“We Got Cactus,” Bloodspasm (1985)

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phoenix new times
February 9th– February 15th, 2012
“We Got Cactus,” Bloodspasm (1985)
Bloodspasm tore up a series of now-closed Tucson clubs and
house parties with blistering hardcore punk starting in the mid1980s. But the band’s lasting mark is surely “We Got Cactus,”
a song that exemplifies life as a desert rat, a local classic that’s
endured for nearly three decades in its original wild and boisterous form as well as newer country-rock and folk versions.
[“We Got Cactus” was covered in 2004 by Al Perry (pictured
at right) and in 2010 by The Dusty Buskers.]
The song tells the story of Tucson in 1985, with a
sarcastic and self-deprecating pride that focuses almost
entirely on the seemingly negative aspects of the city. And
in comparison to the glamorous attractions of other cities
— surfing, nightlife, lakes, beaches, all that Tucson can claim
is cactus.
“In terms of modern Arizona, there’s not a song that
nails it better than that,” says Al Perry, a longtime Tucson
musician who covered “We Got Cactus” on his 2004 album Always a Pleasure. “It perfectly encapsulates life in
Tucson, and it works so well on every level. There will never
be a more accurate portrait of Tucson. That song is the beginning and the end.”
Bloodspasm singer Bob McKinley says he wrote the lyrics to “We Got Cactus” in about five minutes one night over
a pitcher of beer at the Bay Horse Tavern. Bandmate Eric
Snyder already had the music, and the song just fell together
“It’s nothing really cosmic or anything — just my observations of the city,” McKinley says. “You look at Tucson, and
that’s about what I saw. It’s about being young, and I think
it hits the pulse of what was going on in Tucson at the time.”
Bloodspasm’s original 1985 version, which saw a wider
release on the 1993 compilation Yeah, But It’s A Dry Heat,
clocks in at 1:18, a breakneck pace the whole way. Perry’s
rendition stretches things out to 3:29.
“‘We Got Cactus’ is the ultimate Arizona and Tucson
song,” says Perry, a member of the Tucson Music Hall of Fame,
a weekly DJ on community radio station KXCI, and an enthusiastic collector of Arizona music. “It hit me right off the bat.
1958: “Rebel Rouser,” Duane Eddy, single (Jamie)
1958: “Need You,” Donnie Wood, single
1959: “Night Beat,” The Nightbeats, featuring Pete Ronstadt, single (Zoom)
1960: “How Many Times,” Patti LaSalle, single (MCI)
1961: “Cookin’,” Al Casey Combo, single (Ramco)
1962: “Working on a Building of Praise,” Reverend Louis Overstreet, single (Arhoolie)
1962: “Son, Don’t Go Near the Indians,” Rex Allen, single (Mercury)
1963: “Drifting Heart,” Roosevelt Nettles, single (Chess)
1965: “It (Ain’t No Big Thing),” The Jordan Brothers (Id)
1965: “Why Don’t You Love Me?” The Spiders , featuring Alice Cooper, single
( Mascot)
1966: “Funky Broadway,” Dyke and the Blazers (Artco)
1966: “El Mosquito,” Eddie Dimas & The Upsets, single (Cristy)
1968: “Oh No,” Mike Condello, Phase One (Sceptre)
1968: “Ho Ho, Ha Ha, Hee Hee, Ha Ha” (theme from The Wallace and Ladmo
Show), Mike Condello
1969: “Standing on the Corner,” Michael Liggins and the Soulsations, single (Ramco)
1969: “Function Underground,” We the People, single (Mighty)
“Found Out About You”
Gin Blossoms, Dusted
(1989, San Jacinto)
Having spent close to 15 years booking the old
Long Wong’s on Mill Avenue, Sara Cina played
a huge role in Tempe’s vibrant music heyday of
the ‘90s. She was as much a part of the venerated Mill Avenue dive — an epicenter of the
jangle-pop era that hosted local heavyweights
like The Refreshments, The Beat Angels, and
Dead Hot Workshop seven nights a week for
more than a decade — as its graffiti-covered
ceiling or the colorful mural of memorable
regular Elvis “The Cat” Del Monte. As such,
her favorite locally produced song from the
last century is one of the bigger hits by Long
Wong’s most favorite sons. Namely, “Found
Out About You” by Gin Blossoms.
Written in the late ‘80s by the late
Doug Hopkins, a founding member of the
band who penned most of their early hits,
the melancholic song first appeared on the
band’s debut album, Dusted, and later was
one of the hit singles (second only to “Hey
Jealousy”) on its breakthrough 1993 disc,
New Miserable Experience
Owning up to her longtime friendship
with Hopkins, who endured a lifelong battle
with depression and committed suicide in
1993 after being kicked out of the band
due to his alcoholism, Cina says she’d heard
the wistful lyrics and ambling, melancholic
chords long it became a Billboard hit and a
staple of alt-rock radio. “Doug wrote that
song before . . . everything,” she says.
“It even predates the Gin Blossoms. I
know what it’s about. I know who he wrote
it for.”
It’s always been a very personal and
beautiful song for her, she says.
“It’s always had a different meaning
to me. It’s as if it were a person, someone
who I knew when it was very little before
they grow up and go off and succeed in the
world,” Cina says. “I’ve watched a lot of really great bands write songs, but not many
of those songs [have] gone out into the
world to be heard by lots and lots of people.”
— Benjamin Leatherman
The greatest songs you can write are the ones that stick right
in your head. It’s not just a song — it’s an anthem. Plus, with
the local lyrics, you’ve got something that’s very special.
“The thing about that song is it will be great no matter
what style you record it in. We could make a disco version
of this and it’d sound great. It passes every test you would
want to make of a great song.”
Perry recorded his own version of “We Got Cactus” at
the end of a WaveLab Studio session with Calexico’s Joey
Burns and John Convertino. He lifted the country-ish arrangement from Tucson’s Slack Mac, whose version Perry
heard in the late 1990s.
“It never occurred to me until we were sitting in the studio
and we needed one more song. All of a sudden it went viral.
It took on a life of its own after we did it. I cannot go out and
do a gig without somebody requesting that song. Everybody
associates this song with me, but I didn’t do a thing. I didn’t
write it, I didn’t arrange it, I just sang it at one session.”
The Dusty Buskers, a bluegrass/folk/Celtic combo, fell in
love with Perry’s rendition and arranged a version for a November 2010 gig — “Locals Covering Locals,” in celebration
of the 10th anniversary of Fourth Avenue nightclub Plush.
“It’s regional pride. It’s totally a townie folk anthem,”
says Phoenix Michael, the Buskers’ fiddler and singer.
“Everyone else has this fancy stuff and what do we have?
Cactus. It’s self-deprecating, but it’s always the things we
like about Tucson.”
— Eric Swendlund,
Catfish Mustache music blog
1972: “Bullets Don’t Have Eyes,” Eddie & Ernie (unreleased)
1972: “Tuba City,” Dolan Ellis, single (Capo)
1972: “When I Start Drinkin’,” Vernon Wray, Wasted (self-released)
1973: “Western Winds,” Hans Olson, Western Winds (Joplin)
1975: “White Punks on Dope,” The Tubes, The Tubes (A&M)
1977: “Teen Love Song,” The Consumers, All My Friends Are Dead (In the Red)
1978: “Naomi’s Song,” Jerry Riopelle, Live in the Round (Little Eskimo)
1979: “Tonight,” Blue Shoes, single (self-released)
1980: “Jesus Entering from the Rear,” The Feederz, Jesus (Anxiety)
1981: “Arizona, I Love You,” Rex Allen Jr. (declared the unofficial state anthem)
1981: “Do the Hannigan,” JFA, Blatant Localism (Placebo)
1981: “Bombs Away,” Loosely Tight, Fightin’ Society (Star Struck)
1982: “Low Rider Rap,” Poor Boy Rappers, single (Raina)
1982: “I Love You,” The Jetzons, Made in America (self-released)
1982: “Monster Stomp,” Grant and the Geezers, single (self-released)
1983: “Out Out!” Tone Set, Calibate (MLP)
1983: “Death Song — Lament,” R. Carlos Nakai, Changes (Canyon)
1983: “Open the Door,” Gentlemen Afterdark, EP (self-released)