Jethro Tull & His Fabulous Tool

Despite their flute, the band is not a jazz outift; they rock

Jethro Tull in 1969. Credit: Gai Terrell/Redferns

According to the critics in England, Jethro Tull is the new super-duper group, the successor of Cream, "the most unusual group on the British scene."

According to its record company, Jethro Tull is a jazz-group that "often appears as old men — shaggy hair and beards powdered with white, lines of makeup on their faces ..." And Jethro Tull, so the company's story goes, invented the plough and lived to write a book about it.

According to Ian Anderson, flutist and lead singer of the group, all of the above is not a silly milli-particle less than "absolute bullshit."

Jethro Tull, to take the most inconsequential inaccuracy first, was an 18th Century musician who invented the seed drill, made out of, among other things, an old organ pedal.

Today, Jethro Tull is a quartet of young men (all around 21 or 22) from North England (Blackpool and there-abouts) who combine guitar, drums, mouth harp and flute into a frenetic but rather primitive blues-rock sound. They have never appeared as "old men" in public (except in publicity stills and on their LP cover).

Formed a year ago, the band took a mere eight months to climb aboard the British charts. The boys did it by spending those eight months criss-crossing England and hitting "all the small clubs."

"We just played what we knew would be accepted," said Anderson. "In other worlds, just blues. They we started writing our own songs and shoving them in, and they were accepted, too."

An album This Was, comprised mostly of "accepted" original tunes plus one Roland Kirk composition, was put together. The band (there's Anderson; guitarist Mick Abrahams; bassist Glenn Cornick, and drummer Clive Bunker) donned the old-men getup for kicks, to complement the dogs on the proposed album cover photo. And Jethro Tull was ready to plough.

By then, the band's self-composed, lighter pieces, incorporating Anderson's flute, were being called jazz.

"People were all thinking we were like 30 years old, eccentric nut cases because I like to jump around the stage. So here we were 'old men playing jazz-rock.'"

Anderson, a quiet, Zappa-haired young man who owns two pairs of pocketless trousers and carries his valuables in a cord-strung leather pouch, swears that none of the group has any jazz background. Anderson knew Cornick in Blackpool, where the two played semi professionally for a short time. They roamed down to London with the intention of going professional. There they met drummer Clive Bunker, added a guitarist, and began looking for work.

Jethro Tull had what Anderson called "a six month period of natural growth, where we scrounged just enough to make a living." Still, the band moved fast, finding co-managers in Terry Ellis and Chris Wright (who also manage Ten Years After) and landing a spot in the Sunbury Jazz and Blues Festival. From there the critics took over. And while the group, Anderson says, established itself without the benefit of promotional splash in England, hype's slick menstruum has been preceding Jethro Tull at every point on its current American debut tour.

The band just may survive the publicity. When the rumblings about Jethro Tull being the "new wave of Jazz musicians" first cropped up, says Anderson, "we thought it was great fun. And I don't mind when people compare my flute playing with Roland Kirk's or a number of flutists. The only people it probably annoys are jazz musicians and jazz fans."

At any rate, Jethro Tull's inadvertant jazz will meet up with the real thing on the Fourth of July when the band appears at the Newport Jazz Festival. Among the other musicians slated to be there: Roland Kirk.