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Jethro Tull


Jethro Tull circa 1970

Jethro Tull circa 1970

Photo by Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Making a difference by being different:

It's most fitting that a band that has thrived on being different didn't hatch fully formed from the beginning. Jethro Tull's unique style developed over a period of years, and several albums. They have thrived for more than 40 years, during which time it is almost certain that they have never been mistaken for any other band.

They named themselves after the inventor of an agricultural implement. They used flutes and lutes and all manner of other instruments that nobody had ever used to play rock music. They were in the vanguard of bands in the earliest days of progressive rock.

The band's roots go back to 1962 in Blackpool, England where young Ian Anderson, a singer who also played harmonica, formed a band called The Blades. Five years later, they ventured out to London and Liverpool in search of a wider audience. They went through several name changes, finally settling on Jethro Tull in 1967.

Their first album, This Was came in 1968 and, for a debut album, did quite well, charting as high as #10 in the U.K. and #62 in the US. This first effort was far from prog rock. The music -- mostly written by Anderson and guitarist Mick Abrahams -- was a hybrid of jazz and R&B.

The change begins:

Anderson and Abrahams had conflicting ideas about the musical direction the band should take, with Abrahams favoring bluesy rock, and Anderson itching to experiment with various styles. Abrahams ended the argument by leaving the band just as This Was was being released.

Martin Barre stepped in to replace Abrahams on guitar, in time to play on Tull's second album, Stand Up in 1969. The album was, stylistically, the polar opposite of the debut album, as Anderson infused folk, classical and Celtic music into the mix. It proved to be a good decision, and the album went to #1 in Britain.

On their third album -- Benefit, released in 1970 -- the band swung again, this time to hard rock. It was their next release, 1971's Aqualung that established them as card carrying progressive rockers, and set them on the course of major recording and touring success.

Defining Jethro Tull

"We've always been a more cerebral band than most rock bands," said Anderson in a 2008 interview. "That has made us fair game for accusations of bombast, or being overly clever, but that's been mostly from critics who are afraid of anything more artsy or thoughtful. I'd say we try to maintain a mixture of head and heart."

There have been many personnel changes over the years (no fewer than 24 musicians have been Jethro Tull members) but two constants have served as the core of the group. Founding member Anderson and guitarist Barre, who joined the band shortly after it formed. Anderson's trademark is the flute, which he frequently plays while standing on one foot. He is just as accomplished as a guitarist. Likewise, Barre is just as comfortable setting his guitar down and picking up the flute.

"It's all we've ever done professionally," Anderson says. "I left art college to be a professional musician, and when I did, I considered it to be a job for life. I've never gotten my mind around the idea of not doing what we do."

Essential Jethro Tull albums

Aqualung / Thick as a Brick / Living in the Past

Essential Jethro Tull songs

"Locomotive Breath" / "Thick as a Brick" / "Living in the Past"

Jethro Tull Studio Album Discography

This Was (1968)
Stand Up (1969)
Benefit (1970)
Aqualung (1971)
Thick as a Brick (1972)
A Passion Play (1973)
War Child (1974)
Minstrel in the Gallery (1975)
Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! (1976)
Songs from the Wood (1977)
Heavy Horses (1978)
Stormwatch (1979)
A (1980)
The Broadsword and the Beast (1982)
Under Wraps (1984)
Crest of a Knave (1987)
Rock Island (1989)
Catfish Rising (1991)
Roots to Branches (1995)
J-Tull Dot Com (1999)
The Jethro Tull Christmas Album (2003)

Jethro Tull Live Album Discography

Live - Bursting Out (1978)
Live at Hammersmith '84 (1990)
A Little Light Music (1992)
In Concert (1995)
Living With the Past (2002)
Nothing is Easy: Live at the Isle of Wight 1970 (2004)
Aqualung Live (2005)
Live at Montreux 2003 (2007)

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