty Day made their bones in Detroit.

At a time when album rock and FM radio were forming an unholy alliance, bands that could go deeper and heavier were prowling stages like panthers, and Cactus was capable of blowing anyone off the stage with thundering hard rock and boogie (and often, they did). It’s a shame that their flame only burned brightly for a few years. It’s an even bigger shame that forty years later, people still have to explain who they were.

In 1971, prior to the release of what would be their third and final studio album Restrictions, Cactus commandeered Ultrasonic Studios in Hempstead New York for small, by-invitation-only gig that was simulcast on WLIR, Long Island’s premier rock radio station. Given the technology of the day, anyone prescient enough to tape the show had a pedestrian copy at best, and when bootleg versions started showing up years after the band’s demise they were anything but pristine. (When I mentioned this to Carmine, he was unaware that the bootlegs existed at all.)

The master tapes showed up at a swap meet in Austin; now restored and remastered it’s out there for all to enjoy. “Evil” absolutely crushes; one can only imagine the force of frontman Rusty Day contained in this tiny room. Axe whiz Jim McCarty is blazing throughout, and Bogert and Appice are in lockstep groove on bass and drums (obligatory solos aside; this was the 70s after all).

Cactus was no singles band, the hour-long recording features only seven tracks. And while by design it was not a greatest hits set,  it does include both classic halves of “Big Mama Boogie” and a fifteen minute version of their blues classic “No Need To Worry” in addition to live favorite “Oleo” and the rarely played “Token Chokin'” A little blues, a lot of boogie and some incendiary rock, an appetizer platter sampling all three albums. The band is relaxed and having fun, and the sound is astonishingly good considering the age of the recording.

Not long afterwards, both McCarty and Day were gone; a newly assembled roster recorded a half-live, half-studio album (‘Ot and Sweaty)before it was all over. In 2006, with Jimmy Kunes called upon to replace the deceased Rusty Day, the “American Led Zeppelin” reunited to record V and restoke the fires. This year marks the fortieth anniversary of the band, and Ultra Sonic Boogie is just one of a series of gems set for release.

Boogie feels good and good in my heart.

August 1st marks the anniversary of Anne Frank‘s last diary entry and the first Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Surely there must be a connection.

(No there isn’t…and don’t call me Shirley)

Today is also the 29th anniversary of MTV, as The BugglesVideo Killed The Radio Star” launched the music video era. Remember when MTV played videos? Remember when Music Television was about music?

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Taking It To Detroit, Part 1

Sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind, gas up the puppy and haul yourself elsewhere to get that great rock and roll fix. Consider caution thrown; this weekend is an absolute-must road trip. (And speaking of throwing caution to the wind, it dawned on me that I not only drove a Honda into Detroit but also had an Astros cap on my rear deck window, which probably didn’t make anyone happy that day, either.)

It’s always a bit depressing to hit a city like Detroit and see a smorgasbord of great gigs happening daily. When you live in a smaller city that doesn’t attract a myriad of artists, you learn to keep your eyes and ears open elsewhere. And when I saw this show coming up, I knew I had to go see the legends in their natural habitat.

The Holy Grail of Rock'n'Roll

The Holy Grail of Rock'n'Roll

I’ve already waxed poetic about Jim McCarty and Johnny “Bee” Badanjek, so no need to rehash what you can read here. But sitting ten feet away, watching living legends play with the fire of a garage band getting their first break, was a life-affirming experience. The show was littered with rock classics with Detroit lineage – most of it from first-hand experience (an announcer stated that “if you’re gonna call them a cover band, remember that they’re covering their own material!“). One of the best examples of rock magic ever recorded is Detroit’s cover of Lou Reed’s “Rock and Roll”…so when The Hell Drivers opened the show with that bomb blast, I knew it was time to strap myself in for the balance.

Callahan’s Music Hall is a great place to see a show – tremendous sound, great sight lines and good people. I shared a table with an area guitarist and two lovely ladies (who shall remain nameless in case their alibi for the evening has them elsewhere). The house was packed and the band was electric, despite already playing a hot set at a festival earlier in the day. The set list was a veritable primer for why Detroit is the epicenter of rock’n’roll – The Rationals, Iggy, Seger, The Romantics, and of course The Rockets. They even slipped in Alice Cooper‘s “I’m Eighteen” as a tribute to Jim Edwards’ wife’s birthday. (Note to authorities – she’s young, but not that young.) The dance floor was filled with several Detroit ladies led by the Motor City Rah Rahs (and at the risk of sounding misogynistic, I absolutely did not mind having my view obscured on occasion.)

I flew to New York City a couple of years ago to watch Jim McCarty play with Cactus at their reunion show, and he was stellar. But onstage with this band, McCarty looks re-energized, ripping solos like a man half his age and looking like he’s having a blast in the process. And maybe that’s the key ingredient here – four musicians who appear to really like and respect each other, playing their asses off for the love of the music.

Jim Edwards is an excellent front man (a lost art), whether wielding the air guitar mike stand or hanging himself with a cord during “No Pills”. He’s got a great voice and belts out vocals truly worthy of the classic material. Marvin Conrad is deceptively quiet, but much like Bill Wyman and John Entwistle he saves his energy for what matters, laying down a rock solid bottom with subtle flashes of brilliance. And I don’t know even where to start with “Bee“, who gets more mileage out of a small standard drum kit than most arena rockers with their Starship Enterprise configurations. McCartyjust wailed all night, the highlight might have been the all-out assault on “I Wanna Be Your Dog”, complete with string pulling antics and using the mike stand for a slide – it was absolutely Stooge-esque. His intro to “Oh Well” is a Detroit crowd favorite, and my jaw wasn’t the only one on the floor when he put on that clinic.

I could go on and on – the Rationals arrangement of “Respect”, the blistering version of “Takin’ It Back” – twenty-one songs and not a clunker in the bunch. What the future will hold in store for the band remains to be seen, but they mentioned an upcoming live release as well as a show with Alice Cooper for starters. Hopefully someone will wake up and smell the rock’n’roll and get these guys onto stages around the country like they deserve.  Until then, I heartily recommend that you follow their activities here, and if you need to jump in your car to go see them…then dammit, you need to do it.

Assuming you have the Desire, of course.

Huron target.

Huron target.

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Jimmy Mac and Johnny Bee

Living Legends Still Kicking Ass After 40 Years

Living Legends Still Kicking Ass After 40 Years

The rock music industry is a young person’s game, and when you get older you get relegated to revival tours because the audience you’ll draw wants to relive their youth through you. If you’re not a giant (Dylan, Neil, Springsteen) who can continue to command attention and create new music, you’re either getting by on reputation (Stones) or you’re off the radar. If you’re lucky, you’ve developed a strong core audience that can help sustain your career. But most of the time, fate isn’t that kind. Not all the greats get the accolades they deserve, and although they may continue to create magic, they do so in relative obscurity while far lesser talents get propped up as the cash cows of the moment.

That’s why I’m here today to remind you about Jim McCarty and John Badanjek, two bonafide living legends of rock’n’roll who have been knocking me out for forty years. And I am absolutely geeked that they are playing together once again, lighting Detroit on fire as The Hell Drivers, and hopefully cutting an album. Yes, I know that every generation swears by the music they grew up with, usually at the expense of most of what came before and after. I’m no exception to my own Wonder Years, although I probably have a wider bandwidth of tolerance than most people I know, and I still voraciously seek out new music every day. I’ve learned to go backwards and appreciate the geniuses who predated my birth, and many of the bands kicking my ass today are young pups with their best days ahead of them.

But I did grow up in a dynamic time, when Britpop and Motown and psychedlia and garage and folk and rock’n’roll all burst out of the speakers and raced up the charts together. The greatest musicians and pop songwriting geniuses of the later twentieth century all seemed to be peaking at once and the result was a few years of the most amazing creativity in music history. If you wanted to stand out during the late 60s, you really had to bring it. And for me, the best rock and roll song from that era is “Devil With A Blue Dress” by Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels. That song doesn’t just rock, it explodes –  the drums and guitar solo bursting from the speakers to stand toe-to-toe with Ryder’s supercharged vocal. Forty years later the track still sends chills up my spine and makes me drop whatever I’m doing to split time between air guitar and drumming madly on whatever is within arm’s reach.

The Detroit Wheels were composed of the best Detroit musicians at the time, including drummer Johnny “Bee” Badanjek and a guitar whiz named Jim McCarty. Even more amazing, both were teenagers when the band topped the charts! It would be the first of several professional collaborations over the years, and their friendship remains intact to this day.

They socked it to me, baby.

They socked it to me, baby.

Jim McCarty is one of the most underrated guitar players in rock’n’roll history and has the lineage to back that up. At the beginning of his career he was good enough to hang out at Electric Ladyland in NYC trading licks with Jimi Hendrix. He smoked the strings with Buddy Miles, ripped it up with Bob Seger on his Seven album, but really busted out with Cactus. McCarty made the guitar wail, weep and blister for three albums, but when Rusty Day was booted Jim left also, surfacing a few years later in The Rockets along with Johnny Bee. After their nice run, very little was heard from Jim; he started playing in blues bands like Mystery Train in clubs around Detroit. Then, amazingly, Cactus reformed for some gigs and a new album in 2005, and he proved that thirty-plus years later, that brilliant signature tone hadn’t lost a thing.

Stone Cold Classic

Stone Cold Classic

Johnny Bee moved along with Ryder to form Detroit – talk about your legendary killer rock albums – then later saddled up with The Rockets, where his songwriting skills also got a chance to shine; the band had several hits across five albums. But Bee’s calendar has always been jampacked; the legendary drummer has also played with Alice Cooper, Edgar WinterNils Lofgren, Ronnie Montrose and many others. He reuinted with Mitch on a few of the latter’s more recent solo albums and lately has been working most often with The Howling Diablos. He still plays drums like his pants are on fire and propels any band he plays with to greater heights.

Now it looks like Jimmy Mac and Johnny Bee are joining forces once again in The Hell Drivers, covering their own past hits from Mitch Ryder, The Rockets and Cactus along with other Detroit legends like Scott Morgan, The Rationals, Iggy and the Stooges, The Romantics. With Marvin Conrad on bass and Jim Edwards on vocals, it’s true Detroit rock royalty.

The Hell Drivers with the Detroit arrangement of Lou’s “Rock’N’Roll“.

The Hell Drivers breathing new life into “Desire” by The Rockets.

The Hell Drivers tackle The Torpedoes “No Pills” – take that, Sex Pistols!

mccarty-bee-2009-02-28_flyer

And Mitch Ryder? He’s been making great records in Germany for the last thirty years. He can still rock it and he can still sing sweet soul music. I cannot wait to hear The Promise – the record he’s making with Don Was – but ‘ll be writing a full piece on the man and his career another day.

Live cut of Mitch performing “Devil With A Blue Dress” from a while back featuring that classic Johnny Bee drum break.

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Under The Radar: The Muggs

Rock didn't die. Not in Detroit, anyway.

Rock didn't die. Not in Detroit, anyway.

If you were wondering why no one seems to be carrying the torch for bands like Cactus and The James Gang and Humble Pie, you can stop. The Muggs play white-hot power trio blues rock like the aforementioned bands did; timeless riff-dominated, air-guitar, roll-down-the-window-and-blast-it glorious rock’n’roll…and they’re from Detroit, natch! But their brand of hard rock is an organic outgrowth from the classic origins, not an exhumation of days gone by. It’s somehow simultaneously fiery and tasty, subtle yet hammer headed. And my god, does it sound great when you play it loud.

(Hear some live Muggs from Can You Hear Me TV.)

The Muggs are a three-headed force of nature that share both musical and personal chemistry – the backstory to the band is as incredible as the music. Bass player Tony DiNardo suffered a severe stroke in 2001 that left him paralyzed on his right side and unable to speak. Unwilling to consider replacing him, his bandmates waited two years while he recovered and taught himself how to play the bass lines on a Fender Rhodes Mark 1 (and no, you can’t tell the difference). So now drummer Matt Rost locks down the groove with DiNardo once more, which frees up guitar monster Danny Methric (also the axeman for The Paybacks) so he can flat out wail. I could tell you their whole story, but why not  let the boys speak for themselves. 

They’ve won a slew of local awards, are getting great press and are building up a fanbase, but they probably have more fans in Europe than they do here in the States. Did we learn nothing from Jimi Hendrix? Apparently not…Mitch Ryder still lives and record in Germany because sometimes they just don’t get it over here. And no, they didn’t win The Next Great American Band contest – how could they? The Muggs play rock’n’roll music

The Muggs on MySpace.  Buy The Muggs and On With The Show.

The Muggs website is here. No, they are not the ugliest band in the world. Don’t make me name the band that is.

Muggly

Muggly

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Blast From The Past: Cactus

As much as I love new bands that are plowing and mining their Dad’s record collections – there are worse things than reinventing Humble Pie, Zeppelin and The Faces – it would be nice to go back and give credit to the lesser known masters. For me, that’s Cactus.

Here’s a review of the recently released live album plus a link to a feature I wrote for Pop Culture Press when I interviewed Carmine Appice. You really need to get the DVD of the show I saw in NYC a couple of summers ago, but hopefully something will finally surface featuring Rusty Day and a fearless Jim McCarty lighting crowds on fire.

 

Blow your mind in color

Blow your mind in color

CACTUS

Fully Unleashed: The Live Gigs, Vol. 2 (Rhino Handmade) 

http://www.rhinohandmade.com/

The miracle continues. After 35+ years of existing primarily in the rapidly deteriorating brain cells of those who witnessed the magic, Rhino Handmade has added the third two-CD collection of rediscovered, remastered Cactus magic, this time from a barn-burning concert at a suburban Buffalo rock hole called Gilligan’s. A horribly recorded (and incomplete) bootleg has been circulating for years among collectors. But this version – recorded by Eddie Kramer on the Electric Ladyland mobile unit – is a sparkling and riveting document that should erase any doubt that Cactus were once the biggest baddest blues/boogie mofos walking the Earth.

Opening (as they often did) with a Fudge-like version of “Long Tall Sally”, this 1971 show finds the band blistering tracks from their first three albums as well as a couple of unrecorded rarities (“Mellow Down Easy”) and covers (“What’d I Say”). Augmented by second guitarist Ron Leejack, Jim McCarty got a chance to really cut loose on his solos; “Scrambler/One Way Or Another” is astounding. Between the heavy thunder of the Vanilla Fudge rhythm section, McCarty’s axe pyrotechnics and vocalist Rusty Day’s front man prowess, a mortal audience didn’t stand a chance. Sure there’s a drum solo – it is 1971, after all – but this bittersweet document will make you wonder what might have been if the core could have stuck it out a little longer. Wildman Day was soon forced out of the band, a frustrated McCarty then left to form/join The Rockets, and Bogert and Appice bailed after one more lineup to join Jeff Beck, which imploded even faster.

Rhino Handmade releases well made limited edition packages that often sell out quickly. The two prior Cactus sets, long out of print, fetch in excess of $100 on the market. I highly advise that interested parties grab this latest gem before they finish reading this magazine.

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