Jethro Tull is a British rock band formed in Blackpool, England, in 1967. Initially playing blues rock and jazz fusion, the group’s bandleader, founder, primary composer, and only constant member is Ian Anderson, a multi-instrumentalist who mainly plays flute and acoustic guitar, and is also the lead vocalist.
Ian Anderson was born August 10, 1947, in Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland, the youngest of three brothers, to an English mother and a Scottish father. He was influenced by his father’s big band and jazz records and the emergence of rock music but was disenchanted with the “showbiz” style of early American rock and roll stars like Elvis Presley. In 1963, he formed The Blades, a soul, and blues band from among school friends: Michael Stephens (guitar), John Evan (keyboards), Jeffrey Hammond (bass), and Barriemore Barlow (drums).
I suppose in my late teens I thought, ‘There’s no way I’m ever gonna do justice to being a blues singer. It’d be farcical for me to pretend to be something that I’m not.’ So I started trying to play and begin to write songs that were a little more eclectic.Ian Anderson
They played their first show at the Holy Family Church Hall in North Shore. John Evan was born on March 28, 1948, in Derby, Derbyshire. Evans’ father was headmaster at a Derbyshire village school and his mother was a local concert pianist and piano teacher. The family moved to Blackpool, Lancashire in October 1949. Evans was educated at Blackpool Grammar School, where he met Ian Anderson and Jeffrey Hammond, and Chelsea College, now King’s College London.
Jeffrey Hammond was born July 30, 1946, and is often known by his former stage name Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond. He adopted the name “Hammond-Hammond” as a joke since both his father’s surname and mother’s maiden name were the same. He also joked in interviews that his mother defiantly chose to keep her maiden name, just like Eleanor Roosevelt.
Barrie “Barriemore” Barlow was born on September 10, 1949, in Birmingham, England. Barry had become an apprentice Plastic Mould Tool Fitter but walked out in the middle of a math exam to answer the call by Ian and John to go to Nottingham that night for a suddenly announced gig.
His first major public appearance was not as a musician, but as a TV “extra” in the series “Coronation Street” where he briefly appeared alongside Ian’s then-girlfriend, actress Yvonne Nickelson. The Blades played their first show at the Holy Family Church Hall in North Shore.
After several name changes, like John Evan Band, John Evan Smash, Navy Blue, Ian Henderson’s Bag o’ Nails, and Candy Coloured Rain, often supplied by their booking agent’s staff, one of which finally came up with Jethro Tull which stuck. During this period, they rotated several band members like guitarist Mike Stephens, guitarist Chris Riley, bassist Derek Ward, bassist Glenn Cornick, guitarist Neil Smith, drummer Clive Bunker, and guitarist Mick Abrahams.
Clive William Bunker was born December 30, 1946, in Luton, Bedfordshire, and played in his first band The Warriors in the 1960s. With Mick Abrahams, he later formed the band known as McGregor’s Engine. In this early career, playing in small venues, Bunker had an extraordinary non-matching drum kit, composed of bits and pieces of various manufacturers’ equipment.
Michael (Mick) Timothy Abrahams was born on April 7, 1943, in Luton, Bedfordshire. He played on the album This Was recorded by Jethro Tull in 1968, but conflicts between Abrahams and Ian Anderson over the musical direction of the band led Abrahams to leave. Abrahams wanted to pursue a more blues/rock direction, while Anderson wanted to incorporate more overt folk and jazz influences.
In 1968 they recorded their first single, which was misprinted as Jethro Toe, “Sunshine Day”/”Aeroplane”. I love both of these songs. It was on MGM records and produced by Derek Lawrence. the more common version, with the name, spelt correctly, is actually a counterfeit made in New York.
Anderson possessed a large overcoat, his father had given it to him with the words “You’d better take this. It’s going to be a cold winter”. This overcoat and, slightly later on, the flute, became part of his early stage image. It was around this time that Anderson purchased a flute after becoming frustrated with his inability to play the guitar as well as Abrahams or Cream guitarist Eric Clapton and because their managers thought he should remain a rhythm guitarist.
I didn’t want to be just another third-rate guitar player who sounded like a plethora of other third-rate guitar players. I wanted to do something that was a bit more idiosyncratic, hence the switch to another instrument. When Jethro Tull began, I think I’d been playing the flute for about two weeks. It was a quick learning curve … literally every night I walked onstage was a flute lesson.Ian Anderson
Their next single, released on September 13, 1968, was “A Song for Jeffrey”/”One for John Gee”. In the US it would be the B-side to the third single “Love Story”. In England “Love Story” had the B-side of “Christmas Song”. Their first album was released on October 25, 1968, on Island Records and called This Was. It would make it to number 10 on the UK charts.
Abrahams left the band in December 1968 to form his own group, Blodwyn Pig. They tried some replacements including David O’List from The Nice, Mick Taylor from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Tony Iommi from Earth (soon to be renamed Black Sabbath) who was with Jethro Tull for their appearance on The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus on December 11, 1968, where they performed “A Song for Jeffrey”, and then they settled on Martin Barre.
Martin Lancelot Barre was born November 17, 1946, in Kings Heath, Birmingham, England. His father was an engineer who had wanted to play the clarinet professionally. Barre played the flute at his grammar school. In college, he studied architecture but it was boring and he gave it up to play the guitar. Barre played his first gig with Jethro Tull on December 30, 1968, at the Winter Gardens, Penzance. They then opened for Jimi Hendrix in Scandinavia, then set out on an extensive tour of the US, supporting Led Zeppelin and Vanilla Fudge.
Ian Anderson wrote “Living in the Past”, which reached number 3 in May on the UK singles chart and number 11 in the US. This May 2, 1969 song was their ticket onto Top of the Pops. The next album was Stand Up, recorded during April–May and August 1969 which was number 1 in the UK.
The album included Anderson’s jazzy rearrangement of J. S. Bach’s “Bourrée in E minor BWV 996 (fifth movement)”. The album cover unfolded to a photo insert of the band attached to the covers like a pop-up book.
With this success, the group set off on their first headlining tour in the US and were invited to play at Woodstock which they declined. The next album was Benefit, released on September 3, 1969, and reached number 4 in the UK and number 11 in the US. In August, the band played to one of their largest audiences at the 1970 Isle of Wight festival.
The 4th studio album featured Anderson’s opinions about organized religion and was called Aqualung. It was released on March 19, 1971, and made it number 7 on the US charts. The album spawned two singles, “Hymn 43” and “Locomotive Breath”. The songs on the album encompass a variety of musical genres, with elements of folk, blues, psychedelia, and hard rock. The next album was one of my favorites of all time, Thick as a Brick released on March 3, 1972, and was number 1 on the US charts.
Anderson was fed up with critics calling Aqualung a concept album, so he decided to “come up with something that really is the mother of all concept albums”. He had become influenced by Monty Python’s humor and wrote a suite that combined complex musical ideas with a sense of humor to make fun of the band, its audience, and its critics. It consisted of a single track running over 43 minutes, split over two sides, which was uncommon for rock albums. I wrote about it here.
1972 also saw the release of Living in the Past, a double-album compilation of remixed singles, B-sides, and outtakes (including the entirety of the Life Is a Long Song EP, which closes the album), with the third side recorded live in 1970 at New York’s Carnegie Hall on November 4, 1970. This compilation album made it to number 3 on the US charts.
Jethro Tull quickly recorded and released A Passion Play (1973), another single-track concept album, with allegorical lyrics focusing on the afterlife. Like Thick as a Brick, A Passion Play contained instrumentation rather uncommon in rock music. The album also featured an eccentric interlude, “The Story of the Hare Who Lost His Spectacles”, which was co-written (along with Anderson and Evan) and narrated by bassist Hammond.
When I was a teenager in the ’70s, I was really into those great bands like Led Zeppelin and Queen and Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Alice Cooper.Steve Vai
A Passion Play made number 1 in the US but generally received poor reviews, which upset Anderson. The follow-up album, 1974’s War Child, was originally intended to be a companion piece for a film, it reached number 2o on the US Billboard charts and received some critical acclaim, and produced the radio mainstay “Bungle in the Jungle”, which reached number 12 on the US singles chart, and “Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day”.
Minstrel in the Gallery (1975), an album that resembled Aqualung (1971) in that it contrasted softer, acoustic-guitar-based pieces with lengthier, more bombastic works headlined by Barre’s electric guitar. Written and recorded during Anderson’s divorce from his first wife Jennie Franks, the album is characterized by a markedly more introspective tone than their previous album, and critics gave it mixed reviews.
In February 1975 Jethro Tull sold out five nights at the 20,000-seat Los Angeles Forum. 1976’s Too Old to Rock ‘n’ Roll: Too Young to Die! was another concept album, this time about the life of an aging rocker. John Glascock joined the band when Hammond left. For the 1976 tour, Jethro Tull became one of the first bands to use giant projection screens for larger stadium shows.
John Glascock (May 2, 1951 – November 17, 1979) was a British musician best known for being the bassist and occasional lead vocalist of the rock band Carmen from 1972 to 1975. Glascock died at the age of 28 as a result of a congenital heart valve defect, which was worsened by an infection caused by an abscessed tooth. In a September 1978 Guitar Player interview, Ritchie Blackmore said “John Glascock is a brilliant bass player, the best in the business in rock.”
Jethro Tull released a trio of folk rock albums, Songs from the Wood (1977), Heavy Horses (1978), and Stormwatch (1979). Songs From the Wood was the first album since Living in the Past that received almost all positive reviews. The Christmas/Winter Solstice-themed song “Ring Out, Solstice Bells” was released as an EP in the winter of 1976.
It went on to become a popular Christmas song in the UK and was rerecorded in 2003 for The Jethro Tull Christmas Album. The band continued to tour and released a live double album in 1978, titled Bursting Out, which was recorded during the European leg of the Heavy Horses tour. During the US leg of this tour, John Glascock suffered health problems and was replaced by Anderson’s friend and former Stealers Wheel bassist, Tony Williams.
Tull’s first album of the 1980s was intended to be Ian Anderson’s first solo album. Anderson retained Barre on electric guitar and Pegg on bass, while adding Mark Craney on drums, and special guest keyboardist/violinist Eddie Jobson (ex–Roxy Music, Frank Zappa, Curved Air, and U.K., the last of which had opened for several shows on Tull’s Stormwatch tour).
Highlighted by the prominent use of synthesizers, it contrasted sharply with the established “Tull sound”. After pressure from Chrysalis Records, Anderson agreed to release it as a Jethro Tull album. Entitled A (taken from the labels on the master tapes for his scrapped solo album, marked simply “A” for “Anderson”), it was released in mid-1980.
In keeping with the mood of innovation surrounding the album, Jethro Tull developed a music video titled Slipstream. In 1982, Peter-John Vettese joined on keyboards, and the band returned to a somewhat folkier sound—albeit with synthesizers—for 1982’s The Broadsword and the Beast. The ensuing concert tour for the album was well attended and the shows featured what was to be one of the group’s last indulgences in full-dress theatricality.
The stage was built to resemble a Viking longship and the band performed in faux-medieval regalia. In 1984, Jethro Tull released Under Wraps and returned in 1987 with Crest of a Knave. To this date, Tull has released 22 studio albums and 45 singles.
In their 50 years, Jethro Tull has notched an astounding 15 gold or platinum albums in the U.S., as well as two number 1 LPs. Their most famous song, “Aqualung,” has a guitar riff that’s as cutting and memorable as “Iron Man” and “Smoke on the Water,” and their music has influenced Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Porcupine Tree, Pearl Jam, and Nick Cave, among others.
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