Jethro Tull Profile

“I was promised a stack of free promotional records if I would write the “up and coming concert” piece for the local underground paper, The San Diego Door. (Other contributors were Lester Bangs and Danny Sugerman). I still have the records, especially my time-honored copy of Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything.”

– Cameron Crowe – Summer 2000

As the lights dim, an odd-looking figure slips onto the stage and seats himself calmly in a metal chair. The figure is Ian Anderson. Dressed in a plaid trench-coat and knee-high leather boots, his hair, parted down the middle, strains for length on both the right and left. He anti-climactically rests an acoustical guitar on his lap and gently plays a melody.

People what have you done –
Locked him in His Golden Cage.
Made Him bend to your religion –
Him resurrected from the grave.

While Anderson launches into the first verse of “My God!”, bassist Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, drummer Barriemore Barlow, guitarist Martin Barre and keyboardsman John Evan station themselves in the darkness behind the spotlighted Anderson. For all the crowd knows the stage is empty, save for him.

Those that are familiar or understand the lyrics realize that the harsh view of Man and his God betrays the song’s aesthetic quality.

Suddenly the stage is filled with multi-colored lights accenting Anderson’s conspicuous appearance as opposed to the others on stage. The gentle melody has vanished to reveal a tight driving rhythm. Anderson’s calming lead vocal has caught up with the mood of his composition.

The audience, pleased with their exploited naivete, is on its feet howling their approval.

The band is Jethro Tull and that was the customary performance opening the last tour which corresponded to the release of Aqualung, a collection of songs on the theme of Existentialism.

But now Jethro Tull is on a new tour of the United States. This time to parallel Thick as a Brick.

The present stage act begins in much the same flash technique. Several men in trenchcoats wander about the stage, congregate at the front, toss the coats aside to reveal themselves as the band.

They then proceed to perform the title, and only, track to Thick as a Brick. An hour-an-a-half later, after the number has been performed complete with Marx-Brothers skits throughout, Jethro Tull takes a breather.

Back they return, and introduce their next tune with a snide Ian Anderson remark “And now for our next number,…”

This, however, is the band in their present form of evolution. To trace that growth, it is necessary to go back to the Christmas of 1967.

Here we find Jethro Tull in their earliest state. Anderson, drummer Clive Bunker, bassist Glenn Cornick and guitarist Mick Abrahms got together to form a group to travel the English folk-club circuit and were successful enough to land a contract with Warner Brothers/Reprise through Chrysalis.

The English lads labored on their album, and in the meantime resumed their wiring of the British pubs and clubs. By the time January of 1969 rolled around, This Was was released to the surprising following Jethro Tull had acquired during the year or so between birth and album.

The band that Reprise had signed was deemed kind of an outre, underground English band best suited to enhancing their freak prestige. Little did they know… The critical English record-buying public had boosted This Was to the number five position within seven weeks of release.

The album was definitely a low-budget venture with most of the tunes weakly bordering on jazz-blues. At that point there was nothing about the band or the LP that set it aside from the slew of others. Still and all, the uncontestable success of the LP prepared all for a more venturous and respectable offering in Stand Up.

Released in September 1969, the LP was one of the first to boast a concept album jacket. Open it up and all the members… stand up… get it? Well, to excuse the self-indulgence in my journalistic style, Jethro Tull began to sport extreme versatility and accomplished musicianship in Stand Up.

“Reasons for Waiting” unveiled a gentle, non-bluesy, love song that became irresistible in its listener seducement. At the same time, however, “Back to the Family” employed extended flute solos that were later to become Anderson’s trademark backed by hard, well-rehearsed progressions. Gone was the jazz-blues format of days past. Just as Martin Barre replaced Mick Abrahms on guitar, so the previously defined format was replaced by an almost Elizabethan sound.

The album shot up to the number one position in sales on both sides of the Atlantic. So by the time Benefit was released in April of 1970, Jethro Tull was a bonafide supergroup… with a bootleg LP called My God.

With Benefit, a new member was added in John Evan, pianist, organist supreme. Benefit was automatically declared gold, as was Stand Up. With the new album, the band remained wedded to hard rock with only snatches of softer material of  the “Reasons For Waiting” genre. Tunes like “Sossity, You’re a Woman” became a permanent addition to their set, as did “Nothing to Say”.

Clear, crisp melodies emerged as did the further exposure of Ian Anderson’s sputtering, weasing and slurping flute work. Although he was no virtuoso at the time, his methods of playing it were enough to create a stage image of a Pied Piper perched upon one leg muttering into his flute.

Jethro Tull faded into the background as Ian Anderson was proclaimed “the group”. By this time, the band’s live appearances were to be shuddered at with euphoria.

Anderson began to twirl his flute on stage, waving it like a mad conductor. Playing it with a cold, spitting style, his solos were truly a spectacle. Advertisements would carry massive pictures of a mad dog Anderson with the logo of Jethro Tull.

After Benefit, original member Glenn Cornick left the band to be replaced by Anderson’s childhood chum, Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond. Original member Clive Bunker left his drums to be succeeded by Barriemore Barlow. The new band whipped themselves into shape and into the studio for Aqualung released in the late spring of 1971.

Cornick went on to form Wild Turkey, a fine band fulfilling his leadership desires. Cornick says of Aqualung: “It was somewhat of a rehearsal for Anderson’s new band”.

Rehearsal or no rehearsal, Aqualung received the acceptance its brilliance deserved. The acoustical side of the band returned. More so than ever. Such songs as “Wind Up”, “Slipstream”, “Mother Goose” and “Wondering Aloud” brought back the soft side of Tull in an impressive manner. In the true style of English folk ballads, so is the authenticity of Aqualung.

Anderson’s lyrics now presented articulate philosophies and theories fascinatingly effective. As previously mentioned, the album’s theory concerned itself with Man and God. Aqualung was definitely the most commercially accessible effort to date, doing nothing more than doubling the band’s already massive following.

Next, released in America May 15th was Thick as a Brick. The LP is entirely an Anderson composition, satirically credited to one Gerald “Little Milton” Bostock, a mythical ten-year-old child prodigy. The song and album may as well have been sectioned (the radio station copies are) as it takes off in numerous musical directions connected only by a recurring acoustical riff.

Cornick thinks of the album as “the best ever made”.

As you may have gathered by now, Ian Anderson is a genius. Although his frantic stage presence may tend to accent his eccentric personality, the man is an outright genius. And so is the rest of the band. Dynamic all.

And by the way, Jethro Tull will be at the San Diego Sports Arena June 25th. Take it from there.

Courtesy of the San Diego Door – Cameron Crowe – June 8, 1972