Ian Anderson / Jethro Tull – Living in the Past and the Digital Future

Jethro Tull is one of the poster child bands for 1970s progressive rock.  Although leader Ian Anderson took his share of slings and arrows over the years, his concert grosses probably assuaged any wounds to his psyche.  In fact, Led Zeppelin had the same critic/ fan bifurcation, and these two bands comprised my first four concerts.

Seeking confession or inspiration?

I spoke with Anderson while he was on a brief hiatus from his current tour. Comfortably ensconced in his home office, he was tidying up business before returning to the US for the second batch of live dates. He had some words about Mick Jagger, as well as Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa.

Invariably, we started with Anderson’s prodigious touring record.

Q: What are some of the differences in touring now and then?

A: For many bands back then, it was seen as a necessary evil to promote album sales, and not at all profitable. For the Rolling Stones, with their hotels and entourage, they pretty much spent all they earned.  In Tull we were more economical.  Nowadays, touring is the opposite. Records are released to serve the fan base and to create promotional opportunities; most bands only gain income from touring, as digital sales revenue are tiny compared to records. Touring is easier now than back then, what with better production, better sound systems. It is easier to do the job now: book the flights, print the boarding passes at home, we are ready to go, it is much slicker in the new millennium. As to our music, we started as a little old blues band, with a focus on Black American RnB, but from 1969 with a new guitarist and our more original work, we entered a more eclectic world. We spread into genres like classical, jazz and world music.  Over the years our tours fell into two categories: the generic Jethro Tull shows, with 20 songs and a well known set list. The other category is more project related, such as my solo work, orchestral shows, Christmas shows. We need to spell out the difference of these two types of tour, so that folks know what to expect. Jagger can’t do anything else than what he does. That is the delight of me being me. Jagger is so wrapped up in those songs, he never tries anything else, and the Stones are stuck in that thing they created. I am more fortunate, making a habit of varied forms of music.

The current band, undoubtedly NOT woodshedding the blues

Q: With all that touring history, do you have one memorable tour?

A: My first full orchestral tour, in Europe. I had never done it before, and it was a musical and financial challenge, touring 35 people. Also, I did an exotic acoustic tour in Ephesus, Turkey, in the venue where St. Paul preached. Elton John and Sting later toured, but the authorities have since banned shows there due to the delicate nature of the place.

Q: Did American music mean much to you as you were starting out?

A: My interest was limited to jazz and blues.  I really had no interest in Jerry Lee Lewis or Elvis Presley. Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa were the only American musicians who had an impact on me, they were both truly American and startingly unique. I don’t really like listening to pop and rock music, I always prefer folk and classical.  I always kept my head down, do my own stuff.  I did not want to be part of a club or something I was supposed to join.

Time ran out, before I could ask him about the current influence of Gentle Giant, his opening act when I first saw Jethro Tull. The former included Derek Shulman, who recently encouraged Anderson to revisit 1972’s Thick as a Brick. Anderson has done so, providing answers on what has become of Gerald Bostock. TAAB2 (the title a nod to how snippets of the original were referenced in the band’s setlist) will be released domestically at the end of October.  It explores many of Anderson’s favorite themes, including issues of decisions made and consequences explored.  The album leans more acoustic than its predecessor, with plenty of unique time signatures (further cementing his affinity for Messrs. Zappa and Beefheart).

A less hirsute head in the famous St Cleve newspaper

And because time ran out, I was not able to ask if he plans to run the albums in sequence or reverse order when he resumes touring.  A quick internet search would provide the answer, but I prefer the old school element of surprise in this case.

October 2012 Tour Dates:

17 San Diego, CA Balboa Theatre
18 Santa Ynez, CA Chumash Casino
19 Rancho Mirage, CA Agua Caliente Casino
20 Long Beach, CA Terrance Theater
Long Beach Performing Arts Center


Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.