An Interview with Randy Pratt of Cactus

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Randy Pratt Bio

Randy Pratt is a veteran of the scene, whose career has spanned over many genres, including Rock, Funk, and a touch of Soul. His eclectic personality and overlapping tastes have spawned an exciting career in music.

Having been mostly responsible for the initial reunion of legendary Hard Rock band Cactus, it’s only fitting that he would eventually join the band as their harmonica player as well.

Today, I’ve got Randy Pratt with us. We chat about Cactus’ new record, Tightrope, his early days as a musician, his rigorous practice schedule, getting Cactus back together and his opinions on the band’s musical legacy. If you would like to learn more about Cactus, head over to their website here. Cheers.

Andrew:
Randy, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year. What have you been doing to pass the time?

Randy:
My wife, Joy, and I became Nevada residents last year. We didn’t expect to spend the summer in the desert, but I guess our initiation is complete. I’ve actually had to do something I’ve avoided since I started recording in the 80s…learning how to DO it. I’ve built a small but hi-tech little studio here and am learning how to make music with people who are far, far away. I’m a bass player, too…Cactus made a man out of me on the harp.

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. How did you get into music? What was the gateway, so to speak?

Randy:
When I saw The Beatles picture on the cover of LIFE magazine, I was in 5th grade; my DNA shifted forever. Before I even HEARD them. I got very serious around 1980. I hadn’t picked up harp yet, but moved into NYC in ’78, when it was the center of the Rock universe, got the right haircut and shoes, quit drinking, and started practicing…A LOT. I had to be in 6 bands at once to get them to pay the rent on my rehearsal space.

Andrew:
As an artist and bassist, who were some of your earliest and more important influences? What was it that made you pick up the bass?

Randy:
Honestly, when I became aware of the details of music, Tim Bogert was and REMAINED my favorite bassist…I liked Glenn Hughes in Trapeze and Andy Fraser of Free; interestingly, both Glenn and Tim told me Andy was one of THEIR favorites…must be a connecting thread. I picked up bass because a guy I looked up to in High School told me, “Play bass…it’s easier”…it isn’t, but I’m glad I did. I think in BASS now.

Cactus – Tightrope (CD) Pre-Order – Cleopatra Records Store

Andrew:
Let’s dive in and talk about Cactus’ new album, Tightrope. Tell us about the recording and inspiration.

Randy:
I actually thought we were finished when Jim McCarty had to retire for physical reasons. Pete wanted to only play bass in Vanilla Fudge…but Carmine is still a kid, so he had a lot more to say. He’d been talking about this guy Paul Warren for a while, how much he loved his playing. This is insane because I’m known for being the sternest of taskmasters in my own bands, as far as REHEARSING, or OVER REHEARSING. We’d chosen a new lineup and booked a short tour of Europe, which happened to fall the week before Joy’s and my honeymoon. As it turned out…we didn’t get ONE rehearsal… we just met at the airport, went to Germany, got onstage, and played a 2 1/2 hour set…FLAWLESSLY! I’ve got the videos to prove it. INSANE!!! Pros do their HOMEWORK!!!

Andrew:
My understanding is that you are heavily influenced by the Blues and Funk. Is that right? How much of an influence were those genres on you during the recording of the new record?

Randy:
I love the Blues, but Blues based heavy riff Rock, 70s style, and F.U.N.K., like James Brown, Sly Stone, Parliament….I want to be at the sweet spot where Black Sabbath and James Brown meet. That’s my credo. I DID NOT learn harp by listening to harp players. I first played in a popular NYC old-time Jazz and Blues band that was just harp, a drum kit with snare, bass drum, and high hat, and a piano player with a great left hand. I just started playing all the bass and rhythm parts. I got my chops pretty good, played a lot every day, but finally, the Cactus guys said, “Randy…listen to the old guys…play LESS and dirtier.” So, I actually found an old dog CAN learn OLD tricks. Carmine still likes the rhythm stuff… it sounds like a clavinet on a good night.

Andrew:
How about songwriting? How did these tracks come together? How does the songwriting process work in Cactus? Do you write together as a band, or do you all bring in your separate parts and then hash it out?

Randy:
Carmine wanted a new record. Since I reformed the band in my studio, in 2005…by tricking them into a room together…the magic was there waiting all those years…I always assumed every gig might be the last, but Carmine doesn’t know how to quit. As it turned out, they  wrote and recorded it in my NY basement while I was stuck in Vegas. I did my harp down here but rerecorded it last time Joy, and I were in NY. It’s different, but it’s “equal”…maybe a progression in some ways. The new guys do TOTAL justice to the old material.

CACTUS Announce New Lineup & European Tour Dates

Andrew:
Your new record also has some interesting features, including a guest appearance from Phill Naro. How did Phil become involved with the project?

Randy:
Jimmy Kunes was unavailable to put a vocal on an outtake from our last record, Black Dawn…Carmine knew and liked Phil. I haven’t met him, but I love what he did with the track…so does Jimmy Kunes! How cool is THAT!

Andrew:
Cactus has long been referred to as “The American Led Zeppelin.” What are your thoughts on the title?

Randy:
I think, at the time, I can see why the press said that. I can’t think of another 3 piece with a singer who could jam OUT like those 2 bands…I don’t want to offend anyone, but to ME, Cactus made Cream sound sedate. There was nothing called “METAL” in 1970, but Cactus was groping towards it. They were only together for 2 years and did hundreds of high-profile gigs and recorded 3 MASTERPIECE albums…and one “other” album with a short-lived different lineup. Who knows how far they’d have gone if they’d stayed together.

Andrew:
Aside from music, what else are you most passionate about and why? How do your other passions inform and inspire your music?

Randy:
I have what MUST be one of the biggest libraries on music bios and history. I’m reading 3 at any given time, plus every music magazine. I have a hectic writing and recording life. I wrote most of the lyrics for my music for 40 years…after writing an entire album of love songs to my wife; I’ve turned that mostly over to a singer I’ve been making some INTENSE music with for years now. It’s written bass or bass/drums first, then vocals, then guitar and keyboards. It’s heavy funky riff Rock, but I’ve BURIED myself in effects pedals since retiring from being “Bandleader, psychiatrist, whip cracker, stylist and conceptualist” for 40 years of constant musical adventures. Now, I write much more, and our house is no longer like a college dorm, 7 days a week. I study the art of making love very seriously, as well.

CACTUS ROCKS

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music? What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Randy:
I was the last guy to stop buying vinyl, the last guy to stop buying and making CDs…actually, I DO still make them…for YOU. I want to use the most efficient means to get my thoughts heard. I’m not into making my studios “museums”…my bass and wardrobe collections, Yes, but not the recording gear…totally UP TO DATE…for my 1960 Precision bass and my ’64 T-Bird bass…both original RED!!

Andrew:
Cactus has this wonderful new album set for release, and you still aren’t sure if you can tour, right? What’s it like being in that kind of limbo?

Randy:
I’m never “in limbo.” I have an ambitious routine of practice, recording, and exercise…and whatever my wife wants me to do…I’m NEVER bored…I find myself endlessly amusing and fascinating. LOL.

Andrew:
Looking back at the catalog of Cactus, where will Tightrope fall when the dust settles? How does it compare to the band’s earlier work, such as Cactus and One Way…or Another?

Randy:
Tightrope stands tall beside the bands other historic recordings…no problem there. A natural progression, with total respect for the past.

Andrew:
Last question. What are your thoughts on where the Rock scene stands today? What advice would you have for young musicians?

Randy:
The days of rock stars living in castles and driving Rolls Royces are over…except for Carmine…”The Godfather.” If you’re in it for the money, forget it. It’s an addiction. A HAPPY ADDICTION. Glenn Hughes once called Carmine “The Last Man Playing.” Carmine smiled when I told him that, so he might just be that guy. From what I hear of new music, in general, I’d just say, “They don’t call it “CLASSIC ROCK for nothing.” I AM gonna write with a young Hip-Hop singer I met…my mind isn’t “closed.”

Cactus at the Magic Bag in Ferndale, MI on 11-Apr-2015 - National Rock  Review
Image Credit: National Rock Review

Interested in learning more about the work of Cactus? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

About Post Author

Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.
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