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An interview with Jethro Tull’s Original Pied Piper

Ian Anderson The Progressive Rock Frontman Isn’t Just Living In The Past.

An interview with Jethro Tull’s Original Pied Piper

Anderson and the present-day incarnation of Jethro Tull have scheduled a stop at the Walt Disney Theater on November 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $35. Giant high-definition video screens will further enhance the experience.

For nearly half a century, Ian Anderson has reigned supreme as rock ‘n roll’s only lead flutist — or, as some prefer, flautist. The man responsible for putting the flute on par with guitar and giving progressive rock giants Jethro Tull their signature sound and voice, will turn 70 in August.

But fans who turn out to see Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson will see that the artistically adventurous Scotsman is as powerful a musical force as ever. And if you’re “living in the past,” to quote Tull’s 1969 hit single, you won’t be disappointed in the still-ethereal delivery of the group’s art-rock repertoire from the '60s and '70s.

Anderson and the present-day incarnation of Jethro Tull have scheduled a stop at the Walt Disney Theater on November 8 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $35. Giant high-definition video screens will further enhance the experience.

Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson isn’t just an oldies show. You may also hear cuts from Anderson’s more recent CD, Homo Erraticus (2014), a project that blends folk and and heavy metal styles. Homo Erraticus is loosely connected to Tull's Thick as a Brick (1972) and Anderson's Thick as a Brick 2 (2012), since it also credits the lyrics to a fictional character named Gerald Bostock.

And earlier this year, Anderson released Jethro Tull: The String Quartets, which made its debut at No. 1 on Billboard's Classical Albums Chart. It’s a CD on which Anderson and the Carducci Quartet reimagine softer and more sophisticated versions of quintessential Tull tunes such as, of course, “Living in the Past,” along with “Locomotive Breath” and “Bungle in the Jungle.”

Anderson has described the CD as “perfect for lazy, sunny long afternoons, crisp winter nights, weddings and funerals.”

So, why is the show billed Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson instead of just just Jethro Tull or Ian Anderson? That’s where matters can get a bit confusing.

It’s because Anderson — Tull’s frontman and its sole constant member since the band debuted in 1968 — considers Tull, the band, to be a unique entity, albeit one that’s intertwined with his own.

Thus, Anderson and various configurations of players with whom he has toured in recent years are not actually the band Jethro Tull — they simply perform the music of Jethro Tull. After all, he points out, there have been more than 30 band members over the years. It’s a fine distinction, perhaps, but there you have it.

“At this point, I think, it’s a little disingenuous for me to talk about ‘the band’ Jethro Tull, because it means so many different things,” Anderson recently told Ultimate Classic Rock. “When I’m the only guy left from the early days, I think of ‘Jethro Tull’ as the repertoire.”

In any case, the current lineup performing the familiar Tull catalogue includes, in addition to Anderson, David Goodier (bass), John O'Hara (keyboards), Florian Opahle (guitar) and Scott Hammond (drums).

One iconic image you’ll likely see is Anderson playing the flute while standing on one leg. That feat may be a little harder to accomplish at 70, but the distinctive pose has become one of the most iconic images in pop music history, and a silhouette-style graphic depicting it still serves as the band’s logo.

Some have decried Tull’s snub from Rock and Roll Hall of Fame consideration, especially after their progressive rock peers Rush were inducted in 2013. Indeed, Tull has sold a staggering 60 million albums, with 11 earning gold or platinum status. Still, neither Anderson nor his groundbreaking band has never been nominated.

Anderson, though, says he isn’t interested. “People like me don’t belong in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, and I would be genuinely embarrassed if it came up," he told the Houston Press. "I would feel churlish if I said no, and people would think I’m ungrateful. But it probably isn’t going to happen. I am not a kind of guy for awards ceremonies and dressing up. I’m a party pooper.”

Regardless of the rock establishment’s view, Anderson’s music — or is it Tull’s? — has never been more accessible to fans. Many of the band's classic records have been re-released in expanded editions full of all sorts of bonuses. The most recent is a five-CD expanded edition of Songs from the Wood, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.

Filled with imagery from medieval Britain, Into the Wood was inspired in part by the book Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain, and represents something of a departure from the band’s previous hard-rock style. Many of Tull’s most avid followers say the folk-tinged collection remains their favorite.

These days, the seemingly ageless Anderson — who holds two doctorates in literature and is an environmentalist and animal-rights activist — tours the world but enjoys puttering around his homes in England and Switzerland. For a time, he tinkered in salmon farming and still enjoys photography.

He and Shona, his wife of 41 years, have two children: James Duncan Anderson, also a musician; and Gael, who works in the film industry and is married to actor Andrew Lincoln, star of the US TV drama series The Walking Dead.

And wherever he appears, Anderson finds that many concertgoers — particularly baby boomers — consider Tull albums to have provided the soundtracks for their lives. Anderson, in turn, has rewarded them with consistently superior live shows.

Still, one of the most original artists in the history of rock is always looking for new ways of channeling his creativity. He recently told the Salt Lake City Tribune:

"At the end of the day, I think a good song, or even an average song, you can turn it into something else, most times with a degree of success, in terms of crossing genres and presenting something within a new musical suit of clothes."

By Bob Keeling, excerpted from artsLife