Legendary musicians come around once in a blue moon, bringing joy to their fans, giving them a new deity to worship. Some of these musical artists have actually been thought of in God like status. We put them on pedestals, raising them up high, and will imitate them as we sing to our favorite songs that have been handed down by our idols. We dance around the room in the same choreography as we try to escape reality if only for three and a half minutes. Ian Anderson is no exception. He has been classified as a genius for his great musical achievements and left his mark in musical history.
The man, the myth, and the legend of Ian Anderson has been holding the reigns of the band Jethro Tull since 1968. Every bit of the way he has been pushing the instrumentalists hard, driving them into some unbelievable acrobats of musical performance. Along the way he perfected a certain style of playing the flute that was developed originally by Roland Kirk. Sort of a way of playing, singing, and humming into the mouthpiece at times to create a unique sound that can be soothing. Ian took it one step further, all while he standing on one leg. As time moved on, he has become a hell of a showman and developed into a tremendous flautist and musician.
Since the beginning of Jethro Tull there have been a lot of members in the band, really a lot more than other bands that have been around as long as this one has. There are misconceptions that that Ian Anderson is really hard to get along with, but that is just not the case. There have been a lot of factors as to why musicians didn’t stick around. Certain past members wanted to move in a different direction musically and left for all sorts of other reasons. Ian explains, “Where I was on pretty good terms with everyone, the other members may not have gotten along well with other members in the band. There were no major conflicts or anything like that.” Explaining further with a bit of a chuckle, “If you got all the ex-members of Jethro Tull together, no one is going to die.”
Certain members of the 1970’s lineup will probably be missed the most by the fans and Ian Anderson. Jeffrey Hammond has been a lifelong friend of Ian’s. When Hammond joined the band, he made it clear that he would only stay long enough to make enough money to pursue his passion of being a painter and artist. John Evans and Barrie Barlow both left to pursue other ventures and also will be missed by their fans and friends. Some of the past members from that time were given opportunities to rejoin their former band mates, but it never panned out.
Next to Ian’s side for most of the journey has been the guitar sensation of Martin Barre. Ian was asked if he would ever tour under the name of Jethro Tull without Martin. He replied, “Playing a show without him is not something we would normally do. Had to do it a couple of times.” Ian explained that recently Martin was opening a bottle of wine and gashed his finger on one hand. He played a show with some considerable amount of pain. During the concert his stitches began to open up and caused him to bleed quite a bit. Ian’s guitar player from his solo project, Florian Opahle, caught a flight and filled in a few shows for the injured Barre. Martin recovered and returned to his spot missing only a few shows. Although Florian is an incredible guitarist, the stage left spot is missing a familiar face when Martin is not there. It just isn’t the same for the fans or for Ian not to have this mighty guitarist ripping away on the guitar du jour. Jethro Tull without Martin? It should never happen other than in these extreme situations.
Over the years there have been all sorts of talks about a feud between Ian Anderson and Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin. When asked if they ever buried the hatchet, Ian clears up this nonsense that there “Never really was a hatchet.” A reporter made a bigger deal over something Ian had commented on in the early days, that with his lyrics and the music of Led Zeppelin it would make a really good rock band. The media ran with it and it turned into a large scaled war between the two bands in the newspapers. None of which was true other than the original comment. Ian really didn’t realize at the time that he had actually in a way insulted Robert Plant’s lyric writing, which was not intentional in any way.
Before Plant had joined Led Zeppelin, he actually sat in with Jethro Tull in the early days at a show. He came out and performed with the band for a song or two in the front man position, giving the young Plant a little bit of a chance to show off his skills. Ian left the stage and let Plant perform. “I was quite jealous of his skills,” Ian humbly admits. “He is a great performer and a great guy.”
During an early tour, Tull and Zeppelin toured together, with Tull as the supporting act. Ian proclaims that he was quite impressed with Led Zeppelin and that they were “Just amazing. Best rock and roll band in the world.” All of Tull seemed to get along well with everyone in the Zeppelin camp. Ian shared, that Jimmy Page was one of the first guys to have a Polaroid camera. He would take pictures and then show off what he had done the night before.
Anderson holds that he was a bit more reserved than that. “I was a bit of a loner and wasn’t into the sex, drugs, and rock n roll. I’ve never felt obliged to be pushed into it. Wasn’t a difficult decision. Wasn’t into unbridled sex. Not something I enjoyed. Saw people around doing drugs and suffering from it. Listened to Charlie Parker and knew his lifestyle killed him. I never could be convinced that recreational drugs are ok. Some people have addictive behavior. Always feared I was one of those people.” Ian spent some time drinking beer. He smoked cigarettes for about 30 years and finally stopped. He really never would have been able to last for over forty years if he had been involved in the drug scene that went on within the hippie culture of the Sixties.
Tony Iommi briefly was one of the few guitarists Tull got with after Mick Abrahams had left. Tony played as an opening act for Tull with the musicians that eventually became Black Sabbath. Ian went to Tony and said let’s get together, run through a few songs with no strings attached. Tull’s music didn’t suit Iommi’s playing style. When Tony lost his fingertips he had to create a playing style all his own. He tailored his playing to his disability which just really didn’t quite work for Jethro Tull.
Tony did sit in on the performance for the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus where he played air guitar for Tull. They didn’t have the instruments plugged in for the show. All the musicians were just miming their parts. Ian sang over a backing track while the rest of the guys acted like they were playing. It was how things were done for some performances back then. Iommi was really quite ashamed of the fact that he wasn’t really playing. He had his hair pulled down in front of his face so you couldn’t see him.
Jethro Tull has played a few thousand concerts with a number of acts. They were an opening act, the headlining act, and every act in between. Some of their supporting acts they really liked and went on to be a big success such as; Yes, Mountain, Whitesnake, and the Eagles. Others bands just dropped by the wayside and were never heard from again. Tull also shared the stage with Hendrix during a few concerts leading up to The Isle of Wight. Ian recalls that Jimi “was overcome with issues he couldn’t control. He wasn’t able to tune his guitar. The audience was so noisy he couldn’t hear above the crowd and he wasn’t enjoying it.” Ian also mentioned “wished I would have played with Zappa. Never had a chance to meet him and then he was gone.”
Over the years Tull has played shows in places that just didn’t turn out to their liking. They were the first band to play at Shea Stadium after the Beatles and “it was just a terrible gig. Horrible place to play with the planes flying over, cueing up to land at LaGuardia.” They had a lot of the same issues that the Beatles had. Just a horrible sound system and couldn’t hear themselves or anything that they played.
More recently shows had come about where they also had shows they didn't enjoy. They played in Schpandau, Berlin in Germany at a place where a lot of bad things happened years ago. It was one of those places that you could feel the bad vibes of every horrible thing that has happened there bouncing off the walls. Ian proclaims “when you are playing those places you are using the music to help sanitize the place” and what better music to use.
Ian and the several different incarnations of Jethro Tull have written and recorded a large variety of music over the years. Some of his favorites are, “A lot of the songs as what the audience likes and looks for.” The songs “Aqualung” and “Locomotive Breathe” are still welcome pieces even after he has probably played them a few thousand times. He will bring out the occasional obscure song, but won’t do just a bunch of them in one show. Usually doing a song that is only going to impress the biggest of Tull Fans, the rest of the audience may not take it too well. He is there to play to the audience as an entirety, not just the one or two fans that want to hear songs like “Jack-A-Lynn,” “Back-Door Angels,” or something from The Chateau D'Isaster Tapes.
Certain works like A Passion Play they won’t go back and revisit. It’s not an album that they like as much as others. Musically it doesn’t separate out into sections like Thick as a Brick does. They brought it out in 1973 when it was written and played it a bit then, but never really came back to it. Ian stated that he “Still pulls it out every couple of years and gives it a listen.”
On the next U.S. tour Ian performs solo and will be bringing along some great new material. He will be pulling out some classics as well and making a nice mix of things. “Feel quite proud about some things I wrote when I was 23 or 24 years old,” songs that dealt with some of the worldly issues that they deal with now. It is amazing how subjects from songs stay a hot topic for years to come. Certain things that were happening thirty years ago are still happening today and still are the main news stories. These were the topics that started political discussions and wars throughout the past. Ian is hardly a clairvoyant man, but one who wrote passionately about some issues that were important to him and the issues really never went away.
The theaters selected for the upcoming shows are some of the smaller, off the beaten path places. These are the places that remind Ian of when he first started in music and was trying to get a break. These establishments will be graced with the magnificent runs on the flute. The halls will echo with the sounds of classical, folk, blues, and several other different types of music that has been blended into the vast Jethro Tull musical catalog.
Ian offers his advice to musicians starting out which is some of the same advice he received when starting out, “Don’t give up your day job. Applies even more today where everybody and his dog wants to be a rock star. With all the myspace pages, there are millions of people trying to make it.” There are some great people out there today and there is a bunch of stuff out there that is just bad. It’s a very competitive market and if you haven’t made it by the time you are thirty, your chances grow even more slim.
How long will Jethro Tull go on? “As long as it is possible and desirable,” says Ian. Doing the lengthy tours can be exhausting and tiresome, but they plan on going on. Most likely they will be doing half as many shows as done in the previous years so they can spend time with their families. They are deserving of some leisure time. As Ian and the boys decide to trim it down a bit, we the fans must remember that he deserves his free time after devoting most of his life to work for us. He has supplied some unbelievable works of art for our enjoyment. Rest assured, Ian won't be spending his time playing golf.
This legendary musical deity has been a one band man, entertaining his fans since 1968, and deserves to take a bow. Ian Anderson is a phenomenal musician and has made a huge influence on musicians around the world. As he calls the band down to the stage, he stands on his pedestal, on one leg, and looks down at all the friends he has made. Millions of people can’t be wrong about the man. He has produced nothing, but magical music.