From page 30 of Classic Rock Magazine January 2004
The mad-eyed Jethro Tull frontman is someone who sets his own rock agenda. He’s gigged with Hendrix and Zeppelin, and didn’t do Woodstock because he thought it would be a bad career move. Tull tales: Hugh Fielder
WENTY-SEVEN YEARS SINCE HE posed the conundrum ‘Too Old To Rock’N’Roll: Too Young To Die!’, Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson continues to ignore his own riddle.
His age has doubled since then, so naturally there’s a certain amount of living in the past. And this year has seen the reissue of three more classic Jethro Tull albums: the infamous ‘Passion Play’ from 1973, Tthe whimsical, folkie ‘Songs From The Wood’ from 1975, and the agri- rock ‘Heavy Horses’ from 1978.
But for both Anderson and Tull there’s plenty of living in the present, too. He has overseen two new releases this year. ‘The Jethro Tull Christmas Album’ is a timely seasonal offering featuring baroque and/or jazzy arrangements of traditional carols, some new songs and some re-recorded Tull Christmas songs. “It’s not Slade, and it’s not ‘James Galway Plays Christmas Songs’ either. If you like ‘Bourée’ or ‘Songs From The Wood’ you’ll like this,” he says.
There’s also Anderson’s solo album, ‘Rupi’s Dance’. Without a Jethro Tull connection in sight (bar one guest spot), it’s a chance for him to try out a few subtle shades on his recognisable musical palette, with some Celtic, Arabic and gypsy influences. We should also mention the solo album by Tull’s long-time guitarist Martin Barre, called ‘Stage Left’.
Then there’s Anderson’s appearance on the forthcoming ‘Soulmates’ all-star album with Jack Bruce, Al DiMeola, Steve Lukather, the Brecker Brothers, Bill Evans, Anthony Jackson, Bobby Kimball and more rock/jazz heavyweights under the auspices of German composer/ producer Man Doki. “He’s the master-chef in the kitchen mixing all these spices and musical influences together. It’s rare that you get a good musician and a good producer in the same person. And it was good doing it with the other guys,” Anderson says.
Having undertaken a solo tour of the US in the autumn, Anderson will reconvene Tull for a UK tour in February.
Further dates lurking on his hard drive (where you will also find copious details of withholding tax, technical requirements and set lists) include India, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Russia, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, Uzbekistan, three cruise liners “and a Holiday Inn bar in South Dakota”.
Prince Charles once called you “one of the most interesting and intelligent men in the music business”.
I think that was a very quick and not terribly broad observation.
At that time he’d probably met Phil Collins and Midge Ure. Or maybe he was trying to say that my accent wasn’t as difficult to understand as Phil Collins’s or Midge Ure’s.
He also opened your fish-packing plant in Inverness.
Yes, he officially opened our first factory. Purely coincidentally – because it had been arranged months before – I did a thing with the Prince’s Trust just a couple of weeks later; if the truth be known it was because David Bowie cancelled so we got dragged in instead.
The original Jethro Tull is the man who invented the seed drill in 1701. Did that appeal to your sense of double entendre? The original Jethro Tull was completely unknown to me. So when a booker in the agent’s office said: “I’ve got a new name for you this week – Jethro Tull”, I just thought it was something he made up.
As names go it’s not bad. The Tull part’s okay. I always think Tull sounds like an intergalactic warlord from a Star Wars movie.
But it’s the Jethro bit that gets me down. It’s so inevitably hillbilly.
And of course there’s a West Country comedian called Jethro who, believe it or not, is sometimes confused with Jethro Tull.
You took up the flute after hearing Eric Clapton playing guitar on John Mayall’s ‘Bluesbreakers’ album.
Yes. I remember sitting at the record player trying to get it to go at half speed so I could work out what he was playing. Suddenly there was a guitar player who wasn’t Bert Weedon or Hank Marvin. Eric Clapton has finesse, and that was what jumped off the vinyl at me.
And that put me off playing the guitar. I’d been playing for a couple of years, and was finding it a bit of a dead end in ➳ terms of improvisation and sound. We didn’t know that if you pushed the volume all the way up on the Vox AC30 it started to sound pretty good, we were too panicky about blowing up the speakers.
So I started to look around for something else to do, and I bought a flute. I couldn’t get a note out of the thing to begin with. It was a real embarrassment. So I put it away for a few months and got a penny whistle and played around with that. I was making funny vocalising noises, and when I went back back to the flute I used that same technique. And that was just at the time that Jethro Tull began.
How many different names did you appear under at London’s Marquee club? I think the first time was as the John Evan Band, maybe then as the John Evan Smash, I’m not sure.
Then as Navy Blue. I think we were Ian Henderson’s Bag Of Blues. There was another name I can never remember, but Jethro Tull was about the fifth.
The flute isn’t a rock’n’roll instrument. How did you think you were going to get away with it? Once I’d realised that I wasn’t going to be the next Eric Clapton, the only obvious alternative was the saxophone, but that didn’t appeal to me; it was the hygiene of the thing as much as the sound. I just loathe putting big dirty things in my mouth.
It’s just, urgh. With a flute you just gently kiss the edge of it.
So no sexual imagery involved, then? Well, obviously there are inevitable parallels. And it’s one of the reasons that I honestly believe that I’m probably not gay, because I can’t play the saxophone. I mean, it’s all right for you girls, but not for me. Whereas with the flute it’s just a delicate flirtation with that delicate mechanism.
Are we talking cunnilingus here? Well, we are in the sense that it’s a very gentle and incredibly sensitive little... I mean, it’s about how you get that umbra sort of thing. (Look it up in the dictionary – Ed.) So I think you can say that a saxophone player would give a good blow job but a flute player would be far better at, er, pleasuring
You demonstrated your leadership qualities early on, taking over the John Evan Band. Is that in the genes? It wasn’t particularly evident when I was at school; I never wanted to be captain of a team or anything.
I was a loner. Being in a band was just a substitute for being in a football team.
Man-management and team-building is not really a strong point for me. I’m not that way inclined. But somebody has to do it. People like John Mayall, Frank Zappa or Captain Beefheart have done that in sometimes quite a ruthless way.
I remember John Mayall trying to pinch (original Tull guitarist) Mick Abrahams. He told me: ‘Oh, John Mayall rang this morning. He wants me to come over to his house’. And I said: ‘Fine, I’ll come, too’. I was anxious not to lose him, because we’d only just got started. So I hung around like the ugly sister at the ball, and John never got the chance to proposition Mick.
And later on when Robert Plant was brought down by Alexis Korner and sat in with a number of bands around London – he was obviously a very talented guy, and he was being touted around town – I definitely had a feeling of, er, what’s going on here? I may lose a guitar player or even an entire band. So I dutifully sat at the side of the stage while What’s the story behind Tony Iommi being a member of the band, purely in a miming capacity, for one gig – The Rolling Stones Rock & Roll Circus, in 1968? Tony was in a band that we played with on one of the last gigs that Mick Abrahams played with us.
He seemed quite good, a nice guy. He came down to a little studio we were working at and ran through a couple of new songs that were going to be on the ‘Stand Up’ album.
But while Tony could do some things very well, it became obvious that his expertise lay in a different area to the kind of thing I was looking to do with the latest batch of songs, so it wasn’t really going to work out. Plus he was already in another band and I wasn’t looking to poach him.
But we didn’t have another guitar player when The Rolling Stones asked us to be on the Rock & Roll Circus. I think Martin Barre may have been going to join the band, but he still had some gigs with his other band. So we asked Tony if he would come and do this thing, which was just a playback.
Why did you set yourself apart from the rest of the band from an early stage? I think if you’re a songwriter it’s very difficult to collaborate with other people. And you need a bit of privacy, or segregation, to be able to work that spell. And that’s why I’ve tended not to be involved in the rock’n’roll moments.
And in the early days of Tull there were definitely a lot of, er, sideshows in town: the drugs, the groupies, the parties, the showbizzy record company things. It wasn’t something I felt comfortable with. And I’ve always hated the idea of being out of control.
It was always much easier for me to retreat to my hotel room, play around on my guitar, try out of few ideas, watch a bit of television, go to bed and wake up early the next morning and play my guitar again.
You’ve never been one for revolutionary politics or hippy philosophies, and you’re vehemently anti-drugs.
So why did you start out looking like a spaced-out hippy plotting the revolution? I’m not sure my associations were so much to do with looking like a hippy or a druggy. It was more of a precursor to the ‘Aqualung’ character – you know, when you don’t have any money and you’re worried about where you’re going to be sleeping, not tonight but next week, because you can’t pay the rent. It’s a very insecure place to be. I was in that place for about three months of my life, after leaving home; from knowing that I could always find some bread and jam and milk in the fridge, to being on my own and having to survive. And I suppose there was a little bit of preparing myself for that by taking on that character of the street person.
The overcoat was part and parcel of what I was.
My father gave it to me. We hadn’t got on at all during the last two years, and as I was leaving home he gave me the overcoat and said: “It’s going to be a cold winter, you’d better have this”. So it was a kind of security blanket, something that I took from home. And then I made it part of my on-stage presentation.
The drug thing wasn’t part of it, because I couldn’t have afforded drugs even if I’d wanted to.
And I certainly didn’t want to, because I’d already seen the effects of the drug culture on friends and acquaintances. And that continued apace when I became a musician, and the people that I shared a stage with: Jim Morrison, Keith Moon, the list just goes on and on.
The saddest of them all for me was Jimi Hendrix, who was essentially a very nice, gentle man who was helpful to Jethro Tull in the beginning – telling people we were good and to listen to our records.
We played a couple of shows with him in Stockholm early on and then we played a few shows together in 1970 in America, co-headlining festival dates. We were just becoming well known there, but things were starting to go downhill for him. He’d changed his musicians and was caught up in that dreadful thing where you have an entourage of a dozen people around you wherever you go, and that’s such a destructive thing. It was very sad to see him sort of lost in those final months. In fact the last time we played together was at the Isle of Wight Festival.
You missed out on Woodstock.
I didn’t miss out. We were asked to play. As I recall it, I was sitting in a hotel room in New York and our manager, Terry Ellis, said to me: “You must do this”. And he reeled off the names – The Who, Ten Years After, Hendrix and so forth. It was very short notice, just a couple of days before. And I said: “Is this a kind of hippy thing?” And Terry was saying: “Yeah, it’s a free festival; love and peace”.
And I said: “‘I don’t think we should do it”. I was terribly unpopular for turning it down.
But I think it was one of the best career moves I ever made, because if Jethro Tull had played at that festival we would have been the next Ten Years After. People would have said: “Wow!”, because we were very energetic, and with half an hour on stage you can just go nuts, play five or six of your best pieces and make a big impression. And we would have been instantly elevated to ‘The New Band’.
It was okay for The Who, they’d been around a while. Santana came out of it pretty well and had a long career. But there were other bands, like Ten Years After, who didn’t fare too well. For them Woodstock was overkill. It brought them such a degree of attention that they couldn’t maintain it.
And we definitely needed another two or three years to lumber on and get more experience as well as musical substance.
We played with Ten Years After a few years ago in America. They were doing a reunion tour. I hadn’t seen them since about 1969. I was talking to bassist Leo Lyons at the sound check, and said: “What are you going to be playing tonight?” And he said: “Are you kidding? This set list has been on my guitar since Woodstock!” You supported Led Zeppelin on an American tour in 1971. Did you learn much from that? Yes – all the stuff we wouldn’t have learned if we’d done Woodstock. We were the opening act. We did our 35 minutes and we played arenas across America. It was a great opportunity to go nuts for half an hour, give a good account of ourselves and make it back to the hotel before the bar closed. Or, as was more often the case, going off to the local radio station and doing interviews and doing all the other stuff to ‘work the opportunity’.
Some nights Zeppelin could be unstoppable and beyond belief, and the next night they could lose the plot. Because if anything went wrong with the sound – feedback, tuning problems – it became very evident in the performance, particularly from Jimmy Page. When he was having a good time he was having a really good time, but when he wasn’t you could see how depressed and upset he was.
When you started headlining, you chose your own support acts.
Support bands were incredibly important back then. It was the opportunity to find people who you felt good about, because you had a chance to break these guys in big markets like America.
Sometimes it didn’t work work out. It could be bloody awful. The Eagles didn’t fare well at all when they were our opening act. They already had a hit, ‘Take It Easy’, but unfortunately it was a different kind of audience.
Poor old Alex Harvey was another serious failure. I felt bad about that because I really thought he would do well. But he was drinking heavily and he lost the plot. And if he didn’t have the audience with him in the first five minutes he’d just start doing all the wrong things. I remember a gig in Seattle, an 11,000 seater. Watching 10,000 people get to their feet and collectively boo is the scariest thing. But then he had just called them a load of fucking cunts.
But the worst of all was Roxy Music. They supported us at Madison Square Garden and died a total death. They really took against Eno and his preening feathers, and Bryan Ferry, who was a bit of a poseur. And the roar that greeted the announcement of their last song was amazing.
Then somebody pulled the plug on them. They stormed off and went home and said I’d done it.
Why would I do that? It was me that got them the gig in the first place.
These days we sometimes get paired with groups of a similar age, particularly in America. A few years ago we toured with ELP, who had a reputation that was joint equal first with Ritchie Blackmore for mayhem, promoter nightmare, dramas, cancelled tours and prima-donna, over-the-top dreadfulness.
But they were like lambs the whole way through the tour. They were totally professional, always on time. They were the nicest people.
At the end of the tour their road crew came to us saying: “This is the weirdest tour we’ve ever done with them. They’ve never even sat in catering before, let alone gone on the bus together. It’s the first time they’ve ever actually spoken to each other.
What is this strange effect you’ve had on them?” Subsequently I recommended them to a couple of promoters in South America and Eastern Europe, saying they’re no problem, and bugger me if they didn’t play a disastrous string of East European dates and then bankrupted the South American promoter.
After getting your breakthrough with ‘Aqualung’ and ‘Thick As a Brick, with ‘A Passion Play’ the press turned on you. Why did they pick on you rather than ELP, Yes or Genesis, who were doing much the same thing? My recollection is that they were getting destroyed, too. I remember in 1972 we were touring Japan, and ELP were out there and had flown a plane load of English journalists to ➳ ➳ see them play. They weren’t being paid or anything, but they were definitely being well looked after, with plenty of saki and probably one or two girls thrown in. And they were expected to deliver brilliant reviews for their ‘patrons’. They didn’t. They massacred them.
They all came to our show, too, because we were on at the same time, and we got the brilliant reviews back home. And this was a defining moment for me. I remember thinking that this journalism thing was a bit scary, that you had to be careful with it.
And a year later it was our turn. We didn’t fly any journalists out or anything, but it was the moment when journalists realised they could not afford to be seen in the pockets of the major stars, they had to balance good reviews with bad reviews. ‘A Passion Play’ offered them a perfect excuse because it was a dark, relatively impenetrable and rather precocious album. Of course now it has become the ultimate ‘cult’ Tull album. For the seriously initiated, you can wear it as a badge of honour if you can prove that you have listened to it all the way through – twice.
But Melody Maker didn’t even listen to it once.
They just took it apart. And Rolling Stone hated the arty English bands. So that really hurt us. It was quite a negative period. But it wasn’t exactly unexpected. Even with ‘Thick As A Brick’ we were taking some big risks. I knew we’d get nailed somewhere along the line.
There was a period of around three years in the mid- 80s, after the ‘Under Wraps’ album, when Jethro Tull went very quiet. Was it nearly all over? Definitely not. There was a whole year where we only played one concert. But the reason for that was that at the end of the ‘Under Wraps’ year I had damaged my voice to such an extent that I had to take some time off. And during ’85 we played one show, a Bach tri-centennial event in Germany. But apart from that it was basically a year off for me to recover and start preparing some new music.
In ’86 we were back on the road, seriously touring again, and I wrote and recorded ‘Crest Of A Knave’, which came out in ’87. So while it may look like a three-year gap we were only off the road for one year.
The other time when people thought we were going to split was when our manager planted this ridiculous story in Melody Maker the week after Chris Welch had written his ‘Play Without Passion’ review in the paper. [Chrysalis Records co-founder] Terry Ellis did a deal with the editor for an exclusive ‘Jethro Tull Quits’ story in return for a guaranteed front-page headline. Unfortunately he forgot to tell us. So I pick up a copy of MM and see this story and go: “What the fuck is this? It’s stupid. It just makes us look like spoilt schoolboys after somebody has taken our candy away.” It was just completely the wrong message. And despite all the protestations to the contrary people still think that Tull quit in 1973 after the bad reviews for ‘A Passion Play’. But no we didn’t. It was just a schoolboy prank.
Wasn’t it Terry Ellis who said the ‘Under Wraps’ album was “a fucking pile of crap”? I think he said words to that effect. He didn’t like that one. But it did come at a time when Terry was becoming a bit unglued and got ejected from his own record company.
Why did you take the unusual step of playing on a single with New York thrash metal band The Six And The Violence?
I didn’t actually play with them. They were one of many people who sent me a record and asked if I would play on it. And it was such an unlikely song – thrash metal, totally over the top. I did actually go and see them in a club somewhere. The singer, who was physically handicapped, came to a gig of ours and persuaded me.
So we went along to this club, which was almost empty, and it was incredibly refreshing to see these people playing with such abandon that the musical skills they had were overshadowed by the unbelievable theatrical aggressiveness of it. It was extreme but very studied. They knew exactly what they were doing. Every movement was choreographed – even the blood spurted at precise moments.
Anyway, I played on their record because musically there was something that gave me a little thrill. Most of the time people ask me to play on their records, I don’t. But sometimes there’s something that amuses me or interests me. Or there’s a chance to play with people like Al DiMeola or Anthony Jackson, who are major names in the world of jazz rock. You’ve got to give it a shot.
There wouldn’t be a Jethro Tull without you. But would there be a Jethro Tull without Martin Barre? I’ve always said no, there wouldn’t. If Martin were for some reason, God forbid, forced to stop playing I would find it very difficult from an emotional and practical point of view to go out and say: “This is JT with a bunch of other guys”. It’s not the bunch of other guys, it’s the different guitar player that makes it so difficult. That would be like Robert Plant going out with a band that didn’t have Jimmy Page and calling it Led Zeppelin. Or like ELP going out with a drummer whose surname didn’t begin with ‘P’. ■