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He is the fish farming, flute-fondling, facially furnished father of folk-rock, a fervent fan of rock's flakier fellows. Obvious, really. Please be upstanding (on one leg, naturally) as Johnny Black brings you, from Jethro Tull ...
IAN ANDERSON'S RECORD COLLECTION
"Cup of tea? Coffee?" Thus are we welcomed into the stately West Country home of Ian Anderson. It is the lord of the manor himself who affably concocts the cups that cheer and delivers them into a long, wood-floored drawing room, flooded with afternoon sunlight through full-length windows. The room is low on furniture, but littered everywhere with cardboard boxes and packing cases, because the Andersons have just moved in.
It was a bit of a Herculean feat digging out these records (he admits). Everything is still in the Pickford's boxes.
Unlike a lot of rock artists, Anderson doesn't have a huge record collection, and what he does have
sits in odd cupboards and on dusty shelves around the place. I'm not the sort that comes in of an evening and puts on a record as background. I might go several years without listening to a particular record, and then stumble over it and renew my acquaintance by playing it solidly for a few days. And when I do listen, I like to do it properly. I can get quite annoyed if somebody interrupts. I like to show respect for the music.
The Hoochie Coochie Man
I was playing Hoochie Coochie Man in the kitchen the other day when my daughter walked in and asked what he was singing about. All this stuff about black cat bones, mojos and John the Conqueroo, so I said, Well, what do you think John the Conqueroo means? and she kind of got it within 10 seconds and said, You dirty bugger.
When I came to dig this out, I noticed with some amusement that I actually have three copies of the album Muddy did with Johnny Winter a couple of years before he dies. As far as I'm concerned, Johnny Winter's greatest contribution was not as a solo musician but as a collaborator who got out of Muddy Waters probably his finest recording, if for no other reason than that it's actually in stereo — you can actually hear what everybody is playing — and he was still singing really well then and it was real mastery.
The Complete Recordings
I bought this rather reluctantly, having read it being recommended by some pompous twit like Charles Shaar Murray. I'd always known about Johnson but it was almost too primitive. It had a historical validity but it didn't musically generate a lot for me. It took some serious listening before I got to the essence of it, this starkness which is quite scary.
And when you then read something about the guy, it starts to put things into perspective. If you came to blues like I did, as a 16-year-old, via the John Lee Hookers and Muddy Waters' and also in parallel with The Rolling Stones and more pop people like Howlin' Wolf and Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley, then it's important to know where it all came from, historically and socially.
SONNY BOY WILLIAMSON
The Best Blues
As a 17-year-old, I sang 'Fattening Frogs for Snakes' with my Harmony electric guitar at the Holy Family Youth Club in Blackpool for an audience of 14-year-old Catholic schoolgirls who totally ignored us, preferring the delicate sounds of Cliff and the Shads. So I knew about Sonny Boy but, curiously, the real gist of it didn't get to me until I heard an imitation. There was a very taciturn guy in Family called Jim King, whose little party piece was to get up and do 'Bring It On Home'. I hadn't heard Sonny Boy do it, but I saw Family a lot on the same circuit as we did. It was Jim's performance, with a very authentic harmonica part and quavering voice, nothing more than a good imitation, but it got me into finding out more about Sonny Boy Williamson.
The best Of
My friend Jeffrey Hammond — who later played bass for Jethro Tull — and I used to hang out in this backstreet record store in Blackpool and we came across this phenomenal album called Swing Machine by Mose Allison. I saw Mose play at Ronnie Scott's with a pick-up trio and he had this wonderfully laconic style, very idiosyncratic, of both singing and playing the piano. A wonderful way with close harmony, moving in parallel along the keyboard.
Harmonically, he does stuff that, in my experience anyway, is unique. He's a very good piano player, he writes great songs, and when he takes on a blues piece, he doesn't fall into the trap of trying to change colour while performing it. He remains whiter and every bit as Southern as any black bluesman might be, but he delivers it in a Hoagey Carmichael deadpan way which gives it a whole new tack. Listening to the way Mose treated some of that more obviously blues-derived material, I realised you could do more than just imitate the blues. You could take it as a starting point and do something with it.
I saw him at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester when I was 16. He never quite got up there, but what made him special in those days was that he was the new kid on the block, and he died very young. I'd all but forgotten him until, years later, the big European promoter Fritz Rau gave me a copy of a brilliant album called Alabama Blues. Until then, blues had been a bit Uncle Tom, cotton sack on the back, Old Man Ribber, but suddenly here was this guy singing in a relevant topical way where the social message about being black, underprivileged and fucking angry about it really came across.
J.B. had a beautiful, clear, high voice, like a bell. His guitar playing was remarkable too, with great economy of style. I kicked myself when I saw on the cover of one album that he seems to be playing a small-bodied Epiphone, because I had that same guitar but, if I recall correctly, I gave it as a gift to Martin Barre's sister. She thought I was rather fab but then later on she decided I wasn't and took my poster off her wall and I rather regretted giving her my Epiphone, but I can't really ask for it back now, can I?
Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith
Just before I moved to London, this beatnik character up in Blackpool called Jeff the Cake told me, 'Look out for Roy Harper. I used to hang around with him, and he's down in London now being a folk singer.' So when I did stumble across Roy Harper the following summer, I went and got his record. I was in a bedsit and it was my only record. I had bought my first record player — it was mono but you could buy this add-on bit to make it stereo. I couldn't afford that, so I connected the first bit to a Vox AC30, and played Roy Harper's record until bedtime.
Harper's style forms a lot of my personal influence as a guitar player and to some extent as a songwriter. I eventually met him in a very crowded van when he and John Peel and the early Jethro Tull found ourselves doing folk clubs and university gigs together. I always rather envied him. He played the same circuit as us but I was in a band with amplifiers and equipment and roadies and things and I just loved the idea that this guy arrived hitchhiking, or on the train, with his guitar case, and no money and no nothing and played a gig — and the next night he was there again, and you thought, This is wonderful.
Safe As Milk
This was given to me by one of my fish farm managers up in Scotland. He made me a cassette copy with remains a prized possession. I remember being very uncomfortable with some of the music on Trout Mask replica. It seemed very accidental, in a compositional sense, yet it was still being played with a great deal of order and relative precision for music that harmonically and rhythmically seemed to take zig-zag steps in all directions.
I didn't understand it until I got to know the Magic band after he fired them. A lot of Trout Mask replica was done by him bashing out any old rubbish on the piano, then he'd leave them to transcribe the notes, which were just jumble, because he couldn't play piano. It was just mindless bullshit, but the band would learn it and he would come in and add his vocals, and what came out of that bizarre collaboration was just wonderful.
All The Stuff And More Vol. 1
I once got approached at a festival in Switzerland by a very strange guy who I took to be the roadie for one of the American bands on the bill. He produced some Tull CDs and asked me to autograph them for his mother. I said, 'Oh no, it's always "for your mother" isn't it?' and he said, 'No, I like your band as well — you've been a big influence on our music. But these are actually my mum's records. She asked me to bring the records to get your autograph.' I asked who he worked for and he said, 'Actually, I'm Joey Ramone.'
Well, I'd heard of The Ramones but I really didn't know anything about them. So up they got and within about 20 bars I was hooked. It was just great. On the face of it, it's like a send up, but behind it they mean that stuff. They also get to the point right away, whereas other folks, including us, get on stage and take an hour and a half to not even get close.
I never realised, until I bought The Stranglers' Greatest Hits anthology and read the little booklet that came with it, that The Stranglers were actually just as bunch of ageing old hippies like the rest of us. I bought Rattus Norvegicus right after it was released because of stuff like 'Get A Grip' and 'Peaches' — you just knew it was special.
I never really saw The Stranglers as punks, they just seemed to be this angry bunch of guys with a bit of attitude. I must admit, though, I was a bit disappointed to find that one of Hugh Cornwell's finest songs, 'Golden Brown', was about heroin, which never occurred to me at the time because I'm such an innocent about such matters. It really is a beautiful song, though, and one of the few where you get odd time signatures but it manages against the odds to be catchy enough to get the casual listener's attention.
Photograph: Richard Faulks
Thanks to Matthew Korn for this article.