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JETHRO TULL: FILTH, DEGRADATION AND THE ROOTY TOOT
Never saw a third-rate band I enjoyed more, this Jethro Tull band. Nobody sounds quite like them (it's not jazz, not blues, not 'rock-jazz'). They are not to be cherished and loved for this strange sound, for they are musically, yes, third-rate in comparison to, say, the maestro band Colosseum.
Their hearty rooty-tooty cheer and enthusiasm, coupled with leader and flutist Ian Anderson's outright filth and utter degradation right there on the wholesome stage, all make up for it. Jethro Tull is a departure from that breed of band that stands up there, exalting other-worldliness by ethereal-explosiveness Zeus-like glory. Jethro not only brings the behaviour down into the street, they take it into the sewer. For that, I love them. They deride their own 'heaviness' (even if we even knew what 'heavy' means).
Dozens of bands are more competent, but beneath Jethro's enthusiastic, frantic, frenetic playing, there is basically a spirit and little else in the ways of extraordinary instrumentalism. But it's Anderson's leering hot pastrami Dr. Strange 'shenanigans' you watch always. His on-stage oratory, magic and mighty, is what makes their staying power. And it's endless.
"Well, thank you for coming here tonight," he says to the Fillmore crowd, "and I hope some of you do come. Or maybe you've come already. For shame on you. Imagine what your parents would say if they were here. It's frightful, really, this hippy thing with your long hair and nonsense ..."
(and then, fingering his kinky hair laying on his shoulders)
"... really getting out of hand."
And then he stammers for a second, forgetting what brilliant statement he had up his sleeve, harrumphing.
Somebody once compared him to Fagin, the villainous keeper and corrupter of small boys in Oliver Twist. And look at him! A coat that almost goes to his feet, a nasty gleam in the eye, bearded, talking about Perversions. A reporter for the Los Angeles Freep went to see him, expecting wall-to-wall groupies and Anderson swinging from the chandeliers. But there were none. Expecting the same myself, I found Anderson intelligent (of course), and one who would prefer structure to music and things, rather than free-water looseness. He knows, y'know, what the audiences are hungering and craving for, and serves it up in joyous cheers. The Led Zeppelin also knows what the fans want, but aim at the crotch and not the respecting intellect. ('Spine', we used to call it.)
Anderson summed up the band for Melody Maker once:
"Glenn hasn't changed at all in the last two years. He's generally happy and enthusiastic about things ... Clive is a bit of a mystery man. He comes from a large family and has about seven brothers or something. And they're all identical ... Martin is a born loser. He trips over things, gets tea over his shirts and gets electrical shocks from door handles."
Glenn Cornick won't admit to his being a great bassist, but he is. (You know how those bass players are. Modest, usually.) Clive Bunker is one of the few drummers who can take a solo and not come out sounding like Speedfreaks and Ginger Baker Revisited. He's involved with tones rather than out-and-out drum frenzy. But poor Martin Lancelot Barre, the butt of Ian Anderson's ridicule, really doesn't play a very good guitar. He's lost. Not with the horsepower and pizzazz, however contrived, that the first guitarist Mick Abrahams had. I saw Barre take an obnoxiously-long ten-minute solo one night, and people accepted it. He got a few tricks in, and it was one of the few cases of outrageous behaviour on the part of the band. But people took it. Cheered for it. Applauded. Probably even thought it was hot stuff too. Jethro Tull establishes a human (albeit vaudevillian) rapport with the audience that makes their rushed and poo-pah music just all right. Real good, in fact. Because they care, by gosh, and that means a lot.
"Ian seems to dominate the group," I sez craftily to Glenn Cornick.
"Yes, he does. Why not?" Glenn answers me. "He writes good songs, and what's more, he's able to finish them, which is more than the others can say. Martin and I have both been working on songs for over a year, but we'll never get them done. Ian has the right direction of mind to sit down and write the beginning and end to a song."
The band first got together in Blackpool, England, way up there in the north country, where, as opposed to urbane urban suave and dashing London town, you played the soupy music of the pop radio dial.
"It's a bit like being in the Midwest here, isn't it?" says bassist Glenn Cornick. "You could do anything you wanted there ... but you couldn't get any work! So we got the idea of going to London. Like the Streets Of Gold idea, we thought we could really make it."
At this time they were a seven-piece soul band. Plus some blues, or, as they say, 'pseudo-blues'. They played the classics like 'Dust My Broom' and 'Rock Me Baby'. Numbers that unprogressive bands like Fleetwood Mac are still playing. They weren't using the name Jethro Tull then, and, in fact, were using a different name every night they went out to play.
"I'd never been away from home before," says Anderson. "It was just a yokel hitting the city with all his belongings in a knotted hankie at the end of a stick. I started out as a singer, and when the others were playing I found I was just gazing round the lofty halls. I thought I'd like to be playing something and moving around too, so I got hold of a flute and a harmonica and bluffed my way through."
The money problem of having seven people in the band began to irk and grate. One by one they packed off in disgust, until there were four left. Included was Mick Abrahams, the guitarist, who, being five years older than the rest, was less patient, had his own ideas, and so, (after the first album), left in a huff. "Quite a huff, actually," says Ian. In came Martin Lancelot Barre.
"Barre was an architectural student at the time," says Anderson, "and he came to an audition that was advertised in the papers with about 50 others. And like the 50 others we thought he was awful and sent him on home. But he kept phoning around and saying we ought to give him a second chance, so we despaired and said yes, because we'd found none better. Our first practice was last Christmas Day (1968), with everybody in London in bed or stuffing their stockings or doing whatever they were doing on Christmas. Quiet, no cars running in the streets, and we were playing aloud in a rehearsal room. Frightening, really."
Instead of having Barre adjust his playing to fill in for that of the gone Mick Abrahams, Jethro Tull switched over to accommodate Barre. Abrahams meanwhile has started his own vehicle, Blodwyn Pig, which Ian aptly calls "middle of the road jazz-blues." And as for Jethro Tull's 'jazz'?
"It's a shame, really," said Anderson from the stage of New York's Fillmore East "... the way this trend in pop music, or rock music, or whatever you'd call it, is going towards a rock-jazz fusion. All that this 'jazz' is, is just over-long self-indulgent solos. Well, you know ... we're no different from the rest because Clive's gonna do an over-long self-indulgent solo now ..."
So they're no different from the rest. Wondering how serious Anderson was about jazz, I asked him whether he liked Pharoah Sanders. (Which was a stupid question).
"Who?" he says. "Oh ... Pharoah ... Sanders ... yes, well I've hard of him. I know he's somebody. No, I don't like jazz; my idea of jazz is something akin to an artform."
Jethro Tull probably picked up its 'jazz' pigeonholing because of Anderson's flute, which is (isn't it?) a jazz instrument. I mean, Herbie Mann plays one; so does Charles Lloyd. An English critic once called Anderson's playing a second-rate imitation of Roland Kirk. Said Anderson later, when he heard about it:
"There's no comparison between us. I don't know how old Roland Kirk is, but I'm 21. I've been playing for 18 months. I mean, technically, there's no comparison whatsoever. Soundwise, there is a similarity. Roland Kirk does it because he's a person who understands the instrument, the flute, to a fantastic degree. I do it because it's the one sound I can make which will blend with a guitar; a strident noisy sound. I have to do it; it's a matter of coming across."
His style is really not too clear and precise, especially when compared to the flute-playing of guitarist Martin Barre (the two have a duet on one song, 'Reasons For Waiting', backed by a wall of strings and lush gypsy sounds). Barre, who's had a lesson or two on flute, plays with a complete pear-shaped round tone. Anderson's playing, all grating and ninety-miles-an-hour, rushes alongside Barre's guitar, duplicating the notes. Not too original, clearly. BUT, says Anderson now:
"I don't play a lot of fast runs any more. It's more forceful; direct. Much as like Eric Clapton used to play with a lot of fast blues phrases stuck together, but has since changed to making more positive statements. I can say my playing has changed similarly. I only found out how I was changing by listening to Blind Faith's album."
He once reasoned to an English paper, Top Pops:
"Listen, I can't play jazz. I'm not a musician in that sense. I'm a musician in that I understand ... I have a pretty broad understanding of music and the different sorts of music. But as a player, I can't play jazz; I can't play classical music; I can't play folk music; and I can't play blues. But I know what I can play. It's just music. To categorize might help the listener or the critic ..."
Jethro Tull's first album (with Mick Abrahams) was called This Was, ostensibly because they knew they were going to deviate from that kind of music someday and would then sit around and say, "Well, that was Jethro Tull's music once, y'know." Their sound was, and is now, sometimes mixed and raced, one moment with everybody pouring it on, and the next with everybody liquid and sopped up. The first album was recorded in three days and was filled with compromises between master-egos Ian Anderson and Mick Abrahams. It was, more directly, the same music they played on stage. Anderson promises that the third album will be "louder and as nasty as the second ... a bit more complicated."
The notes for the second album, Stand Up, credit Anderson with playing organs, mandolins, balalaikas, etc., even though he only plays a smattering of each. He explains:
"There's the danger that if you play all the instruments on stage, people will say, 'Yah boo, multi-instrumentalists'. We don't really play these instruments, but we play the desired thing, given enough time for rehearsal."
And then later:
"One gets caught in an embarrassing position,"
he said, expounding when he expounds best and that is when there is really nothing to expound upon.
"You could not mention the credits, and someone would say, 'Well, what well-known balalaika studio-player could that be.' Which, of course, there are none. Or else there's the one who stays up in his room all night with his $10 Hofner guitar trying to imitate a guitar line when it's actually a mandolin. We obviously can't come into contact with all these people, so we list these things. At the cost of being 'multi-instrumentalists'."
As casually slung together as their records might sound, they have all been mapped out pretty exactingly by Anderson.
"Most of my learning period," he says, "was spent in solitary confinement up in my room to listen to what went together. I listened to folk and classical and all of it. I never studied music, but I studied painting for two years, and the discipline and analysis of that work wore off and I started writing songs."
Ian Anderson is definitely very intelligent; smart enough to know what he's doing without tripping all over himself, and thereby giving the audience credit for brains. He doesn't cram unlawful images of sin and corruption down the audience's throats. Admittedly, he seems a lot like a dirty old man, and the worst kind of degenerate ... but it's only through his snide commentary. Not by operatic Rock Star presentations.
An English schoolmaster, after he saw them in England on television, wrote into the local chronicle, outraged. "Let us put down this group now," he said through his nose, "before they contaminate our youth as did the Rolling Stones."
Now that's criticism. There's a man who sat down to his coffee early in the morning and decided what was right. Jethro Tull just sit down to their music. They are their music, as opposed to some groups ... who ... y'know ... horse off.
They will last, too, not only because of their guffawing honesty, but because they're getting better as musicians. ANY band with the sensitivity to do a track like 'Reasons For Waiting' will be around for quite a while. They have achieved success sooner than was expected. They are not only a full-volume-bass-and-treble on a rainy night band, but one with brains. More power to them.
Pictures: RALPH GARCIA
Many thanks to Kenneth Pettit and Don Copher for this article