Jim McCarty

Jeff Beck postponed his plans to team up with drummer Carmine Appice and bassist Tim Bogert when he was sidelined by a car accident in 1970. Consequently, the ex-Vanilla Fudge rhythm section chose Motor City wunderkind Jim McCarty to fill the hot guitarist spot in their new band, Cactus. McCarty had cut his teeth with Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels—powering hits such as “Jenny Take a Ride” and “Devil With a Blue Dress On” while still in his teens—and the Buddy Miles Express (where he frequently crossed paths with Jimi Hendrix, who co-produced the band’s debut album). Originally hailed as the “American Led Zeppelin,” Cactus released several albums of high-energy blues-rock before disbanding in 1972.
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“It was an experiment that never really worked out,” observes McCarty. “There were some interesting moments—along with a lot of banging heads together—but the band developed a cult following after it broke up.”

Partially in response to that cult status, the group reformed recently and released Cactus V [Escapi]—an album that’s surprisingly reminiscent of its ’70s-era recordings. Vocalist Jimmy Kunes replaced the late Rusty Day, but the rhythm section still boogies hard, and McCarty’s fat and fiery Les Paul tones still abound.

“In certain ways, I like this CD better than the old stuff,” enthuses McCarty. “Obviously, it doesn’t have quite the edge as when we were 25, but, to me, these are better songs, and the playing is much more controlled.”

McCarty cut the basic tracks with a ’54 Gibson Les Paul Junior and other gear provided by studio owner Randy Pratt.

“The Junior had a P-90 with a sound as thick as a brick,” says McCarty, “and we plugged into various amps—including a Matchless combo, a purple Soldano head into a 50-watt Marshall cab, and an old Hiwatt that was so beat up it rattled. The majority of the overdubbed solos were done with my ’59 Gibson Les Paul Standard, and I used a ’56 Les Paul gold-top with P-90s for the slide stuff.”

Pedals used on the recording included a Menatone Red Snapper overdrive, and McCarty’s staples: a Keeley-modded Tube Screamer and a Tube Works Tube Driver. Pratt also supplied a bevy of vintage pedals—including an ultra-rare, original Ampeg Scrambler [less than 2000 were manufactured in 1969] that McCarty used to craft his distinctive tones back in the ’70s.

“You’ve got to use the Scrambler to get the Cactus sound,” he reveals. “I was about the only one using it at the time.”

Between incarnations of Cactus, McCarty played on albums by Bob Seeger and Bob “Catfish” Hodge, worked for ten years with Detroit rockers, Rocket, and fronted his current band, Mystery Train—a group that plays a mix of blues and rock, and once backed the late bluesman Willie “D” Warren in the studio.

“Willie was the real deal,” says McCarty. “I’m really proud of that album, because that’s not a ‘blues-rock’ album, that’s my blues album.”

When playing the blues, McCarty relies on vintage Fender amps, such as a recently reconditioned ’65 Pro Reverb. “I use a Marshall when performing with Cactus,” he says. “But you can���t beat old Fenders for the blues.”