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25 June 1970
A TULL STORY
For its true genesis, this story must go back to 1741 — a paleozoic era when the world was young and Jelly Roll Morton had not yet become a household expression. There wasn't much jazz being played then; even less rock. And musicians had nothing to plug their amplifier into.
But farmers had something to dig their plows into. A representative of that agrarian set was one Jethro Tull: hard working, unspectacular, obviously one of England's silent majority. And unless he was hip to reincarnation, he had no way of knowing that he would reap more than he would ever sow. No way.
Tull died in 1741, and nothing further was heard from him until 1968 when an intense young student at the Blackpool College of Art (in northern England) named Ian Anderson decided to form a combo. Ian (rhymes with seein') had originally pursued a career in math and science, but as he explained:
"I soon became completely suffocated by the sciences. I needed the emotional freedom of the arts, but after two years of studying painting, a curious thing happened: I found myself gravitating back to the orderliness of math."
This combination of emotional freedom and cerebral orderliness goes a long way towards explaining the music that now comes from the group called Jethro Tull. It doesn't explain why his manager, Terry Ellis, decided on that name for the combo. But then, the what's-in-a-name game is loaded with similar nonsense: Conway Twitty, Stark Naked, Engelbert Humperdinck, and Alyce Cooper.
According to Ian's bass guitarist, Glenn Cornick (who wears the closest thing I've ever seen to a Superman outfit): "Jethro Tull has a nice grubby farmer sound to it." According to Cornick's wife Judy: "Jethro Tull was a down-home English Johnny Appleseed." Whatever image Jethro Tull conjures up, Ian Anderson promises it will be temporary. Says he: "We borrowed the name, but we'll be happy to return it after we've finished with it."
While we're dropping sidemen's names, Martin Barre plays lead guitar. That's Martin Lancelot Barre, but don't let the suavity of the name fool you. Anderson claims Barre is a "born loser," the kind of hapless musician who can't cope with the practical world and "gets tea over his shirt ... trips over things ... and gets electrical shocks from door handles." Regarding Clive Bunker, his present drummer, Ian claims he's "a man of mystery" (whatever that means). One thing is no mystery: Clive Bunker is a dependable and consistent drummer, which is more than you can say for the average hyperactive rock percussionist.
The newest member of the group is John Evan, a well-schooled pianist and organist who has given Ian Anderson new-found confidence in writing. Anderson writes and arranges practically all of Jethro Tull's material, but he was conscious of holding back somewhat in the past.
"John has added a new dimension musically and I can write more freely now. In fact, anything is possible with him at the keyboard."
This writer can vouch for the level of musicianship that Evan has brought to Jethro Tull. At a recent concert in Long Beach, California, before 14,000 screaming, unisexed rock fans, Evan went into a leisurely introduction to a ballad with a generous quote from Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata'. I wonder how many of those present were conscious of the interpolative tribute. Evan prefers piano to organ, which is itself significant: he's not interested in the power he can muster. What he has to say is strictly musical, and that kind of honesty from a musician — whether the genre be jazz or rock — is refreshing these days.
Equally refreshing because he's equally honest is Ian Anderson. He's the first musician I've encountered who refuses to call himself a musician.
"I don't understand all the basics of music, so I don't consider myself a musician like, for example, John Evan. My definition involves someone who understands the way music is constructed."
Ian knows what he's after in terms of emotion and sound, and in this respect compares himself with Jimi Hendrix.
"I'm limited, but I actively indulge in trying to find out more about myself in my writing and in my playing. I don't have a facile or slick style; but I get very emotionally caught up in the music and the audience reaction. Now Hendrix is limited, technically, but he knows how to work his audience up to a climax."
Anderson claims that if his own audiences reach a peak, it's not necessarily his doing. He feels that "most kids are caught up in mass hysteria." If he reaches a peak himself, its merely "coincidental with their peak." To complicate matters, once the kids have had their collective orgasm, Ian finds it difficult to "take them back down to tranquility." It's somewhat of a paradox, but Anderson is sincere in his impossible dream. He works his crowd up to an uncontrollable frenzy, then wishes they could cool it so they could catch some of the group's subtleties. He is particularly critical of American audiences.
"We try to convey various shadings of emotional depth, but the kids out there miss all the nuances. They're too busy smoking pot. Now as far as habits are concerned, I couldn't care what audiences do, but I know I'd feel happier if they stayed away from the stuff. Then they could be more objective. Right now I'd have to say American audiences exhibit the lowest common denominator of taste. You know, we shouldn't be forgiven for goofs. But we can play anything poorly and they won't 'boo'; they'll rave. Other countries don't rave that indiscriminately. They appreciate with more honesty, and frankly I can come to grips with European audiences, 'cause you know they hear what you're doing. But here, I'm afraid they come to concerts so they can thumb their noses at the cops. They couldn't care less about the purity of the music."
At 22, Anderson cares a great deal about the purity of his flute playing and again it takes the form of a put-down. Some tone-deaf English critic recently labelled Anderson a "second-rate imitation of Roland Kirk," which is tantamount to saying John Mayall is a second-rate Leadbelly.
"Anyone who compares me with Roland Kirk obviously does not understand what Kirk is doing. Roland Kirk is a jazz musician who leans heavily towards blues — loose, free blues. Technically he's a master of his style and he certainly understands his instrument. Now I don't have a style; but I do have a sound. The fact that I use my voice with the flute doesn't mean I'm imitating Kirk. Really, the comparison is irksome. He's been playing flute for years — many, many years. I've been playing flute only since 1968. I don't even know the mechanics of my instrument."
His instrument is an Artley concert flute, not electrified, but he has an echo device and other forms of electronic gimmickry hooked up to the P.A. system. He can control the echo delay and, when the spirit moves him, harmonize with himself. "The overlap is positively intriguing," he says.
While the cascading sound helps to drive his adoring crowd to new heights of frenzy, it is the visual experience of Ian Anderson that sends them on a mass trip. Dressed like a combination of Captain Hook and the Pied Piper, Ian Anderson explodes on stage with his abundant, shoulder-length tresses well teased, his drooping moustache and beard almost as kinky as his hair; boots up to his knees, a Fagin-like coat down to his ankles. Wild-eyed and gesticulating as if he were possessed, Anderson brings the flute up to the mike, pours on all the technique and amplification he can garner, runs up and down the scale trying to elude the devil himself, and finally lifts his left leg, occasionally kicking at the air while he maintains his balance (and while his fans — confusing eccentricity with virtuosity — promptly lose their equilibrium).
But don't let outward appearances throw you. Ian Anderson is a sensitive, intelligent young man whose humility is as genuine as his sense of show business. He knows who he is, what he has and where he's going. He's bright enough to know what his paying peers expect, and talented enough to furnish it. Jethro Tull puts on a helluva show and their leader Ian Anderson will not allow himself to be blinded by the adulation.
I sat with him backstage following his concert at the Long Beach Arena. Out front the smell of pot hung as heavy as the ever-present smog. Photographers were feverishly clicking away; among them a 16mm movie camera was grinding while a shotgun mike overheard every utterance for a future soundtrack. The fans were trying to get by their helmeted enemies to see their idols, and through it all, Anderson sat composed, holding his recent bride, Jennie, and replying in his soft-spoken, civilized tone — the calm eye in a hurricane of frenetic activity.
A few days later, at his hotel on the Sunset Strip, we talked over lunch and the same soothing, cultured intonation barely made itself heard, but what was audible was highly articulate and often thought-provoking. This, of course, led to the dichotomy between his on-stage and in-person images.
"Well, if there's a difference in personalities, it's because I have a tremendous range of emotions — as a person and as a performer. I'm glad to see people enjoy one of my concerts, but at the same time, if something goes wrong, I'll get extremely depressed — right on stage. Sure, the people aren't aware that we might have goofed, but it doesn't help me. I know, and if it's particularly bad, I'll disappear behind an amp and cry."
Whether you choose to believe that is up to you. One thing I have no doubts about is Anderson's position on certain habits. He must be one of the few rock musicians in the world who puts drugs, liquor and groupies in his personal 'no-no' category.
"I don't give a damn what others do as long as they don't louse themselves up physically. I couldn't abide sidemen who were constantly stoned. If I don't take any drugs, it's not due to a moral thing. It's simply that I don't want my personality changed or even influenced by external things."
Makes sense. Anderson has been too successful thus far to take any chances. If he blows his mind he may blow his luck. The group is doing extremely well. Their first three records (Reprise) have taken off on charted flights and he has a fourth in the works that will feature flute overdubbings. He makes no excuses about his musicianship, and you can't help but admire a young man who tastes of success and still wears the same size hat. He constantly reminds himself and others of his limitations. In addition to the flute, he plays guitar, balalaika and mandolin. And those are his vocals you hear on recordings. But he has no pretensions about scaring anyone musically.
The strongest plus in his favour, which has nothing to do with dilettantism, is his ability to control his group. He's a firm leader. Jethro Tull is not a co-op combo; it's Ian Anderson's. And if they follow the leader, the sky's the limit.
Thanks to Casey Drumm for this article
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