Music News

Happy Birthday, Ian Anderson: Eight Obscure Facts About Jethro Tull

Ian Anderson, who celebrates his 64th birthday today, has spent practically two-thirds of his life as the iconic figure at the helm of Jethro Tull. His hopped-up stage pose -- balancing precariously on one leg, flute in hand, gazing menacingly like a madman, and dressed in a shabby housecoat -- became one of those indelible images that's still synonymous with the '60s, when Tull got its start. Likewise, the band's famed rock opera Aqualung continues to drive audiences into delirium, specifically songs like "Cross Eyed Mary," "Locomotive Breath," and the title track itself, all of which have become immortal rock anthems.

Add the albums Stand Up, Benefit, and Thick as a Brick

and Tull's canon becomes ample enough to thrust them into the front

lines of the prog rockers that emerged from the late '60s and early

'70s. Yet surprisingly, the band remains an enigma in many ways.

Certainly there are some obscure facts about the band that have eluded

even its most stalwart devotees. Here, then, is some Tull trivia to help

us celebrate Mr. Anderson's big day:

* Novices often believe that Anderson is in fact Jethro Tull. In fact, the band took its name from the English horticulturalist who invented the seed drill (don't ask us what that is, though). Anderson's first band was called Blade, but after the original lineup evolved, they starting calling themselves Jethro Tull when a member of their booking agency, who happened to be a history buff, gave the name erroneously to a club manager. However, the branding was nearly waylaid when the label of "Sunshine Day," their debut single, was misspelled and credited to "Jethro Toe." 

* For a time, Anderson, Ozzy Osbourne, and keyboardist Keith Emerson could all claim to have shared guitarists. When Tull's first ax man, Mick Abrahams, quit after the band's first album, This Was, was released in 1968, he was briefly replaced by Tony Iommi, who later went on to stardom with Osbourne in Black Sabbath. It's Iommi who appears with the band during their performance on the Rolling Stones' legendary "Rock 'n' Roll Circus" spectacular. Shortly thereafter, guitarist Davy O'List -- who had played with Emerson in the Nice (a precursor to Emerson, Lake & Palmer) -- was recruited for a few shows, but his stint with the band ended when Martin Barre permanently filled the position prior to the group's second, album Stand Up. He and Anderson remain the band's only current members from that earlier incarnation. 

* Anderson himself started as a guitarist but gave up in frustration when he realized he would never play as well as Eric Clapton. He took up flute only six months prior to the recording of This Was

* Phil Collins played drums with Jethro Tull very briefly. In fact, his stint lasted for just one gig, a Prince's Trust benefit in the mid-'80s. 

* The band's most famous album, Aqualung, was inspired by some photographs taken of some transients and street people by Anderson's then-wife, Jennie. She was given a writing credit for the title track and continues to receive royalties from the song. Unfortunately, her funds are no longer in the family; she and Anderson divorced in 1974. 

* In addition to being branded with the Jethro Tull moniker, Anderson is the victim of another case of mistaken identity. The cover drawing of the Aqualung character had many people believing it was Anderson himself. It's not, although he once resembled him onstage. 

* South Florida can claim its own dubious distinction in the Jethro Tull legacy. While Aqualung's title track and "Locomotive Breath" are still staples of the band's live set, supposedly the only known time the latter was left out of a Tull concert occurred during a 2003 performance in Miami. 

* What was Jethro Tull's most infamous distinction of all time? The band was awarded a Grammy Award for "Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance Vocal or Instrumental" in 1989 for its album Crest of a Knave, beating out the heavily favored Metallica and its album ... And Justice for All. The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences was chastised for being out of touch with popular sentiment, and Tull suffered the embarrassment of being caught up in the fiasco.

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Lee Zimmerman