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Old 07-06-2016, 02:03 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Cactus Interviews Part I: Rusty Day

(All credit for my having found this goes to

December 1979. Interview by Patti Mixon.

FreeBird Magazine, Sanford, Florida

"An Interesting Day In The Life Of Rock..."

On the way to Rusty Day's house I started thinking about the first time I had seen him. It was last summer at a little club that was accommodating far more people than it was originally designed to hold. On stage there was Rusty - singing, shouting, clapping, stomping his feet, and occasionally leaving leaving the ground. He was so energetic, he had everyone clapping, stomping and shouting right along with him. He changed over to a syncopated ballad or blues tune and still kept everyone entertained.

As Max and I made our way down the country roads that led to Rusty's house, I was wondering what he was going to be like. Did he really have as much energy and lust for a good time as he projected on stage? Did he have that great sense of humor that can be found in his lyrics? Is Rusty Day, the man, anything like Rusty Day the performer?

As we got out of the car in front of his house I was beginning to feel just the least bit nervous, as I usually do before an interview, when I saw Rusty coming out to greet us. He looked much like what I had expected, with his shoulder length brown hair and full beard that covers his neck. He was wearing a blue flannel shirt and jeans with a red handkerchief protruding from his back pocket like an auto mechanic.

After we had exchanged howdies, Rusty, accompanied by his dog Pluto, led us inside. As we walked in, Rusty kicked off his blue suede tennis shoes and told us to make ourselves comfortable.

The house was very spacious. I made my way to one of the three sofas that surrounded the room. Rusty must like to collect things, I thought to myself, because there were little gadgets and knick-knacks all over the room. There were also cactus plants of every description in one of the corners by a window.

Rusty walked over to the stereo and clicked on an old blues tune as Pluto made himself comfortable at our feet.

"Ask me what this record is," he said grinning. "Okay, Rusty what record is that?" "That is the first album I was ever presented," as he sat down on the edge of the couch in front of me. "It was given to me by my father, it was Jimmy Reed's first album. Jimmy Reed's a great harmonica player and lyricist. He's one of my idols."

I sat there a minute as he and Max talked getting into the music. It was really nice and relaxing just as I had found Rusty to be.

"Where would you like for me to start?" he asked moving even closer to the edge of his seat.

"Why don't you start where you think the beginning is."

"Well," he said settling back in his seat, "I really started off as a drummer who sang. I started playing drums around five or six years old and just started beating on things and got drums when I was nine. I was winning talent contests. I'd play the drums and sing Jerry Lee Lewis songs. So, by the time I was thirteen I was playing in bands with older guys. That was when you didn't get home until three in the morning," he said smiling.

Rusty was working around Detroit playing and singing with his own bands

when he was offered a chance to go to California.

"I got offered to start a band with some good players backing up Johnny Rivers or something like that in about 1966," he said. I interrupted, "During the Beach Boy era?" "It was more like LSD I think," he answered. "Anyway, I went from Detroit to Hollywood and did some recording at Leon Russell's house, playing drums. At that time he was still a producer for Gary Lewis (and the Playboys). But there was a lot of people around that house I get pretty good, like Delaney & Bonnie for instance.

"While I was there I played with some great guys though. We had a great time. We played like seven days a week and a Sunday matinee and recorded four days a week. So it was a lot of playing and we could only make about twelve dollars a night. We had to divide that between a seven piece band but it was fun. That was where I saw my first all naked dancer. We would play while the girls were dancing," he said half smiling. "It was at a place called Carol's Cottontail. It was a hip club I'm telling you. Leon Russell used to come in and play organ with us in there. Bobby Keys was in the band, it was called the International Clique because we had a black guy, a Jewish guy, and a hillbilly. It had a little bit of everything."

"While I was there I played this all black club called Watt's Mozambique. It was an exclusive club, only the elite criminals could get in. One night Stevie Wonder showed up wearing a pink-orange suit. Everything he was wearing was the same color even his shoes and socks. Now get this, he was eating a dreamsicle and was even the same color. It was worth seeing, believe me."

After California, Rusty went back to Detroit to apply what was going on in California to what was happening there. But they were two completely different places.

"It's cold in Detroit... hard to get around. I put an ad in the newspaper and Detroit Wheels answered my ad. Mitch Rider and the Detroit Wheels," he reminisced. "They were the first Detroit band to really hit. They were selling billion sellers in '66."

Mitch Rider had left the Detroit Wheels and they needed a singer, so they asked Rusty if he would like to fill the position. In 1967 Rusty stood up from the drums and became a frontman for the Wheels. He also got to sharpen his harmonica skills.

"I got to come out from behind the drums and develop my harp a little more and, better than that, I got to scream my ass off." About two years later, the lead guitar player got hepatitis the day after the group had signed a deal with Roulette Records.

"He turned chartreuse," said Rusty running his hand across his beard. "He had to be flown home in a bag almost. He was really sick, so that whole deal fizzled."

Soon afterward, Rusty was walking down the street in New York, when a limo pulled up to the curb. Out of the limo walked a parade of hippies, one of whom was a bass player Rusty had known in Detroit.

"I shouted, 'Hey, what's happening'," he said waving his arms in the air. "And the guy yells back, 'I'm recording albums with the 'Amboy Dukes', I said Oh yeah... The Amboy Dukes, I've heard some of their records...pretty good. 'Journey to the Center of your Mind' was pretty big at that time. So he said 'what are you doin', and I said I'm doing nothing.' The band's broke up, Howard Johnson's has a hold on the limo, you can't get anything out of the rooms or anything. It was about $57 bucks a day just for a single. Anyway I got out of there alive."

"I heard the Amboy Dukes were doing an album and they hated their lead singer. If they could find anyone to take his place, Ted Nugent would be the one. Ted knew me as being part of the Detroit scene and what was happening there. I played with everyone in Detroit. They asked me and I went with them and we did this album "Migration," and a few concerts after that."

"The Amboy Dukes did the first Miami Pop Festival in 1967. Rusty recalls it as being one of the high points in his life. Actually jumping in with Nugent and recording was a great experience as well as a fond memory, but professionally limiting.

"It was really great with Nugent, it was his lyrics and mainly his tunes, that's the way he wanted it and that's basically what led me to leaving that trip. He doesn't need anyone else. He can do the whole thing from a booking to checking in at the motels to figuring taxes to writing every song, every note."

So Rusty headed back to Detroit once again where he got a band together called the Dealers Blues Band. But he found that it was really hard to start from scratch since he had just been in one of the top groups in the country.

"It's really hard to start where everyone else starts from," he said, "where you have to scrounge up a P.A. and an amp and get stuff that's clean enough to wear so the bar owner won't throw you out."

"Well we tried it and failed. That was my try at a communal band where you get a farm house and everyone lives together and shares the same diseases and everything. It was a disaster. I had no money, my first girlfriend up in Detroit had just given birth to my son Jocko. I had no dough and no place to go."

"But, as always, things started looking up. Within a week, Rusty got a call from Carmine Appice who was then the drummer for the Vanilla Fudge. Also on the phone was the bass player, Tim Bogart. They wanted Rusty to help form a new group that would later be known as Cactus.

"Cactus was the band I started. They asked me how soon I could get there to meet them. I said when is the next plane. After only three months we had the first album together."

James "Jim" McCarty and Rusty wrote all the material for the three Cactus albums that were done by the original band: "Cactus," "One way or Another," and "Restrictions." Cactus was also featured on the "Great Pop Festival of the 70's lp.

"The whole Cactus phase was unbelievably terrific. The amount of energy those guys could generate was fantastic. It was the first time I really had a chance to use all the lyrics, poems, thoughts and ideas I had been saving for about five or six years. I had been with a lot of bands but this was the first time I could totally use what I had to give. But to do it professionally was a thrill, where you recorded everything you rehearsed, studied that and went home and picked the good parts and created music right there."

Cactus did well on their first tour, they opened for Jimi Hendrix, Steve Miller and the Grateful Dead in nine outdoor arenas. The second year Cactus toured Europe.

"We did the biggest pop festival ever held in Europe," he said, "The Isle of Wight. There were a lot more people there than there should have been. It was too small a place. I'll tell you though, that was the real pinnacle of my career."

Most of us remember Jimi Hendrix as a performer but Rusty remembers him as a person.

"We were with Jimi Hendrix at the last gig. The next morning they found him dead. We idolized him... everyone idolized him. I knew the girls that killed him. By that I mean that furnished him with the pure heroine and the Maytrex (the equivalent of about 2 quaaludes)."

Not long after Hendrix died, so did Cactus.

"You can tell on the first album that we were trying so hard to be good, and we were full of so much energy that it would sometimes come out sounding abrasive. At any rate Cactus folded. Our bass player quit; he couldn't understand how Carmine played. It was like Carmine could never measure up to what he wanted. But he (Carmine) was great to the rest of us. He used to play eight tom-toms at once. The octopus sets have his picture on them even now.

"Florida is a big treat for us all," he said changing the subject, "cause it's like the circus coming to town. Everybody down here is so relaxed 'til when there is a chance to go out people really get down. I've been here for three years, I bought this house," he said proudly. "I wrote 'Detroit Detroit,' it's a blues tune and the wrap up verse says 'I don't know why in the world I keep coming back to you.' I'd rather sweat down here in Florida."

There was a long pause, then Rusty got up and headed toward the kitchen. "Would anyone like anything to drink?" In a few minutes he emerged with three glasses and a bottle of wine. Pluto, who had been sleeping now got up and sniffed the glass of wine Rusty poured.

"Pluto, here, is a Rhodesian Ridgeback hound. His real name is Sir Pluto The Nightstalker of Stalkmore. Stalkmore is a kennel in Ontario where I drove his mother to get screwed to make him," he said laughing. "When I passed through the Canada border, the guy asked me what I'd been doing and I said getting my dog bred, and said 'Oh, okay!' "

"Did you know that particular place where you crossed was a popular place in the sixties for draft dodgers to cross into Canada?" Max asked. "Not at the time, no," Rusty said. "But I'll tell you how I got out of going. I knew I couldn't go and I was playing in this bar at the time so I advertised in the bar for anyone who knew anybody at the draft board who could get me out. It took about two weeks but I got a response. To make a long story short I paid the guy $250 who was grading the test.

"Let me get back to my story now," he said. "After the breakup of Cactus I went back to Detroit and got in with a band called Detroit. Steve Gaines was in the band with me. I wrote a verse to one of his songs:

"I don't need change,
I want folding money.
I want a lover,
Not a buddy."

"When I met Steve he was broke, had no job and I started trying to get him into a band. I also told him that he and Teresa could stay in the basement of my house. I had it fixed up nice. As a matter of fact Teresa found out that she was pregnant at that time. She spent 30 days with morning sickness down there."

Steve Gaines died as a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd when their plane crashed two years ago (10/20/1977). Also killed were his older sister Cassie Gaines on backup vocals, founder Ronnie VanZant on lead vocals, road manager Dean Kilpatrick, pilot Walter McGreary, and co-pilot John Gray Jr. "You know," said Rusty, telling how he felt about Steve perishing on the plane crash, "Steve really had some good stuff. He's probably got enough for three solo albums. That whole thing was just bad timing."

"Anyway everybody sort of faded away from that band and went their separate ways. That was a good band with good musicians. I still hope to record some of the stuff."

Since that time Rusty has focused on jamming with different people. He's looking for musicians who live in Florida, because that was one of the main reasons Cactus broke up after it was reformed here in Florida. The musicians couldn't function that well as musicians knowing that their families were in Detroit, Michigan.

Just recently Rusty went and jammed with the Rossington-Collins Band, formed by the survivors of the earlier mentioned Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash (note, the same crash that took Steve Gaines's life).

"They are such nice people; they really make you feel at home. The guitar players were really hot. It was great. We would talk for twenty minutes and jam for twenty minutes then talk some more. They want to play and everybody keeps telling them to play. But in some ways they are not ready. What most people want is a replacement band for Lynyrd Skynyrd or for Ronnie VanZant for that matter. I can't see them doing that. I just couldn't feel right about doing that." Rusty has some definite plans and goals for himself. if everything goes as planned he would like to get something together before Christmas.

"I plan to go to the studio and put down at least twenty minutes, three or five tunes, but I'd really like to get something going before next year. As far as playing in front of people, I don't know, I want to work on it from the recording angle right now. Mainly because I've burned out about three sets of musicians trying to do the Cactus thing. Trying to redo it, that is. The studio is about the only place where you can do the right amount of work for the amount of money, instead of doing all that roadwork. That can really be tough on a person."

"I know something is going to happen, I'm just not going to force it. I'm not a pusher. I don't like to push things. I'm a song writer, I play harmonica and drums. I sing blues, R&B, and high energy rock. Right now I'm just in the process of relocation." With the original Cactus, Rusty was total voice. The songs were his songs.

"I've literally got pounds of of materials, of tunes that are ready to boom. But I'm scared a lot of times to dig up songs and redo them, because the second they could come up sour." All through the interview I found Rusty to be relaxed and easy-going, totally opposite from what he appears to be on stage. "You have to be mellow to be extroverted. If you were extroverted all the time you'd go crazy. You'd evaporate," he said. You've led such a full life and done so many things. What was the biggest moment you can think of?

"Europe was was really big. Everything was big though. I'll tell you though, the biggest thrill is hearing your tunes on the radio. I'd go out and start up the car and there on the radio would be one of my songs. It's really a thrill."

"You know Cactus opened for everyone who was big. I always wondered what made these big bands so big, so I would go out in the audience and see why they were big or if they were just kidding themselves. Most of them really had energies that you just couldn't believe." "Madison Square Garden was also a big rush. I almost vomited during the first song, I was so nerved-up."

"At the Isle of Wight there was about a half million people. That was by far the largest group I ever played for. We finally went on at 4:30 a.m. with a 45 MPH wind hitting us in the face. All the bands were so well and the people were into it so much that every band was playing way over the time they were supposed to. We played with Jethro Tull, Sly and the Family Stone, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Ten Years After, every big name group you could think of. That was a great experience, those are happy memories."

At this point I decided that I had better wrap things up. Jimmy Reed had stopped playing his harmonica and singing the blues and the time had flown. Is there something in particular that you would like to say that maybe you haven't had the chance to yet?

"There sure is," he said jumping in. "I have a message to musicians or people surrounding musicians who have just started out. If they are doing it for money, drugs, or girls, they're doing it for the wrong reason.

They've got to have a legitimate message that is positive. You have to have a plan, a schedule or goal and work toward it and take your time. I see young guys throwing things across dressing rooms because something didn't go right. it only makes fools out of them and it never helps the situation. If an amp blows, or something like that, you have to learn to handle it. I was young once and I did many of the same things, but now I can look back and see the mistakes. You have to learn from experience."

At age 31, Rusty Day has given himself totally to his music for more than half of his life, and he has learned what it takes to turn an audience on. "I'm a lyricist not a puppet or a song stylist, someone who does other people's songs. Over two-thirds of my life has been dedicated to music and entertainment. You've got to like to entertain people. You can't go in with your eyes closed in your little dream trip. You've got to entertain them, that's the key. The end result is to have everyone yelling 'More! More!' When that happens you've done your job," he says looking satisfied.

End of Interview

Transcribed by Kent Griffith

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Old 04-24-2017, 10:54 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Thank you for posting this. Rusty Day was great, one of the best ever.
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amboy dukes, cactus, rusty day

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