Although classic rock band Jethro Tull was officially formed in 1968, its core members have been playing together for 40 years. The group was one of the first to incorporate the flute into rock music. Hits such as "Aqualung," Locomotive Breath" and "Living In The Past" are staples on American rock radio stations.
Ian Anderson - Jethro Tull's founder, lead singer, guitarist and flute player - visited VOA's Bernie Bernard in our Washington, D.C. studios to talk about the band's anniversary and new album, Living With The Past.
One of Jethro Tull's signature tunes, "Aqualung," is on the band's new album, Living With The Past, its first live collection in 10 years. Most of the CD was recorded during their November 2001 show at the Hammersmith Apollo in England. The album is also available on DVD, and includes interviews, rare photos and bonus tracks.
Ian Anderson wanted to present fans with a special package to honor Jethro Tull's anniversary. "With all the bits of interview, audience and backstage," he said, "it just punctuates a performance in the way that it's not a documentary, but it just has more elements which give it some sense of pace, some form, some shape, which I think just takes it one step from just being a live concert."
Apart from founder Ian Anderson and long-time guitarist Martin Barre, the band has had several personnel changes over the years. The popularity and longevity of Jethro Tull is bolstered by classic rock radio stations in the U.S., and loyal American fans, who support the band's tours.
Even though they've sold more than 60 million albums, Ian Anderson doesn't consider Jethro Tull a highly-commercial or superstar band. "We're always on tour," he said. "We're always playing places. We like doing what we do. While, for some of the audience, there may be an element of nostalgia I think, from the point of view of us musicians performing the music live on stage, it is truly that we're living with a sense of our past, not living in the past, in as much as we're just a nostalgic, kind of '60s revival band or something. I don't think I'd be very happy if that's what we did."
There's an element of British folk that runs through most of Jethro Tull's albums. Ian Anderson reveals, however, that it was American roots music that first sparked his creativity. He said, "I really began as a 16-year-old in playing Black American folk music. That's what interested me, and what I listened to. I didn't listen to pop and rock music much at all when I was a teenager. I was listening to Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, Sonny Boy Williamson, T-Bone Walker, John Lee Hooker and all those guys. Probably the only white guy I ever listened to was Mose Allison. I didn't really get involved with anything to do with English or British folk music until probably the early-'70s."
Now in his mid-50s, Ian Anderson stalks across the stage like one of the shady characters he's immortalized in his songs, and still plays his trademark flute while standing on one leg. "I think of my flute really not in the sense of being an orchestral, woodwind instrument," he said. "It's just a surrogate guitar. The thing I guess people know me for is a bit more raucous and aggressive flute style, and that's still very much a part of what I do, even in the acoustic context. It's nice in acoustic music to create passion, to create anger, to create strength without brute force volume."
Jethro Tull is currently on a lengthy U.S. tour that will continue through September.