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Original members include Ian Anderson (born August 10, 1947, in Edinburgh, Scotland), vocals, flute, guitar; Mick Abrahams (born April 7, 1943, in Luton, England; left group, 1968), guitar, vocals; Glenn Cornick (born April 24, 1947, in Barrow-in-Furness, England; left group, 1971), bass; and Clive Bunker (born December 12, 1946; left group, 1971), drums. Later members include Martin Barre (joined band, 1968), guitar; John Evan (bandmember 1970-78), keyboards; Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond (bandmember 1971-1976), bass; Barriemore Barlow (bandmember 1971-82), drums; David Palmer (bandmember 1977-80), keyboards; John Glascock (joined band, 1976; died, 1979), bass; Edwin Jobson (bandmember 1980-81), keyboards, violin; Dave Pegg (joined band, 1980), bass; Mark Craney (bandmember 1980-1984), drums; Peter-John Vettese (bandmember 1982-1987), keyboards; Doane Perry (joined band, 1984), drums; and Martin Allcock (joined band, 1988), keyboards. Addresses: Record company-- Chrysalis Records, 9255 Sunset Blvd., #319, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

From modest beginnings in the late 1960s, Jethro Tull, led for nearly a quarter century by inimitable flutist-singer-songwriter Ian Anderson--has ascended to fame with a long string of hits, several dramatic comebacks, and a 1988 Grammy Award. The group's sound, a mixture of heavy rock, English folk music, blues, and jazz, has no parallel in contemporary music.

Tull was formed in Blackpool, England, in 1967; several of its early members--including Anderson--had played in the John Evan Band. When Anderson, lead guitarist Mick Abrahams, bassist Glenn Cornick, and drummer Clive Bunker teamed as a quartet, they found themselves at a loss for a name. The band performed under numerous monikers, finally settling on their agent's suggestion, Jethro Tull--the name of an 18th-century English inventor, agronomist, musician, and author. This namesake's various pursuits have led some to characterize him as an eccentric, if not a crackpot, and his slightly crazed, albeit imaginative, persona suited the band nicely.

Anderson started out exclusively as a singer but picked up the flute because--according to a press release cited by Irwin Stambler in his Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul --"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 'round too, so I got hold of a flute and a harmonica and bluffed my way through." Anderson's bizarre stage presence, characterized by one-legged, breathy flute-playing and wild leaps, created a sensation early in the band's career. But it was Jethro Tull's innovative mixture of jazz, blues, and rock styles that caught the attention of critics and two young managers, Terry Ellis and Chris Wright.

Ellis and Wright got the band a recording contract with Chrysalis Records, and the first Tull release, This Was, debuted in 1968. The record showcased the group's hybrid sound and featured ten original songs, including "A Song for Jeffrey," which would become an early Tull standard, and a cover of jazz legend Roland Kirk's "Serenade to a Cuckoo." ( Creem 's Lester Bangs noted in 1973 that "Anderson has always trotted out old Roland Kirk riffs ... and Anderson should admit the debt he owes him," though the band insisted from the outset on its utter originality.) Rolling Stone' s Gordon Fletcher called This Was "uneven" and dubbed the band "an extremely crude outfit that occasionally came on like an amplified Salvation Army band." Nonetheless, the album reached Number Five on English album charts two weeks after its release.

Jethro Tull's debut appeared in the U.S. on Reprise Records early in 1969. Shortly thereafter, guitarist Abrahams left the band and founded his own group, Blodwyn Pig; Martin Barre took over lead guitar duties as the band rushed a follow-up album, 1969's Stand Up, through production. The inside of the record's gatefold cover featured a group photo that "popped" up--in reference to the LP's title--when the cover was opened. The LP went gold in the U.S. and included a number of refinements to Tull's sound. "Nothing Is Easy," a bluesy rocker graced by a soaring flute solo, was prototypical Tull, and the quartet's jazzy arrangement of Bach's "Bouree," complete with bass solo, further pushed rock's stylistic envelope. The previously dissenting Fletcher called Stand Up "magnificent."

Tull's stage show became increasingly unique and raucous, if a bit off-putting to the uninitiated. Of their appearance at the 1970 Rock and Roll Circus festival, Rolling Stone' s David Dalton reported, "When Ian Anderson gets up on stage to do his act, he completely transforms. Jekyll and Hyde. He becomes a twitching werewolf, wildly scratching his hair, his armpits, and in his long shabby grey coat, part clown, part tramp.... The audience is mainly teenyboppers and have never heard of the group. 'Who is that?' they say to each other in disgusted tones."

The band delivered a handful of singles before releasing Benefit in 1970. The Tull sound--augmented notably by John Evan's keyboards--was substantially refined, transformed from the psychedelic blues of the first two albums to a slicker, more rock-oriented feel. The hard crunch of Barre's guitar fueled the hit single "Teacher" as well as the cuts "To Cry You a Song" and "With You There to Help Me." The band was deemed "most promising new talent" in a 1970 musician's poll, according to Fletcher; indeed, Tull was only just beginning to show its potential.

In 1971 Jethro Tull released Aqualung, its "classic" LP--at least in the minds of "classic rock" radio programmers. The title cut, with lyrics by Anderson's wife Jennie, became the quintessential Tull anthem, its unmistakable guitar riff the most familiar piece of Jethro Tull music to non-fans. "Aqualung" describes a "dirty, wheezing old man," a beggar making his way through London, Ian Anderson told Rolling Stone' s Grover Lewis. The rest of the "Aqualung" side of the album describes other down-and-out characters, while side two, entitled "My God," attacks what Anderson perceived as the hypocrisy of organized religion--particularly the Church of England.

"The strongest thing that hit me was the fear tactics of the religion my parents attempted to have me enter into," Anderson told Lewis of his inspiration for side two of Aqualung. "For that and other reasons, I was estranged from my father for years, couldn't even bear to speak to him." The song "Hymn 43" typifies the record's message: "If Jesus saves, then He'd better save himself/From the gory glory-seekers who use his name in death." The album also featured the rock-radio standards "Locomotive Breath" and "Cross-Eyed Mary," alongside such Old English-style folk ditties as "Mother Goose." Aqualung was a Number One album in the U.K. and a Top Ten record in the U.S. Critics, for their part, had more reservations about the disc than fans. Ben Gerson's Rolling Stone review typified some of their objections: "Despite the fine musicianship and often brilliant structural organization of songs, this album is not elevated, but undermined by its seriousness." Contemporary Pop Music authors Dean and Nancy Turner, however, wrote in 1979 that " Aqualung was one of the few successful concept-story albums in rock music."

By the time Aqualung appeared, Tull's lineup had changed. Cornick and Bunker were replaced by two of Anderson's Blackpool friends, bassist Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond and drummer Barriemore Barlow. Critics disappointed by the band's new message-heavy direction alleged that Anderson had purged his old rhythm section to tighten his control over the sound. The contrast between the old and new styles was heightened by the release in 1972 of the two-record retrospective Living in the Past, a compendium of singles, unreleased tracks, and live numbers from the bands first four years. Rolling Stone' s Fletcher referred to the new direction as "little more than amplified folkiedom and moralistic pop-rock--a pale shadow of their earlier work."

Despite these grumbles, Aqualung had made Jethro Tull a supergroup; Anderson and company routinely sold out large halls and merited feature articles like Lewis's piece in Rolling Stone. Lewis described Anderson's stage demeanor--here during a performance of the song "My God"--in familiar terms: "Anderson ... goes all but berserk as he raves against 'the bloody church of England,' hopping about on one leg, grimacing, twitching, gasping, lurching along the apron of the stage, rolling his eyes, paradiddling his arms, feigning flinging snot from his nose, exchanging the guitar for a flute, gnawing on the flute like corn on the cob, flinging it forward like a baton, gibbering dementedly." The group, which Lewis described as "more like a natural force, a wind or river," communicated their fervor to fans; a riot at a Denver concert led police to spray gatecrashers with tear gas, and a rush for tickets to a 1972 Tull appearance in Uniondale, New York, resulted in another violent clash between fans and police.

If the conceptual ambition of Aqualung rankled many rock critics, the album-length song Thick as a Brick, released in 1972, was a downright provocation. Fletcher, for one, dismissed it as "emotionally vapid." Rolling Stone' s Gerson, by contrast, hailed the album as "one of rock's most sophisticated and groundbreaking products." Melody Maker' s Chris Welch compared it more or less favorably to The Who's smash rock opera Tommy, praising Thick as a Brick while admitting that it needed "time to absorb." Bangs described the LP in Creem as "a series of variations (though they really didn't vary enough to sustain forty minutes) on a single, simple theme, which began as a sort of wistful English folk melody and wound through march tempos, high energy guitar, glockenspiels, dramatic staccato outbursts like something from a movie soundtrack and plenty of soloing by Anderson." Bangs also ventured that the lyrics "set new records in the Tull canon of lofty sentiments and Biblically righteous denunciations of contemporary mores." The record's cover contained a 12-page mock newspaper full of Tull in-jokes and parodies of British tabloid stories; a three-minute "edit" of Thick as a Brick earned heavy radio play as the album soared to the top of the charts.

Jethro Tull maintained its sizeable following by delivering shows that defined the over-the-top arena concert approach of the 1970s. Bangs, never really a fan of the band's sound, owned that "in terms of sheer professionalism, Jethro Tull are without peer. They stand out by never failing to deliver a fullscale show, complete with everything they know any kid would gladly pay his money to see: music, volume, costumes, theatrics, flashy solos, long sets, two encores. Jethro Tull are slick and disciplined; they work hard and they deliver."

What Tull delivered next was another album-length song, A Passion Play. Critics willing to indulge the band Thick as a Brick showed signs of impatience. Stephen Holden slammed the album in his Rolling Stone review, calling it "45 minutes of vapid twittering and futzing about, all play and no passion--expensive, tedious nonsense." Bangs confessed that "I have absolutely nothing to say about it. I almost like it, even though it sort of irritates me. Maybe I like it because it irritates me." The group's fans, however, remained loyal, flocking to concerts during which A Passion Play was performed in its entirety, along with the usual Tull hits.

Anderson's tireless band trotted out a series of successful albums throughout the 1970s. WarChild, released in 1974, yielded the hit single "Bungle in the Jungle," and 1975 saw The Minstrel in the Gallery garner respectable sales. Anderson was clearly following his muse, regardless of what critics might say. "From a very personal point of view," he told Melody Maker' s Harry Doherty after the release of Minstrel, "I want to continue to justify the place on my passport where it says 'Occupation: musician.' I feel I've not yet really justified that. I am not fully and wholly a musician." To the group's devotees, however, he had more than justified himself. Even so, he hinted to Doherty that he might be leaving behind "that heavy show biz thing," despite his prediction that "Jethro Tull, in the latter half of '76, will become a much more hugely popular group."

Anderson's prediction was accurate: the group's release of that year-- Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll, Too Young to Die!-- sold briskly thanks to the infectious title track's success on radio. If the album's title reflected some uneasiness about a rocker's longevity, its songs and garish comic-book cover showed a newfound lightness and embrace of a more traditional rock approach. Also in 1976, Chrysalis put out M.U.: The Best of Jethro Tull to capitalize on the band's hits; a second disc of greatest hits, Repeat: The Best of Jethro Tull, Volume II followed in 1977.

Bassist John Glascock, meanwhile, had replaced Hammond-Hammond and would stay with Tull for 1977's Songs From the Wood and 1978's Heavy Horses. These albums moved in the direction of folk-rock, with a heavy emphasis on Elizabethan-style minstrelsy. 1978 also saw the release of a feisty live double album, Bursting Out. Glascock died in 1979, the year the band released its next LP, Stormwatch. Anderson played most of the bass parts on the album as well as acoustic guitar and flute. David Palmer, who had arranged strings and horns for the band since its debut, became a full-fledged member in 1976 and took over keyboards on Stormwatch after Evan's departure. Despite these shakeups, the band continued to keep their customers satisfied; as a Los Angeles Times concert review put it, "Tull's baroque rock hasn't been fresh for years, and its stage show is no longer novel; but if the spontaneity and surprises are gone, they've been replaced by a calm, easy-to-admire professionalism that is consistently entertaining."

During their 1979 tour, Tull was supported by another English progressive-rock band, U.K. That group's keyboardist-electric violinist, Roxy Music alumnus Edwin Jobson, so impressed Anderson that he recruited him to play on what he intended to produce as a solo album. The result, 1980's A, pleased Anderson so much that it was released as a Jethro Tull record. Once again the lineup had changed: Jobson replaced Palmer; Dave Pegg of the folk-rock ensemble Fairport Convention took over on bass; and youthful American Mark Craney served as the band's new drummer. A' s sound was more electronic than past Tull efforts, though the flute and violin interplay between Anderson and Jobson hinted at a classical-progressive rock fusion.

In 1982 Jethro Tull released The Broadsword and the Beast; the medieval iconography of the cover and featured tunes suggested that Tull had begun recycling the image for which it had been most soundly ridiculed. Indeed, that same year saw the release of Rob Reiner's satirical "rockumentary" This Is Spinal Tap, and the fictional Tap's mystical setpiece "Stonehenge" was a dead-on spoof of Tull's excesses.

Soon abandoning the Middle Ages for a more contemporary sound, Anderson debuted a solo album, Walk Into Light, " in 1983. Assisted by keyboardist Peter-John Vettese, who had joined Tull for Broadsword, Anderson produced what Stereo Review' s Mark Peel called "a consistently interesting musical project." Tull released Under Wraps in 1984. The tour supporting this album was marred by several difficulties, including voice trouble for Anderson, about which he made news by chiding fans at a Los Angeles concert for hurting his throat with their marijuana smoking.

After the Under Wraps tour Anderson took some time off from Jethro Tull. A 1985 People article detailed his new business venture, a highly lucrative salmon farm on the Isle of Skye, near Scotland. The profile described the star "going from Aqualung ... to aquaculture--and achieving equally impressive results." By 1987, however, Tull had a new release in the offing, The Crest of a Knave, which Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock, and Soul author Stambler dismissed as one of the band's "poorest offerings yet." The band's lineup had changed again, with drummer Doane Perry replacing Craney and the arrival of keyboardist Martin Allcock.

Far from defeated, Anderson and crew still had a few surprises left for the rock world: Crest went gold and, in a surprise to many, beat out heavy metal favorites Metallica for the Grammy Award for best hard rock/heavy metal performance of 1988. In a Rolling Stone profile Anderson defended Tull's win in the face of widespread criticism from industry pundits and Metallica fans, who--at the time--were new to the sport compared to Tull fans: "Metal we aren't. Hard rock, in a pinch, yeah, okay. If you ask the average kid in the street to sing a Jethro Tull song, he's gonna go ...," explained Anderson, humming the guitar riff to "Aqualung."

In 1988 Chrysalis put a Jethro Tull boxed set on the market; stuffed with re-mastered classics, unreleased songs, and live takes of singular hits, Twenty Years of Jethro Tull earned a favorable review from Rolling Stone' s Parke Puterbaugh: "With its obsessive emphasis on unissued material, this boxed set is perhaps best described as a deluxe souvenir for serious fans only. Yet there are doubtlessly some recent Tull converts who will dive into this deep mother lode headfirst--and not come up disappointed." Stereo Review called Tull's next LP, 1989's Rock Island, "fodder for 'classic rock' stations that want to play something current without throwing their listeners too big a curve." By then, however, the Grammy had considerably expanded Jethro Tull's following.

Riding the momentum of their new success, the band unveiled Catfish Rising in 1991. Puterbaugh, writing for Stereo Review, allowed that "after twenty-four albums, it's safe to say you're either on the bus or off the bus insofar as Jethro Tull is concerned," but commended Catfish Rising as a record likely to leave fans "pleasantly smitten." CD Review, while less enthusiastic about this mix of folksy acoustic songs and trademark Tull hard rock, called it a "subtly accessible blend." Even so, the approval of rock critics undoubtedly mattered little to a band that has followed its highly independent flute-wielding leader for well over two decades. Whether they will ever grow "too old to rock and roll" will be up to their fans. And many of these fans are young, listeners Anderson described in Rolling Stone as "the kids who watched Muppets on TV and heard Jethro Tull coming from their parents' stereo.... They literally grew up with Jethro Tull. We're the teddy bear they didn't throw away."

by Simon Glickman

Jethro Tull's Career

Group formed in Blackpool, England, 1967; signed by Chrysalis Records, c. 1968, and released first album, This Was, 1968.

Jethro Tull's Awards

Gold records for Stand Up, 1969, Benefit, 1970, Living in the Past, 1972, and A Passion Play, 1973; platinum record for M.U.: The Best of Jethro Tull, 1976; gold record and Grammy Award for best hard rock/heavy metal performance, 1988, for Crest of a Knave.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

September 30, 2003: Jethro Tull Christmas Album was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_4/rock.jsp, October 2, 2003.

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