Friday, August 26, 2011

Jethro Tull

There was once a band formed in 1962 called The Blades. The Blades consisted of  Jeffrey Hammond on bass, John Evans on drums, guitarist Michael Stephans and a fellow who possibly didn't even know how visionary he was yet, vocalist/harmonica player Ian Anderson.1963 came and John Evans switched from drums to keyboards, which brought Barriemore Barlow in on drums. This band evolved in time into a seven-piece RnB band called The John Evan Smash. Hammond insisted that "Evan" sounded much cooler than "Evans". By 1967 the band had broken up, leaving only Anderson and the bassist who had subsequently replaced Hammond, one Glenn Cornick. They joined forces with drummer Clive Bunker and guitarist Mick Abrahams. A booking agency staffer suggested they name themselves Jethro Tull, after the 18th century agriculturist. Ian Anderson, frustrated by his inability to play guitar like Eric Clapton, purchased a flute,of all things, and by 1968, his flute playing was featured on the band's first album, This Was. The album also featured blues, hard rock and Rahsaan Roland Kirk's "Serenade To A Cuckoo. With this, one of the most unique and spectacularly progressive bands in rock history was on it's way.

Abrahams did not get along with Cornick and chafed at the band's busy work schedule, eventually leaving the band to form Blodwyn Pig, a band more suited to his blues purism. Tony Iommi, guitarist with Earth (soon to be Black Sabbath) filled in for a short time as did David O'List, formerly with The Nice. The spot was filled at last by Martin Barre, who had just left Noel Redding's Fat Matress. He remains the longest running member next to Anderson. This line-up released Stand Up, which featured songs all written by Anderson with the exception of a jazz-rock arrangement of the fifth movement of Bach's "Bouree In E Minor". This became the band's only U.K. #1 album, branching out even further stylistically, placing them firmly in the category of progressive rock along with the likes of Yes, King Crimson and Genesis. In terms of diversity, however the band was and would continue  to be in a class by itself, invoking jazz, folk, classical and hard rock in a seamless style all their own.

One of the band's best-known songs, "Living In The Past" was written in 5/4 time in an attempt to keep it from becoming a pop hit. The attempt failed miserably, as the single went to #3 in the U.K. charts

By 1970, John Evan rejoined his mates in the band and he appeared on that year's LP release Benefit. Glenn Cornick was fired for mysterious reasons and eventually formed Wild Turkey. He was replaced by another Blade alumnus, Jeffrey Hammond. Hammond is mentioned in several Jethro Tull songs such as "A Song For Jeffrey" and "Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square" as well as in the lyrics to "Inside". He is listed at times as Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond as a reference to the fact that his mother's maiden name was Hammond, though no relation to his father.This line-up released Jethro Tull's best-known work, Aqualung in 1971. This album featured strong opinions about religion and Anderson has maintained that it was not a concept album. Drummer Clive Bunker left the band after the album's release to spend more time with his family, to be replaced by yet another former Blades member, Barriemore Barlowe.

1972 saw the release of Thick As  A Brick, an album consisting of one song running 43:46 split over both sides of the record. It became the first of the band's albums to reach #1 in the U.S. The band seemed unable to avoid the top of the charts despite its best efforts. The following year's A Passion Play, another single -track concept album also went #1 in the  U.S. War Child followed in 1974, containing the radio mainstays "Bungle In The Jungle" and "Skating Away (On The Thin Ice Of A New Day). This was followed in 1975 by Minstrel In The Gallery.

The band ended the decade with a trio of heavily folk-infuenced albums, Songs From The Wood, Stormwatch and Heavy Horses. Many line-up changes ensued, as well as further musical explorations including electronic rock. In 1989, the band was awarded a Grammy for Best Heavy Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental, beating the favourite Metallica. This was a controversial win because of the fact that Jethro Tull are not considered hard rock, much less heavy metal, though their music contained hard rock as one of the myriad of styles the band has employed. Their nomination was seen as a fluke by the band, and sincerely believing they had no chance of winning, no one from the band even attended the ceremony. When asked about the award in an interview, Anderson quipped "well we do play our mandolins very loudly".
The band continues to make truly great music to this day, led as always by Ian Anderson, the man who among many other things, introduced the flute to rock and roll. And we are all better for it.


  1. Wow. Great videos. Minstrel in the Gallery is one of my favorite albums (Baker Street Muse is awesome). I got to see them back in the 90's. Still sound great. Some of the later stuff sucks (Under Wraps) but Roots to Branches is pretty good. So is some of Ian's solo stuff. I am a sucker for the flute stuff.

  2. I have numerous albums from Jethro Tull. Slowly, but assuredly trying to complete their collection. My favorites are Agualung, Mistrial in the Gallery, and Rock Island. The thing is about them I like is their diversity of music, never know what they'll bring to your table next.

  3. Coincidentally,Minstrel In The Gallery is one of my favorites as well. Like they say,great minds and all that.

  4. Great thorough yet compact history of the Tull band. Fills in a lot of gaps. Spent quite a few years pretty intensely focused on their music. Doesn't seem a coincidence about Minstrel In The Gallery being a favorite. Had the LP and the 4-track cartridge tape so for a few years all the rest of the collection gathered dust. Never was nearly as single minded about an album before or since.

    The acoustic guitar on Aqualung, Thick As A Brick and Minstrel In The Gallery, i always thought topped everyone. Pretty sure that was Ian Anderson who, incidentally played a fabulous collection of antique and vintage acoustics.

    Hadn't seen most of those videos either. Earlier on, i think the band must have been reluctant to appear on the commercial grade US television stations.

    Presently i'm living in a pretty exclusive southern CA city. Seems out here in the remote west, aside from a few songs from Aqualung, Tull hadn't left as big an impression as in the NY metropolis, so it's so refreshing to see your response and that other's have appreciated the Minstrel album too. Back in NY i had caught them 3 times:
    Radio City Music Hall (Songs From The Wood),
    Madison Square Garden (War Child)
    Shea Stadium, 4th row (Aqualung plus).... still haven't recovered from that one.

    btw. Love that "Hot" looking guitar at the top of the page and wonder just what it is. Have one with what looks like the same pickups that's sound is really over the top.

    1. Tickled pink that you liked it,jazzifier...and I truly appreciate your taking the time to let me know.I hope you will browse the rest of the blog and maybe become a follower.The image at the top is just something I found on the web that struck my fancy. It's also great that you are a fellow musician. Have a great holiday.