Monday, April 12, 2010

Four decades of Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull circa 1974 
Front row:  John Evan, Ian Anderson, Martin Barre
Back row:  Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, unknown child, Barriemore Barlow
In one of those rare and magical instances of synchronicity, as I was walking home from Pho Van yesterday evening, my ambulatory ruminations turned to one of my very favorite pop/rock music bands:  Jethro Tull.  I was thinking, specifically, about my collection of Jethro Tull albums, which includes every album they released in the United States from 1969 (Stand Up) through 1987 (Crest of a Knave).  I was deep in my reverie, thinking about that ripping instrumental jam in the middle of "Backdoor Angels" (War Child) when I got a call from Dave Hauth informing me that, at that very moment, local classic rock station KGON was running an interview and retrospective of Jethro Tull's career as part of the "Off the Record" series.  I hurried home to listen.

I've been a Jethro Tull fan since I discovered them during my junior year of high school in 1977.  By that time, Jethro Tull had been making albums for a full decade and so I had an entire catalog of music to investigate.  I quickly discovered that Jethro Tull was (and is) a band that is constantly evolving.  In the late 60s, Jethro Tull was mostly a standard rhythm-and-blues band.  But then, in the early 70s they transitioned to progressive rock.  In the late 70s they began incorporating traditional Celtic music themes into their work.  Then, sometime in the 80s they attempted to transition to a heavy-metalish band, although not particularly successfully.  I enjoy everything the band created up to the mid-80s, but I am particularly fond of their "progressive rock" period, with bookend albums Aqualung (1971) and Minstrel in the Gallery (1975).

The band's lineup has changed radically over the years as well.  In fact, Ian Anderson, the band's songwriter and front man, is the only artist who appears on every Tull album.  Even guitarist Martin Barre, who has been with the band since 1968 was not in the original lineup, replacing Mick Abrams on the band's second album, Stand Up. 

The first time I saw a live Jethro Tull performance was in Seattle in 1985 as part of their Under Wraps tour.  Since that time, I've seen them perform on some half-dozen occasions at various venues in the Pacific Northwest including one of the best live performances I've experienced when they played at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, here in Portland in 1987 as part of the Crest of a Knave tour.  (Fairport Convention opened for them.)

I actually had the opportunity to meet Ian Anderson when Tull passed through Portland in the early 90s.  My (ex-)brother-in-law is an avid autograph hound and he knew that Ian routinely greeted fans at the stage door after the show to sign paraphernalia and shake hands.

And so, my brother-in-law, myself, and my brother Eric (also a die-hard Tull fan) waited in the rain for some 45 minutes after the show.  We stood at the front of a line of about 50 people, just outside the stage entrance to Portland's Civic Auditorium.  We hoped to get Ian's autograph.  We were not disappointed.  Eventually, someone associated with the band opened the door and let us in where I came face to face with my hero.

He looked a little wary as I approached him.  I don't blame him.  I was dressed like a vagabond (my own version of the down-and-out Aqualung) and I was thoroughly soaked by Portland rain.  I stammered, "Mr. Anderson, I'm a huge fan.  Will you sign this?"  I had been carrying the album cover of Minstrel in the Gallery under my jacket in anticipation.  I pulled it out and thrust it at him.

"Sure," said he.

"I've gotta tell you," I went on, "Baker Street Muse is an awesome tune."

"Oh yes, that one," said he.  He put his hand to his chin, remembering.

Eric was right behind me, and he got Ian to sign Eric's copy of Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll:  Too Young to Die! which Eric still proudly displays in his living room hutch.

In all honesty, I have to say that I haven't much cared for anything that Jethro Tull has produced for the last 20 years.  But, I'm still a huge fan.  If they pass by on their next tour, you can be sure I'll be at the show.  Just another one of the hundreds of thousands of Jethro Tull fans.
They grow all their roses red and paint our skies blue
Drop one penny in every second bowl, make half the beggars lose;
Why do the faithful have such a will to believe in something
And call it the name they choose having chosen nothing?
--Backdoor Angels, Jethro Tull

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the first time i saw Jethro Tull was in Eugene 1965. He walked out on the stage all alone with his flute and played for the next two hours, He had on baggy pants and a tee shirt and his hair was pulled back in a long ponytail...who knew