Ian Anderson keeps Jethro Tull classically rolling along
By David Templeton
IAN ANDERSON is a talker. The legendary force behind the equally legendary rock band Jethro Tull--after 30 years, still recording, still touring, still twisting, and still tweaking its eclectic musical style--had agreed to chat by phone from his home in the south of England. A limit of 20 minutes was set (he's got a lot going on this week, it turns out). Yet Anderson, after chatting amiably for over 40 minutes on what he describes as "this warm English evening in a sparkling English summer," still has plenty to say.
He's already given his opinion of "classic rock" radio, the leading format on American airwaves: "The good thing is that classic rock is probably the only place you'll hear Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and, of course, Jethro Tull. The awful thing is that you only hear the same five songs from each artist. I've been in some classic-rock stations where I'm amazed that the entire collection is contained on one wall. I have a larger collection of CDs than some classic-rock stations."
Reissued Jethro Tull.
Anderson also discourses on the lack of attention radio gives to Tull's newer works: "Listening to the radio, you'd think Jethro Tull had stopped recording in 1977. Our biggest competition when we release a new album isn't Pearl Jam or Oasis or the Spice Girls--it's our own back catalog. Though that's not really something to complain about, I suppose. It's something to celebrate. It's really very nice and very flattering to have a bunch of records and a bunch of old songs that people still want to buy.
"It's just that we aren't dead yet," he adds with a chuckle. "We are still making music."
Indeed. Anderson has recently completed studio work on a new solo album, a follow-up to 1995's Divinities: Twelve Dances with God. Jethro Tull--named for an 18th-century agriculturist and inventor, the 31-year-old band also includes Martin Barre and Dave Pegg--have been consistently putting out albums, hitting the studio every few years or so since 1969. The group's last album was 1997's Roots to Branches, and they will be taking to the studio again this fall, with plans to release a new album next spring. At that time, Jethro Tull--best known for such classic-rock-station standards as "Aqualung," "Thick as a Brick," "Locomotive Breath," "Bungle in the Jungle," and "Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die"--will take to the road on another of the major, high-energy world tours for which they are renowned.
The band swings through Konocti Harbor Spa and Resort on Sept. 3.
Though few know it, and he does little to call attention to it, Anderson keeps himself busy with a number of side businesses, including a fish farm.
For the last 17 years, the rock-and-roller has owned and operated four salmon hatcheries in the highlands of Scotland, making him the third-largest supplier of smoked salmon in the United Kingdom.
"Today's not a good day to ask about that," he politely remarks, going on to describe a fire that, just last weekend, burned one of the factories to the ground. "I just received official permission this afternoon to have the remains demolished," he says. "It'll take four to six months to rebuild it. On one level, hey, it was just a building, right? But on another level, 160 people were employed there on Friday who on Monday will no longer have jobs."
As he talks, Anderson hardly sounds like the wild flute-playing madman once known for his outrageous onstage shenanigans--the frantic gestures and airborne leaps, the outrageous neo-Elizabethan costumes with exaggerated codpieces. This Anderson seems, well, proper. And he is.
But in spite of his respectable side, the Anderson audiences love still shows up, though the 51-year-old doesn't leap quite as high as he once did. "Our shows still have elaborate music," he remarks, "though the staging is not so elaborate as it once was. No rockets and smoke bombs and crazy costumes. I think people come to hear the music nowadays, to see a real musician on stage doing a real man's job, not some fellow prancing about in tights and a codpiece.
"Though I can still do that," he adds, "if the money's right."
Jethro Tull performs Thursday, Sept. 3, at 6:30 p.m. at Konocti Field in Kelseyville. Tickets are $29, $39, and $49. Call 800/762-BASS.
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From the August 27-September 2, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.