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9 December 1975
TULL'S IAN ANDERSON
"I nearly got thrown out of the group because nobody had ever heard of a flute in a blues band."
Ian Anderson is not fond of the press; in fact, he dislikes that body intensely. Interviews have misquoted him, misrepresented him and manhandled him. In a line from 'Baker Street Muse' (a song from the new Minstrel In The Gallery album) he sings, "I have no time for Time or Rolling Stone," and one must wonder why he consented to this conversation at all.
The talk took place over three days and in two states, North Carolina and Confusion. At various times the tape was running in hotel rooms, backstage dressing areas, airport snack bars, and aeroplanes; interruptions were frequent as Ian is always in constant demand by his road manager and band members. But never once did he fail to keep an appointed session without prior notice.
Anderson is a difficult man to know and hopefully the following will help you figure him out. A single question elicits a precise, often lengthy response, which covers not only the area in question but any boundary points. He smokes and drinks coffee continuously and will entertain dialogue as long as his cigarette is kept lit and his cup full.
This, then, is the main body of those conversations. All the words are Ian's, all the thoughts his own; what were once private sentiments, are here now printed. Now they belong to you. [SR]
For starters, once you've finished an album such as Minstrel In The Gallery, does it remain with you? Does the music become a part of you?
"After all the actual recording is finished you have to mix it, play the tapes to cut it, listen to tape lacquers and cut it again, and make changes and cut it again, and finally make test pressings — it drags it out. So it doesn't get finished really for quite awhile after the music's finished; when it's actually ready to go it's nothing to do with me anymore. It's already with them, I mean they can do what they like with it. They pay $6 for the privilege ...
"Unless I continue to play the songs onstage if they're those kind of songs that continue with me in a personal way by playing them as part of the show every night. Then I feel closer, perhaps, to the music. Not the album per se, but the music itself."
How do you feel when somebody attacks this music you're somewhat attached to?
"If somebody says, 'I think your music is shitty,' that's like saying, 'I think your wife's a whore.' And I get very angry when people say that behind my back or via the unassailable media of the press. Because I'm not in a position to defend it and I won't be brought out or taunted by public criticism into answering it back in the same medium. Because I can never win, I'm not a journalist, and I'm not in a position to see that my words remain undistorted or in the true context when they finally appear in print. I don't have the same control of that sort of expression in its final form as I do on record or performing onstage. So I'm naturally wary of being drawn out.
"And I have a fairly low opinion of the press because I think it plays way below the average level of intelligence of the audience who reads it. I think it sets out purely to survive with the basest instincts of survival. And that about answers everything I have to say anticipating your questions about my attitude towards the press and why I don't do many interviews."
Actually, that was one question I wasn't going to ask because I knew that you didn't like doing interviews.
"No, well I don't, but I thought I'd answer it anyway by asking it myself. To save you the embarrassment of why you hadn't managed to ask me."
Well, I tried to come in here with a knowledge of your music and yourself, whatever that means to you.
"Well, it obviously means you derive some amusement or entertainment out of listening to what it is I do. And that's all I can ask of anyone and that's great — but it's a coincidence as far as I'm concerned. It doesn't mean that I'm good or you are particularly together or understanding. It is just coincidence; if you happen to like it and I happen to like it, it just means we're more often than not at the same football game together. We're on the same side of the stands, watching the same team from the same end wearing the same colors. But it doesn't mean that either of us is right or wrong. Maybe Led Zeppelin have actually got it right ... I heard one of their songs one the way here in the car and the words sounded like a three-word thing and it had 'Love' in it. Anyway, the chorus kept coming in and it was like, 'Gimme love' or something, some banal exultation."
You hold Zeppelin in some disdain ?
"No, I think they're one of the best rock and roll groups there are; I think musically they're very good and I think what they represent in terms of the rock group idiom is very accurate. They're a very accurate portrayal ... they epitomize, if you like, the English hard rock thing better than the Stones probably and better than the Who. I mean, they're arrogant and they all play with some sort of conviction, but as to whether what they do is worth anything in the long run then history will, as usual, retrospectively decide.
"I don't know, I don't understand it; maybe there's more to it than meets the eye. I think about that a lot actually. I think there's maybe more to a lot of things I don't understand. Maybe it's because they're so simple, they're so good. But I write really simple songs too, I've written some really simple ones, really crystal clear. But they seem to have a lot more in them than other people's very simple songs. There's a few of them on the new album, there's always bits of them on all albums. 'Wond'ring Aloud' was a simple song, a very simple sentiment and quite an accurate one as well."
But even your simple songs involve clever time changes and word patterns.
"I don't think it's clever, I don't think I ever kept anything I did when I set out to be clever. I mean, I have written and arranged things just to be clever but they sounded like Yes played backwards or the Mahavishnu Orchestra slowed down. But I didn't keep them, they weren't for anything, they weren't saying anything. It was just academic, an exercise."
You talked about the music you didn't like — is there any particular piece you've written which stands as your favorite?
"In different ways, yes. The best album overall, if you're dividing music up into units approximated in a certain year and being part of the package, I mean the best album as a whole I think is definitely Passion Play. But there are other albums which have some pretty stuff which doesn't hold up any longer, they have some little things which are accidentally very fine things. I mean Aqualung had some good bits on and War Child and Minstrel In The Gallery have some good bits on, but I think overall they don't stand up as a whole thing the way Passion Play did. It was a sort of total emotional thing for me from the beginning to the end ... it's very gripping and I'm very honestly moved by it. I hear it about once a year; I've heard it a couple times since it came out, and I've actually been incredibly moved by it both times. Having forgotten the arrangement and what the music was doing, I found it a very energized sort of music. I'm well pleased with that aspect of it."
What about some of the earlier Tull albums like Benefit?
"It's not one of my favorite albums. It's the one that means least to me because I can't remember anything about recording it. I can't remember anything that was going on then, I can't remember what I was trying to write. I genuinely didn't know what I was doing then at all. I just really can't remember why I wrote the songs on that album. I can remember what some of the songs are but I can't remember why. I must have thought it was important at the time or I would have just gone straight on to the next one. That's funny actually, but I really can't remember it at all, it's the one that's a blank to me, I can't figure it out.
"It was a product, you see, of being on tour in America very heavily in '69, the beginning of '70. That was a very destructive year for me, that first year of touring in the States. It was very hard work because we had to go economy everywhere on the planes and we were losing an awful lot of money."
How many American tours did it take for Tull to start making money?
"We did a thirteen week tour the first time where we lost a lot of money and the second time we did a lot of dates supporting Led Zeppelin as the opening act. We just about broke even on that tour and on the third tour, the last tour in '69, we came in and did some shows sort of on our own really — small theatres and things. We made a little bit back on that. And then in '70 we actually began to co-host shows with groups like Mountain and that sort of thing, middling name groups where it was a toss-up as to who went on first. '71, '72, and '73 we made money and paid back everything we owed in England put a lot of money into the group — the PA, trucks, stages, light rigs, and sound equipment."
How can you make money on a tour like you're now on, playing small halls in relatively small cities?
"I don't know if we can afford to do these gigs again. See, I've always worked on the philosophy that we can go out and gross about two or three million dollars on a seven-week tour if we play football stadiums and outdoor shows and concentrate on all the major markets and none of the smaller ones. We can do a very big gross, the same as Zeppelin and the Stones do. But I never thought that I'd be justified then in writing MUSICIAN on my passport where it says occupation, which is what I am, that's what I do. And if we were to go out and play football stadiums and not play the smaller halls, even though there might be 5, 6, 7,000 people who want to come and see the group, we would be much better off. We could lie low most of the year, lay off most of the crew, but then it would have to say on my passport ENTREPRENEUR, not MUSICIAN. If you're a musician and going to play to people at all, you've got an obligation to go wherever people are, and not just do it wherever the money is right."
So you'll end up making about $2.50 an hour then?
"About $250 an hour wouldn't be far off."
The band probably made about $250 when it first started; what were those early days like?
"Well, Tull first got together so everybody in the band could earn a living. I was at school and art school after that and I decided I wanted something more immediate in terms of doing something. So I decided to be a musician. I wasn't that keen on music really, I wasn't wild about it. It just seemed more immediate than painting. I started playing music when I was about 16, 17, and got into the origins of what was popular in the contemporary sense — the Beatles, the Stones, and all that. I got into the origins of their music, where they'd lifted it from — Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, and all the rest.
"I began to write music and developed a certain basic ability with instruments and a crude understanding of the musical vocabulary that one has to have in order to write or appreciate or simply understand music. No one ever taught me to read or write music or play an instrument, it was just the painful process of working it out yourself. How to make pleasing noises.
"So at the time when I was of an age to be professional — and being professional meant earning a living-it was necessary to play some kind of music that was acceptable commercially in the club circuit in England which was sort of a basic blues. We did all the Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson material re-vamped into a contemporary white English way. There were two types of groups at that time; there were the blues groups and the progressive groups as they were called. Pink Floyd and the Nice and we were sort of stuck somewhere between the two really."
When did you first start playing flute?
"I used to play the guitar before I went to London and wasn't a very good guitar player, I couldn't afford strings ... I think I only had five anyway on a very old Fender Stratocaster. It was a white Stratocaster; I thought it was white until it actually chipped and I realized there were 17 coats of paint underneath it, all the different colors it had been. I sold the guitar, well, actually I exchanged the guitar since I couldn't get any money for it. I exchanged it for more practical things to take on my journey to the south. With knotted handkerchief on end of stick I set off to be a success in England. I traded in the guitar for something easy to carry and it was a flute and a microphone. I had it when I went to London and I played it when we formed the group.
"I nearly got thrown out of the group because nobody had ever heard of a flute in a blues band. Ten Years After told their manager that it was not right to have a flute in a blues group so they tried to get me thrown out; they wanted me to play rhythm piano at the back of the stage and let Mick Abrahams do all the singing. That was something I fought strongly against ... I wasn't a very good singer but he wasn't either. We used to do about half of it each. I mean that was almost like getting thrown out of the group. What it actually was a polite invitation to leave. But I wasn't completely aware of that, I sort of hung in there and at a certain point in time some of the songs I had written and some of the things I was doing obviously became the feature of the group."
Who actually started Jethro Tull ?
"Well, it was a peculiar situation. All the people in the group now apart from Martin [Barre, guitarist] were in a seven-piece group as amateurs and we decided to go to London end do it professionally. But after a week in London the others changed their minds and we had no money, no food, and no prospect of any work. I think we had about four or five dates set, about one a week for the next four weeks or something, but I mean clearly we couldn't live, clearly we weren't going to get given a bunch of dates to be able to pay for things. So everybody packed up and went back after a few days because we couldn't even eat. We found some potatoes in a cellar of this rented basement that we managed to get and roasted them over a coke fire ... nearly all died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
"So they all went back. We actually had gone down to work with this guitarist, Mick Abrahams, because he was going to join the group. And when the others went back Mick and I decided that if I could manage to stay down there and exist on nothing as it were, he knew a drummer and I knew a bass player, and we could put together a little group that would be cheaper to run. So I took a job vacuum cleaning a cinema for which I got paid $15 a week which was just enough to pay the rent. And managed to exist for a couple of months while we got some work. That's how it began, it wasn't really that anybody started the group, it was just the remnants of other groups."
Why has Jethro Tull never recorded a live album?
"Well we did about a month ago in Paris. We recorded and filmed about an hour and ten minutes of selected pieces that in fact we'll do some more work on as soon as we finish this tour. We did it really just to have some material in the proverbial can for an eventual video disc or whatever video media are introduced as a public concern. I mean that's obviously some few years off, but anyway we'll probably bring out an album late in '76. In late November a Best Of album comes out, then in the summer of '76 a group album comes out. And at the end of '76 there'll be another Best Of album, which will either be an all live album or else one side will be live and the rest of it will be selected studio tracks that haven't been released on a compilation album before.
"The first Best Of album will all be material which has been released before except one track called 'Rainbow Blues." I don't really like Best Of albums but I must admit among my rarely played record collection, which isn't particularly large, are a number of those types of albums by other artists. I don't have any of the Cream's albums but I have two of their Best Of albums because they have the songs that I like best by the Cream on them. Or Jimi Hendrix or whatever. You see, there aren't that many people who have all of Jethro Tull's records; they might have one or two and ..."
I don't think that's true.
"Oh, you'd be surprised. I'm not just talking about the States, I'm talking about all the countries in the world where a lot of our albums have never even been released. There are a lot of people over here who only know Jethro Tull since Thick As A Brick. I remember in '74 I received an enormous amount of mail, more than ever before, from America. And almost all of it was from kids of high school age and a lot of them said, 'I've never heard Jethro Tull before, I'm 15, and I've just bought Passion Play, and I really like it and can you tell me how many other albums you've released.' And I thought that was incredible. I mean, they didn't know anything about Aqualung or Benefit or Stand Up that was way before their time. One must necessarily believe that those letters are in some way representative of something and for all the letters sent there's a lot not sent from similarly disposed people. And I must, therefore, believe there are a lot of kids who don't have those earlier records."
Do you see music going in any direction?
"What I think at the moment is ... this is a crude generality and the argument is, full of holes but it stands up in some way. Twelve, fifteen years ago we were in the midst of a very pop oriented scene. Everything was very stylized, and what sold was of a very limited musical nature. It was simple music, very technique written; the techniques weren't so advanced production-wise and recording-wise as they are now, but nonetheless they were well-tried, well-executed techniques. To wit: all those early rock and roll records with their echo effect, multi-tracked tambourines — the Phil Spector sound. Very naive music and naive lyrics but very catchy because everyone could relate to them.
"Most of these rock groups had their origins in the pop music a few years before ... Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page, all those, guys played on pop sessions. Keith Emerson used to play in a soul group, Jon Anderson from Yes used to play in a group called the Warriors that used to play Top 20 hits. We used to play blues and soul music hits of the day when we were semi-pro.
"We went through that formula kind of music and then we went through this period where some of the artists started writing their own music, with 'Mack The Knife' and so on actually getting into the charts. Progressive rock music as opposed to the pop music of before — songs that they'd written themselves, arranged themselves, totally free from the stranglehold of the record company molding their career and their repertoire.
"And the audience was the audience who had grown up listening to early rock and roll, who then went on to listen to these groups as they became more sophisticated. And now they're the rather more adult audience of today. But now a lot of that audience are getting almost as old as the members of the groups so they're not so likely to go to rock concerts, not so likely to rush out and buy the new record the day it's released. Their place is being taken by the new generation of younger kids, the new 13, 14, 15 year-olds who have created a demand for simpler, more immediate music. Which is again a slicker, more production-ridden gimmicky version of the early rock and roll. That is what is hugely popular now in England. This simple sort of bubblegum rock is what has taken over — and those records sell more than Led Zeppelin sell, more than the Rolling Stones sell, more than Pink Floyd sells, more than Jethro Tull sells. England had T. Rex, now it has the Bay City Rollers, Mud, Slade, all kinds of names.
"When this contemporary young audience in two or three years is bored with this elemental rock and roll, then when it gets of a drinking age it will find itself in the clubs and pubs and will breed a new cycle of club underground groups. Out of that will come the new Pink Floyds and Jethro Tulls."