On April 29th, 2017, Toledo based band Cactus Jack played their first gig together at The Sodbuster in Sylvania. From then on, the band has achieved local success playing shows in the Greater Toledo area. On April 29th of this year, Cactus Jack marked their five-year anniversary with a show at that same venue where it all began. Their Sodbuster anniversary show was a celebration of the band’s local success, as well as an homage to the Toledo fans, venues, and institutions who have supported them over the years.
Cactus Jack has five members: Riley Maxwell, Hank Walker, Stephan Mizer, John Jerabek, and Currey Long. The origin story is one many bands share– a group of local musicians who knew one another through mutual friends and through the Toledo music scene decided to jam together.
“After a month of jammin’ we were like, let’s book a gig,” Mizer, the band’s drummer and lead vocalist said.
At the first Sodbuster gig, Mizer said the band played covers by The Grateful Dead, Steve Miller Band, Santana, and ELO, but they also had “five originals, all of which we still play.”
Welcome to Jackland
Five years later, the band has become a “torchbearer [for] playing original music and showing that there’s a demand for it,” Maxwell, guitarist and vocalist said.
“People want to hear our own artistic expression and not just playing other people’s songs,” Maxwell added.
One crowd favorite from the band’s repertoire is “Hippopotamus,” a groovy, catchy tune that begins with a guitar riff and segways into smooth saxophone soloing from Long.
“Hippopotamus” was included on the band’s 2020 album, Welcome to Jackland, which features 7 Cactus Jack originals. Welcome to Jackland was recorded in Toledo. Eric Sills, owner of Stone Soup Recording Studios, mixed and mastered the album.
In January of 2021, Cactus Jack recorded a second album titled On the Manistee. The album was self-recorded, with the help of sound engineer and producer Isaac Berkowitz. On the Manistee features unplugged, stripped-down original songs. Electric guitars are replaced by acoustic and rock-n-roll drums by bongos. Both albums can be found on Spotify and are available for purchase through band members. The band plans to begin recording a third album in the upcoming weeks, as well.
Mizer describes Cactus Jack as a “rootsy” jam band. “We have jazzy tunes, soulful tunes, just straight rocker songs, and some ballads,” he continued.
“I liken it to a jam band just because we kind of touch on different genres and styles,” Hank Walker said, who plays keyboard and synthesizer for the band.
Guitarist Riley Maxwell noted that Currey Long’s saxophone and flute add that jazzy element to the band’s sound.
“I always just say we’re a rock band, but we have elements of funk, jazz, and Americana. We [also] have a handful of very country or bluegrass type songs,” Maxwell said. He added that an Americana/country vibe has developed over the past couple years that wasn’t there from the start.
The majority of Cactus Jack’s songs are written by Maxwell, Walker, and Mizer; however, the group does write some songs together. Maxwell describes the collaborative songs as more “gooove-oriented,” oftentimes driven by a bass line from Jerabek.
Cactus Jack’s growth and success seems to parallel that of Toledo’s recent revitalization, Mizer noted.
“There’s a lot of support in the community. The community behind [original music]…is kind of like this hidden little gem,” Walker said.
Cactus Jack has been well-received in nearby Michigan communities, as well. They’ve played shows in Grand Rapids (MI), Ann Arbor, Muskegon, Kalamazoo, and Alaska (MI).
Visit Cactus Jack’s Facebook page for a list of upcoming shows in Toledo and the surrounding region: Facebook.com/cactusjacktoledo.