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21 November 1987
TULL RIDES CREST OF POPULARITY
Ian Anderson used to get so depressed after a bad night on stage with Jethro Tull that he'd feel almost suicidal.
"It was one of the worst feelings in the world to do a bad show," says the 19-year rock veteran. "I'd just want to go back to the hotel and cry. It was just terrible."
That was three years ago. On Jethro Tull's current North American tour Anderson is far more relaxed. Following a lengthy hiatus, the band recently hit the road in support of its new Chrysalis album, Crest Of A Knave, which is faring a good deal better than its predecessor, Under Wraps.
Prior to recording the new album, Anderson had spent much of his time developing his salmon farms, a profitable business that has given him the freedom to treat music as relaxing and fun, not as a necessary means of earning a living.
"When you're out there making a lot of money and it becomes a big business, you forget some of those basic needs for playing music in the first place," says Anderson. "A couple of years off have been quite useful to me for getting a perspective about music and being able to come back to it with what I think are more essential motivations, and not a business orientation where it's your sole livelihood."
Not that Anderson doesn't consider the business angles.
"I decided to con Chrysalis into some prerelease involvement and to involve the album rock radio stations in something that felt good to be doing."
Anderson says he arranged to have more than 800 listeners of 12 major album rock radio stations in the U.S. review the new album and offer critical comments.
"I took a chance their answers would be very strongly complimentary," he says. "Because then I could thrust that under the nose of our record company and say, 'Look, you guys, if you get behind this one, you have a chance to do well.'"
Anderson says about 80% of the listeners polled found Crest Of A Knave to be "significantly more enjoyable than the last few Jethro Tull albums," while 78% found the style of music a direction they'd like the band to continue to follow.
Jethro Tull was the catalyst that brought Chris Wright and Terry Ellis together 20 years ago to form Chrysalis Records in the first place. Ellis managed the young Tull at the time, and Wright was a booking agent. Two years ago, Wright bought out Ellis to become sole owner of the company. It was just the latest of many changes that Anderson has seen at the company in 20 years.
"There have been at least three times more Chrysalis Records presidents than there have been bass players for Jethro Tull — and you can quote me on that," says Anderson. "There have been quite a lot of disruptions at Chrysalis. Only Huey Lewis & the News have managed to sustain their career through the Chrysalis ups and downs. But happily to say, Chrysalis now is in very good shape."
So is Jethro Tull. Crest Of A Knave returns to the 'third-generation blues' roots of earlier group efforts. Written and produced by Anderson, the new album is a showcase not only for Anderson but longtime Tull guitarist Martin Barre. According to Anderson,
"The songs were constructed to allow the guitar playing to come through and to create the best possible framework to let Martin do his best."
After kicking off its North American tour at the RPI Field House in Troy, N.Y., on Nov. 10, Tull will be playing some 30 shows here through mid-December. The two-hour show mixes old standards like 'Aqualung' and 'Thick As A Brick' with new songs like 'Steel Monkey' and 'Farm On The Freeway'.
Staging is very simple, with a black backdrop that displays the album's crest and no major props — this from a band that was known for its dramatic staging in the '70s.
"The problem with Jethro Tull is that back when we were known as a production-oriented or theatrical rock group, you could have a telephone ring on stage, put a couple of seats on stage, have someone come on dressed as a rabbit, and that was really theatrical," says Anderson. "In the '80s, to achieve the same kind of performance as far as the audience is concerned, you've got to spend at least $1 million on staging alone. There is no point with us trying to compete with Pink Floyd."
DONALD E. WILCOCK
Thanks to Skip B. for this article.