Every now and again I feel like a post is going to go over like a Led Zeppelin, to coin a phrase, and this is one of them. I don’t care. I was “hired” to provide content and dad gum it (I obviously listen to too many Hawk Harrelson White Sox broadcasts on the MLB package), that is what I’m going to do. Today is Ian Scott Anderson’s 63rd birthday. Born on August 10, 1947, Anderson has built an empire by mixing Blues, Progressive Rock, Folk, Jazz and some traditional sounds to form a sound no one else has. When you are trying to establish territory in the world of Rock music, the best thing you can do is sound like nobody else…ever. Mission accomplished. Love ‘em or hate ‘em (I think you know where I stand), Jethro Tull has been an institution for some 42 years. Who else could be identified with a mere silhouette to begin the post? Ten, fifteen musicians max? Excepting the blaring headline “Rock Star Birthday Blurbs – Ian Anderson,” even folks who don’t care for Jethro Tull’s music would easily be able to identify the artwork. No words needed. Just black and white. If you are interested in building a rock brand see Anderson, Ian. My friend Mark always asks me to name five rock bands that feature the flute and I always kind of struggle to name bands he might know. The Moody Blues? Horslips? Focus? I give up almost immediately. If I dig deep with the help of the Internet I can now locate Genesis, The Guess Who, King Crimson and The Marshall Tucker Band.
If you have even a modicum of affinity for the music of JT and all you know is Aqualung, Bungle in The Jungle, Locomotive Breath, Living in The Past and the other half dozen tracks still getting Classic Rock airplay, I feel sorry for you. I’ve been a Jethro Tull fan since maybe 1972. Twelve years old. That’s a fair assessment. FM radio, with their new found Progressive formats, incorporated Jethro Tull in the early 70′s like it was going out of style. By the time Benefit, released in 1970, was released, Jethro Tull, the English Rock group with the Scottish lead singer, were already famous. I was watching The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus the other day for fun and the first band out of the chute is none other than Jethro Tull. That might sound like warm up act material to you, but on the bill were The Who, Taj Mahal, The Dirty Mac, Marianne Faithful (I think she was sleeping with someone we all know at that time), Yoko Ono and you know who. They did a killer rendition of “Song For Jeffrey,” which appeared on This Was as well as opening up 1972′s Living in The Past. This was December 1968. You can bet Mick, Keith, Pete and the rest had respect for this fledgling band back then.
Look, I get that Tull is a polarizing act. I was giving this girl a ride home not six weeks ago and had War Child in my CD player. “The Third Hoorah” to be exact. This woman is sizzling hot and a yoga instructor. Way out of my league. And also twenty years, at least, younger than I am. I didn’t have the thing blasting or even loud, but she felt the need to complain about the music even as I was saving her ten miles worth of cab fare just the same. She asked me who it was and when I told her she said she just could never get into Jethro Tull. At least she knew who they were. I put on the local crappy R&B station after calling her high maintenance for fun. She’s a sweetheart of a woman, but Tull is out of the question apparently. That’s OK, I don’t need anyone to listen to it with me. I’ve been doing it for coming up on 40 years now. I love seeing the other die hard fans at the shows each year and my friend Jefferson, probably the only other Tull fan of any consequence I know, went to the show earlier this summer. We saw WZLX’s Carter Alan there and had a few laughs with him knowing him from our days as glorified gophers at WBCN, The Rock of Boston. Carter, at least, still likes Jethro Tull too. Tull fans are like a dinosaur cult slowly going extinct, probably because we never have sex (kidding!) like The Shakers. And I can’t even make any furniture and Ken Burns isn’t interested in doing a documentary on us. Shocking.
For those of you interested in learning more about the Tull catalogue the sleepers are Benefit (1970), Living in The Past (1972), Minstrel in The Gallery (1975), Songs From The Wood (1977), Heavy Horses (1978) and Crest of a Knave (1987). Excepting the Classic Rock format, FM radio hasn’t played current Jethro Tull since Songs From The Wood came out in 1977. I remember “Songs From The Wood, Cup of Wonder and The Whistler” getting cursory airplay back in the 70′s, but since then? 1980′s A had “Crossfire” (definitely not to be confused with the Stevie Ray Vaughan classic), 1982′s Broadsword and The Beast had the underrated “Hard Times,” 1984′s Under Wraps had “Lap of Luxury” and 1987′s Crest of a Knave had “Farm On The Freeway,” but Tull’s music had faded to black on the airways. If you listen to Classic Rock radio and you didn’t much care for them before, I can’t imagine your hatred for them now. I remember my friend Jefferson and I went out to the venerable Worcester Centrum on November 21, 1987, taking advantage of our dubious radio contacts, and got backstage to meet Ian. He couldn’t talk due to vocal problems, but we got him to sign our CDs and chatted with ZZ Top, if I have my facts straight, whom I believe were sharing the bill with them that night. A blip on the radar screen of my concert going life, but it’s still fun to look at my Crest of a Knave CD with “Hello John!, Ian Anderson, Jethro Tull” scribbled on it. It sees the light of day once every five years now that the CD is digitized, but it’ll take it’s place next to the other half dozen luminaries I suckered into signing a CD cover for me. Anyway…
My stories always make my posts run long and this was supposed to be about Ian Anderson so here goes…Ian Anderson stumbled on the Rock & Roll life while working as a sales person in a department store in the Blackpool section of England. He was reading Melody Maker and the New Musical Express and decided the Rock life might be fun. He started a band called The Blades and tried his hand at lead guitar. He quickly gave up that aspiration once he heard Eric Clapton play, but he took up the flute and mastered it rather quickly. Apparently he had been playing for only a few months before the tracks for Jethro Tull’s debut album, This Was, were laid down in 1968. Ian is a salmon farmer and has survived a bout with Deep Vein Thrombosis, a disease which he does Public Service Announcements for.
Jethro Tull still releases records every couple of years although they’ve been kind of quiet the last few years since releasing a fantastic Christmas Album in 2003. I hear there is something on the horizon, but Ian Anderson and Martin Barre will doubtless solider on until they feel like quitting. Judging from the performance I saw a couple of months back, I don’t think that will be anytime soon. Happy Birthday Ian from The Giant Panther. I’m posting a couple of my favorites for fun.
Buy or Download The Best of Jethro Tull from Amazon here.