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Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull

by Raymond Benson

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The Legendary Jethro Tull - How many rock bands from the sixties can you name that are still around today? Probably not that many. There are a couple — the Rolling Stones, Santana-but most have broken up, stopped recording, and reappear only for the ubiquitous 'reunion' tours. Jethro Tull is one band that formed in 1968 and are still going strong, thanks to


The Legendary Jethro Tull - How many rock bands from the sixties can you name that are still around today? Probably not that many. There are a couple — the Rolling Stones, Santana-but most have broken up, stopped recording, and reappear only for the ubiquitous 'reunion' tours. Jethro Tull is one band that formed in 1968 and are still going strong, thanks to the leadership, vision, and extraordinary talent of its leader, Ian Anderson. Named after the 17th Century inventor of the seed drill, Jethro Tull have always been controversial, challenging, and completely impossible to categorize. Are they rock? Blues? 'Progressive'? English folk? These labels merely begin to describe Jethro Tull’s eclectic and imaginative music.  Author Raymond Benson looks at this legendary rock band and analyzes their place in pop music history. He examines every Jethro Tull album — track listing, personnel, cover art, recording history, and content. A handy rating system informs Tull newbies where to start and provides longtime fans with fodder for debate. A book for both the casual and hard-core fan, Jethro Tull is an insightful companion to enhance one’s listening pleasure.

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Oldcastle Books
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Pocket Essential series
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Jethro Tull

By Raymond Benson

Oldcastle Books

Copyright © 2005 Raymond Benson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84243-827-5


The Early Years (1947 – 1967)

The genius behind Jethro Tull is that fellow who often stands on one leg and plays the flute. He was once described by the press as 'a mad-dog Fagin,' was known for wearing a codpiece throughout a tour or two and was once very hirsute but isn't now.

Ian Scott Anderson, born 10 August 1947 in Dunfermline, Fifeshire, Scotland, moved to Edinburgh with his family when he was four years old. Much has been written about young Ian's early years and his rebellion against wearing a kilt at age eight and his aversion to attending Sunday School. His parents apparently forced religion upon him at a young age and this no doubt had an influence on some of the lyrics he would write later on. Songs like 'My God,' 'Hymn 43,' 'Wind-Up' and several others deal with what Anderson perceives as the absurdity of organised religion.

His parents apparently enjoyed the big bands and encouraged young Ian to learn to play the guitar. After attempting to do so on a toy ukulele, Ian persuaded his father to buy him a real guitar when he was eleven. It was around that time that the Anderson family moved to Blackpool, a seaside town in the north of England. There, the Andersons managed a boarding house and a neighbourhood grocery store. Ian enrolled in Blackpool Grammar School for Boys and had a knack for math and sciences. For a while he considered pursuing a career in those disciplines but this was not to be.

Early Bands

The year 1963 proved to be a catalyst of some sort. Anderson met fellow student Jeffrey Hammond (born 30 July 1946) and immediately found that they shared an interest in music. Hammond was all for starting a band. Since Ian was keen to play the guitar, Hammond picked up a bass. They soon found a drummer in the guise of another schoolmate, John Evans (born 28 March 1948). Not only could Evans play the drums, he was a fine pianist as well. Legend has it that it was Evans who introduced The Beatles' music to Anderson.

The three boys rehearsed in John's garage and soon dubbed themselves The Blades, named after the London club frequented by James Bond in Ian Fleming's popular spy novels. Anderson naturally fell into the role of lead singer and The Blades soon found themselves playing their first gig at The Holy Family youth club. Before long, they were performing weekly in churches and other youth clubs and attracting the attention of young females — which was more of a priority at the time than making any money.

After a while, Michael Stephens, a guitarist from a rival band called The Atlantics, joined The Blades. In 1964, the band advertised in the local paper for a drummer because Evans preferred playing keyboards and kept hurting his hands on the drum kit. Barrie Barlow (born 10 September 1949) answered the call. Experienced as a school band drummer, Barlow got the job and Evans purchased a portable organ. Throughout the rest of the year, The Blades built a local reputation playing pop and blues songs that they had learned by listening to records.

When Ian Anderson graduated from Blackpool Grammar he felt a responsibility to get a 'proper' job. He worked in a department store for a while and then he applied to be a policeman. Luckily, he was turned away for being only sixteen. Instead, Anderson did something sensible and enrolled in the Blackpool College of Art to study painting. He never amounted to much as a painter because his musical endeavours received more of his attention.

Things really started cooking in 1965. The Blades added Jim Doolin on trumpet and baritone sax and Martin Skyrme on tenor sax, adding an entirely new dynamic to the band's sound. Michael Stephens left and it was decided that the group needed a new name. Jeffrey Hammond suggested that John Evans drop the 's' at the end of his name because it sounded better. This led to the metamorphosis into The John Evan Band. They were billed as the John Evan Blues Band at their first gig in December at the Blackpool Grammar School for Boys. By 1966, another Atlantics alumnus, Chris Riley, joined as guitarist. The John Evan Band even acquired a manager, an electrician named Johnny Taylor. More lucrative gigs came about after a two-day talent competition at the Elizabethan Club in Kirkam in March 1966.

Their repertoire now consisted of covering material by the Graham Bond Organisation, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, John Lee Hooker and James Brown. But this changed, just as music itself was changing in 1966. The John Evan Band line-up was also mercurial but the core members of Anderson, Hammond, Evans, Barlow and Riley stuck it out. Eventually the band was playing higher-profile gigs at universities and larger clubs like the Bolton Palais. Perhaps their biggest claims to fame at the time were opening for Herman's Hermits in June 1966 at the British Cellophone and '99' clubs in Barrow and then sharing the bill with Graham Bond and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (with Eric Clapton!) at various boat clubs.

It was a tough life. John Evans was the only member who had a driver's licence and owned a van. For every gig, the lads would load, travel, unload, rehearse, perform, reload, travel and unload again — night after night. The money was poor and morale was low. Despite the hard life, the band surprisingly continued to get work. The obvious next step was to make some demos. Using crude equipment in Evans' garage, the band recorded Thelonius Monk's 'Straight, No Chaser' and the first known Ian Anderson composition — 'How Can You Work With Mama.'

Jeffrey Hammond eventually threw in the towel and enrolled in the Blackpool College of Art to become a painter full time. Chris Riley and Barrie Barlow became casualties soon after. Replacements included Derek 'Bo' Ward, Neil Smith and Ritchie Dharma. The band also changed managers, even though it appeared that the group would completely fall apart. But Anderson was intent on pursuing a career in music. After two years, he dropped out of art school and took up more odd jobs to make pocket money.

Neil Smith recorded a date that the band played in October 1966 in Casterton so that he could practise at home while listening to the tape. In 1989, Smith unearthed the tape and gave it to David Rees, editor and publisher of a Jethro Tull fanzine called A New Day. Ian Anderson gave Rees permission to release the album, warts and all, as The John Evan Band — Live '66. Sold in 1990 as a limited edition through A New Day in both cassette and CD formats, this bootleg-quality trinket represents the earliest available recording of Ian Anderson and company in performance.

The group became The John Evan Smash when they opened for Pink Floyd at the Canterbury Technical College in Kent in late 1966. Apparently the new manager, Don Read, thought this name better suited the times.

In early 1967, more personnel changes occurred. Barrie Barlow, after hearing and being very impressed with the John Evan Smash, wanted back in. He brought along a new bass player, Blackpool resident Glenn Cornick (born 23 April 1947 as Glenn Douglas Barnard, but he adopted his stepfather's surname). The line-up now consisted of Anderson, Evans, Barlow, Cornick, Neil Smith, Tony Wilkinson and Neil Valentine. This assortment proved to be the best yet. The group specialised in a type of north England soul music that was very popular in those parts. Anderson's songwriting skills continued to blossom, albeit slowly. The band performed another original composition, 'Take The Easy Way,' on a television talent program called Firstimers. It was broadcast on 24 May 1967, but the band didn't win the contest and unfortunately the tape of the show no longer exists. Not to be discouraged, the band promptly went into Regent Sound Studio in London in late May/early June to lay down Anderson's two compositions. Today these recordings are considered lost because they only exist on poor acetates and tape reels.

London was the place to be if one wanted to break into the big time. The band desperately needed a manager who could book them there. This line of thinking meant that Don Read was out and a Manchester-based concert booker named Chris Wright was in. Wright and his partner Terry Ellis had their own booking agency in London and managed Ten Years After. The John Evan Smash signed on with Ellis/Wright and by the end of the summer had more dates in the big city.

This led to the band's first official recording session for producer Derek Lawrence. Lawrence wanted to call the band Candy Coloured Rain. The boys hated that, but they were willing to put up with it for the opportunity to lay down demos at EMI studios in London. Four new Ian Anderson compositions were recorded along with a couple of covers but EMI ultimately destroyed the tapes because they 'took up space.'

The Business Of Flutes, Mick Abrahams And Moving South

Ian Anderson acquired his first flute because of a debt. Someone owed him some money and when he and Glenn Cornick showed up to collect, all the person had in hand was a Selmer Gold Seal concert flute in C. Anderson accepted the instrument as payment. He didn't know how to play it so he taught himself. Never mind that he held it wrong, blew it improperly and his technique probably would have given nightmares to a classically trained flautist. Anderson's inspiration grew after hearing Roland Kirk's LP I Talk With The Spirits, a jazz album that featured an abundance of flute. Kirk's song 'Serenade To A Cuckoo' became the first tune that Anderson learned to play on his new-found instrument, adding it to his range of abilities that included composing, vocals, guitar, drums and harmonica. Little did he know that the flute would become his signature instrument.

The John Evan Smash went into EMI's Abbey Road studio in October 1967 to record once again under the supervision of Derek Lawrence. The sessions produced a new song penned by Anderson and Cornick (credited to Anderson/Barnard, Cornick's real name) called 'Aeroplane.' One of Lawrence's protégés, Tony Wilson, sang backup on the song and later gained fame with the pop band Hot Chocolate. The other song was Anderson's alone, entitled 'Letting You Go' and featured his new flute for the first time. Both tunes would go unreleased for the time being.

The planets must have been in alignment on 27 October 1967, when the John Evan Smash played a gig in Luton, near London, at the Beachcomber Discotheque. Sharing the stage was a band called McGregor's Engine, which featured guitarist Mick Abrahams, drummer Clive Bunker and bassist Andy Pyle. Abrahams (born 7 April 1943) was impressed with the on-stage antics of the twenty-year-old singer and flute player. Anderson was mutually awed by Abrahams' guitar ability, which gravitated toward blues and R&B. One thing led to another and Anderson invited Abrahams to join the band. The only problem was that Abrahams lived in Luton and had no desire to move to Blackpool, or even London for that matter. When the Smash got back to Blackpool, morale was at an all time low, every member was in some kind of financial debt and the pressure of finding 'real' jobs was immense. Neil Smith left, which opened up the guitar slot for Abrahams. There was only one thing to do — move south.

Once the band got to Luton and the London area, everyone was broke. Chris Wright managed to get the band a few gigs featuring the new guitarist, but the John Evan Smash fell apart. Barrie Barlow quit for the second time to go back home to his girlfriend in Blackpool. John Evans decided to continue his college studies and went home. Within a few weeks everyone but Anderson, Cornick and Abrahams had gone missing. To replace Barlow, Abrahams brought in Clive Bunker (born 12 December 1946) from McGregor's Engine. By November 1967, the band with no name consisted of: Anderson on vocals, flute, harmonica and occasional guitar; Abrahams on lead guitar and occasional vocals; Cornick on bass; and Bunker on drums. One of the problems at this point was that the John Evan Smash still had a few bookings left to play and the venues expected a septet. When the new band arrived at the gigs, they had to explain that the missing members were in the hospital for some reason.

Management-wise, Chris Wright was devoting more of his time to Ten Years After, so his partner Terry Ellis took the new group under his wing. Ellis continued to book the new quartet under various names, including 'Ian Anderson's Blues Band,' 'Ian Anderson's Bag O' Nails,' 'Ian Henderson's Bag O' Nails,' 'Bag O' Blues' and 'Navy Blue.' The old practice of frequently renaming the group so that they could get a second gig someplace under the guise of being a 'different' band paid off. But by the end of 1967 it was clear that the group needed an identity that would distinguish them from what had gone before.


The Birth Of Jethro Tull (1968 – 1970)

In early 1968, the quartet went about completing the demo recordings that the John Evan Smash had begun a few months earlier. Derek Lawrence had got a contract with MGM to release a single and so the band went back to Abbey Road Studios to remix 'Aeroplane' and record a new tune, penned by Mick Abrahams, entitled 'Sunshine Day.' Tony Wilson once again sang backup vocals. Now all they needed was a name to put on the label.

Dave Robson, an agent with the Ellis/Wright agency, suggested that they use the name 'Jethro Tull,' after the inventor of the seed drill. 'It had a nice grubby farmer sound to it,' was the reasoning. When the band played their first gig at the prestigious Marquee Club on 2 February 1968, that was the name they used. It stuck. Marquee manager John Gee liked the band enormously and was especially taken with Ian Anderson's wild performance on flute, harmonica and vocals. Gee promptly awarded Jethro Tull a Friday night residency at the club, where they performed every other week.

The MGM single was released on 16 February to take advantage of the Marquee debut. There are varying accounts as to why the error occurred, but for some strange reason, the name of the band on the single's label was printed as 'Jethro Toe!' Derek Lawrence blamed an MGM staffer as having misheard the name over the telephone, but it's also possible that Lawrence himself made the mistake because he had been heard to pronounce the group's name as such. Some say that Lawrence did it on purpose because he didn't like the name Jethro Tull.

In the long run it didn't really matter. The 'Sunshine Day'/'Aeroplane' single came and went without much notice. No one is exactly sure how many copies it sold, but the single is extremely rare today. An authentic copy sells for as much as $1,000! Considered long lost after many years, the two tracks were unearthed for the 20 Years Of Jethro Tull box set that was released in 1988. Listening to them now, it's understandable why the single didn't do well. 'Sunshine Day' is a pleasant enough jazz ditty and 'Aeroplane' has a strong slow tempo that showcases Anderson's voice, but at the end of the day neither song is particularly memorable.

Since MGM made a mess of the first recording, it was decided that the Ellis/Wright agency would form their own record company to handle the acts that they managed. Thus, Chrysalis Productions was formed, the genesis of what would become Chrysalis Records.

Gigs, A Festival And The First Album

As 1968 rolled into spring, Ian Anderson took it upon himself to force his way into the role of frontman. Chrysalis attempted to push Abrahams into that spot but Anderson fiercely resisted. His songwriting skills improved and he gave the band some individualistic numbers to perform live. A tattered, long overcoat became a staple costume for Anderson and it, along with his long, dishevelled hair, gave him a rather scruffy, homeless appearance. In counterpoint to this was his on-stage banter. When he spoke it was immediately apparent that the man was intelligent and witty. Using this 'brainy tramp' persona to his advantage, Anderson developed a stage act that included standing on one leg while playing the harmonica and flute, leaping about, bulging his eyes and mugging at the audience and 'directing' the other band members with flamboyant gestures. There was no doubt that he was a charismatic performer.

Jethro Tull slowly gained a reputation as a live act. The Marquee residency certainly helped, but a June 1968 free concert in London's Hyde Park, opening for Pink Floyd, got the attention of John Peel, the influential BBC radio impresario known for promoting bands that were not particularly mainstream. In early August 1968, Jethro Tull was invited by Peel to record a session for the Top Gear program. Anderson had written a song for his long-time friend Jeffrey Hammond, appropriately entitled, 'A Song for Jeffrey.' This downright weird bluesy number with distorted vocals was the showcase of the session. Anderson's 'My Sunday Feeling' and a Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee number, 'So Much Trouble,' were also recorded. The program aired on 22 September 1968.


Excerpted from Jethro Tull by Raymond Benson. Copyright © 2005 Raymond Benson. Excerpted by permission of Oldcastle Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Raymond Benson is the author of the original James Bond 007 novels The Man With The Red Tattoo, Never Dream Of Dying, DoubleShot ,High Time To Kill, The Facts Of Death, and Zero Minus Ten. He also wrote the award-winning reference book The James Bond Bedside Companion, the mystery novel Evil Hours, has designed critically-acclaimed computer games, and spent over a decade directing theatre and composing music off-off and off-Broadway.

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