Jethro Tull Biography

Jethro Tull was formed in Luton, England, in 1967 when Ian Anderson (10 August 1947, Dunfermline, Fife, Scotland; vocals, flute, piano) and Glenn Cornick (b. 23 April 1947, Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, England; bass), members of a visiting Blackpool blues group, John Evan’s Smash, became acquainted with Mick Abrahams (b. 7 April 1943, Luton, Bedfordshire, England; guitar/vocals) and Clive Bunker (b. 12 December 1946, Blackpool, Lancashire, England; drums), Abrahams’ colleague in local attraction McGregor’s Engine, completed the original line-up which made its debut in March the following year with ‘Sunshine Day’. This commercially minded single, erroneously credited to Jethro Toe, merely hinted at developments about to unfold. A residency at London’s famed Marquee club and a sensational appearance at that summer’s Sunbury Blues Festival confirmed a growing reputation, while ‘A Song For Jeffrey’, the quartet’s first release for the Island Records, introduced a more representative sound. Abrahams’ rolling blues licks and Anderson’s distinctive, stylized voice combined expertly on their 1968 debut album This Was - for many Jethro Tull’s finest collection. Although the material itself was derivative, the band’s approach was highly exciting, with Anderson’s propulsive flute playing, modelled on jazzman Rahsaan Roland Kirk, particularly effective.

The band’s debut album reached the UK Top 10, largely on the strength of Jethro Tull’s live reputation in which the singer played an ever-increasing role. His exaggerated gestures, long, wiry hair, ragged coat and distinctive, one-legged stance cultivated a compulsive stage personality to the extent that, for many spectators, Jethro Tull was the name of this extrovert frontman and the other musicians merely his underlings. This impression gained credence through the band’s internal ructions. Mick Abrahams left in November 1968 and formed Blodwyn Pig. When future Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi proved incompatible, Martin Barre (b. 17 November 1946, Birmingham, England) joined the band for Stand Up, their excellent UK chart-topping second album. The band was then augmented by John Evan (b. 28 March 1948, Blackpool, Lancashire, England; keyboards), the first of Anderson’s Blackpool associates to be invited into the line-up. Benefit, the last outwardly blues-based album, duly followed and this period was also marked by the band’s three UK Top 10 singles, ‘Living In The Past’, ‘Sweet Dream’ (both 1969) and ‘The Witch’s Promise’ (1970). Cornick then quit to form Wild Turkey and Jeffrey Hammond (b. 30 July 1946, Blackpool, Lancashire, England), already a legend in Jethro Tull’s lexicon through their debut single, ‘Jeffrey Goes To Leicester Square’ and ‘For Michael Collins, Jeffrey And Me’, was brought in for Aqualung. Possibly the band’s best-known work, this ambitious concept album featured Anderson’s musings on organized religion and contained several tracks that remain long-standing favourites, including the title-track, ‘My God’, ‘Hymn 43’, and ‘Locomotive Breath’.

Clive Bunker, the last original member, bar Anderson, left in May 1971. A further John Evan-era acolyte, Barriemore Barlow (b. 10 September 1949, England), replaced him as Jethro Tull entered its most controversial period. Although 1972’s Thick As A Brick topped the US chart and reached number 5 in the UK, critics began questioning Anderson’s reliance on obtuse concepts. However, if muted for this release, the press reviled the following year’s A Passion Play, damning it as pretentious, impenetrable and the product of an egotist and his neophytes. Such rancour obviously hurt. Anderson retorted by announcing an indefinite retirement, but continued success in America, where the album became Jethro Tull’s second chart-topper, doubtless appeased his anger. War Child, a US number 2 album in 1974, failed to chart in the UK, although the following year’s Minstrel In The Gallery proved more popular. Too Old To Rock ‘N’ Roll, Too Young To Die! marked the departure of Hammond in favour of John Glascock (b. 1951, London, England, d. 17 November 1979), formerly of the Gods, Toe Fat and Chicken Shack. Subsequent releases, Songs From The Wood (1977) and Heavy Horses (1978) reflected a more pastoral sound as Anderson abandoned the gauche approach marking many of their predecessors. David Palmer (b. 2 July 1937, England), who had orchestrated a number of previous Jethro Tull recordings, was added as a second keyboards player as the band embarked on another highly successful phase, culminating in November 1978 when a concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden was simultaneously broadcast around the world by satellite. However, Glascock’s premature death in 1979 during heart surgery ushered in a period of uncertainty, culminating in an internal realignment.

In 1980 Anderson began a projected solo album, retaining Barre and new bass player Dave Pegg (b. David Pegg, 2 November 1947, Acocks Green, Birmingham, England; also Fairport Convention), but adding keyboard player Eddie Jobson (b. 28 May 1955, England; ex-Curved Air and Roxy Music) and drummer Mark Craney (b. 26 August 1952, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; drums). Long-time cohorts Barlow, Evan and Palmer were left to pursue their individual paths. The finished product, A, was ultimately issued under the Jethro Tull banner and introduced a productive period that saw two more band selections, plus Anderson’s solo effort, Walk Into Light, issued within a two-year period. Jobson and Craney had both left following A with Gerry Conway (b. 11 September 1947, King’s Lynn, Norfolk, England; drums) and Peter-John Vettese (b. 15 August 1956; keyboards) brought into the line-up as their replacements, although the former was soon replaced by Doane Perry (b. 16 June 1954, Mount Kisco, New York, USA). Following the poor reception of 1984’s heavily-synthesized Under Wraps the band embarked on a temporary hiatus. During this period Anderson became a renowned entrepreneur, buying tracts of land on the west coast of Scotland and opening the highly successful Strathaird Salmon processing plant.

Jethro Tull returned in 1987, minus Vettese, with the hard rocking Crest Of A Knave. The album was a surprise winner of the 1989 Grammy for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance and also restored the bands commercial fortunes. The lesser Rock Island followed in 1989. The band’s first studio release of the 90s, Catfish Rising, although a disappointing album, was a return to Anderson’s blues roots. Ensuing studio releases Roots To Branches (1995) and the terribly named J-Tull.Dot.Com (1999) purveyed the standard Jethro Tull progressive rock, full of complicated time changes, and fiddly new age and Arabian intros and codas. The former album marked the final contribution from Pegg as a full-time member of Jethro Tull, although he returned to help out on the band’s first seasonal album, the warmly-received 2003 release The Jethro Tull Christmas Album. Former member David Palmer had a sex-change operation and changed his name to Dee Palmer the same year. Anderson was awarded an MBE in the 2008 New Year Honours list.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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