Interview by Danny Coleman
“It’s just another day in the global office, just variations of where,” said a resolute Ian Anderson as he discussed Jethro Tull‘s upcoming appearance at Red Bank, New Jersey’s Count Basie Theatre, different aspects of the Tull theme, and nearly 50 years of the band itself. “Whether I’m jumping on a plane to Germany or a show in New Jersey I’m very fortunate to still be doing the job I love for nearly 50 years.”
Formed in Lancanshire in the U.K. in 1967, the group has gone through multiple personnel changes over the years (more than 30 different musicians have made up the band) with Anderson being the one constant and the face of Jethro Tull. Once quoted as saying,“A band to me is whoever is in the room at the time,” Anderson has a steady compliment of players on the roster at the moment. “I’ve been playing with the same bunch for the last 12 years,” he said as if he found it difficult to believe himself. “Now that I think about it, this is one of the longest continuous lineups that the band has had. I’ve had 33 different musicians and many different versions of Jethro Tull, some are dead and gone, others have moved on in different directions; it’s all part of the history of the band.”
Anderson loves doing what he’s doing for his life’s vocation and therefore is constantly finding ways to re-invent new versions of the old material. Various guest musicians, a new album called, “String Quartets,” a holiday song and even a mesmerizing, technically spectacular rock opera to go along with multiple tours are all methods which Anderson has used to allow Tull to remain a force in music. “We’ve been on tour without a break it seems. This is our third recent tour of the U.S. so we haven’t really slowed down. The rock opera was a different way of looking at Jethro Tull by telling and re-imagining the story of Jethro Tull had he been alive today. I wanted it to be a playful look at a contemporary Jethro Tull and I think it came off nicely. Working with the string quartet was a planned collaboration. I had two or three projects going on, so in between tours I took a look at some Jethro Tull songs and allowed the strings to interpret them and then threw my vocals and some flute over top and they made good or even mediocre songs sound spectacular. What a difference strings make, in hindsight; I wish that I had a full orchestra (laughs). John O’Hara worked on it with me; we recorded it in churches which gave it a spiritual ambiance. Actually, the first time that I ever worked with strings was in October or November of 1968 when I recorded, “Ring Out These Bells,” a Christmas song which is now, “Pass The Bottle” and it was just me and them and they made their presence felt. They were extrapolating on original ideas and it was a whole fresh way of looking at things.”
After this tour comes to its completion, there’s no rest for the weary as Anderson has his sights on a milestone in 2018. “I’m beginning work on a 2018 tour that will commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Jethro Tull which will be February 2, 2018 and then in 2019 between tours we’ll be going into the studio to make a new record. I am still very lucky to have my job and that I am still physically fit to do so.”
So what can one expect when heading to the Count Basie on November 1 and from the upcoming anniversary tour? Will he and the band go the route of playing just their most recognizable material like many of the classic rock bands now present to their audiences or will they mix it up? According to Anderson it will be the usual high quality presentation that fans of the band have come to expect. “Will it be a greatest hits tour? Every tour I’ve done since 1969 is a greatest hits tour,” he said somewhat stoically. “So in that respect it’s very much a greatest hits tour. Our fans will recognize the songs, in most cases it’s our best known material. There are many artists who don’t like to perform their hits and I’ve got a couple that I’d rather not but I understand that they are what the people want so I don’t mind doing them. Hey, if Robert Plant doesn’t like singing, “Stairway to Heaven,” but he gives it a go; that’s good enough for me, so can I.”
To discover more about Ian, Jethro Tull and/or the purchase of tickets, please visit www.jethrotull.com.
Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)