It is no surprise that Ian Anderson – Jethro Tull’s iconic flue player – is as eclectic and unpredictable as the music he has been playing since around 1968. The soft-spoken musician is as much at ease talking about his early days as a blues musician as he is talking about being a grandfather in “barbecue shorts.”
I caught up with Anderson on the road and we talked his upcoming show in the Chicagoland area. Jethro Tull will perform at 7 p.m., Sunday June 20 at the Ravinia Pavilion, 200 Ravinia Park Road, Highland Park, IL. Anderson promises to bring the flute and leave the shorts at home.
Early in his career, Anderson was surrounded by the likes of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Ritchie Blackmore to name a few. The younger crowd was getting deep into the blues and the electric guitar was king. Anderson found passion in other pastures.
“I was drawn to more acoustic music,” he said. “There was some folk blues – later some jazz.”
He also stated he wanted to be a big fish in a small pond. This is what drove him to pick up the flute at 20 years old.
“I just looked in the mirror one day and thought to myself that a middle-class white kid playing the blues… Where’s the authenticity in that?” He also stated he didn’t want to compete with the likes of Clapton and others making a big splash on the scene at the time.
“I wasn’t motivated to play the guitar and I didn’t want to be a third rate guitar player,” he said. “I think guitar when I play the flute. Many people have called it guitar music on a flute.”
Whatever people have been calling it – they have been loving it for over 40 years – 30 records and 60,000,000 records sold.
“The fans are the ones who have made this thing worthwhile,” he said. “Early on there were a lot of people who didn’t want me to play the flute, even a manager we had at the time, but the fans showed their appreciation and that was al I needed.”
But after four decades how does one keep in shape to do this – to tour relentlessly and to play with the power and the passion?
“I don’t belong to a gym or a health club,” he said with a laugh. “Who wants to see a grandpa coming in there in his barbecue shorts?”
He said the best way to stay in shape is to do what he does. He plays the flute regularly – seven days a week. Even if he is off he road he finds time to play for a least an hour a day. Occasionally if he is off the road for too long, he has to find time for his wife’s treadmill.
After all this time – he could easily rest on his laurels, but he continues to tour and he continues to record when – a lot of guys would be looking for an easier venue.
“We owe our longevity to the fans,” he said. “The one who come out to see us play – the ones who share the music with us – share the love of what we do. They are the reason we continue to tour.”
Anderson – the timeless image of him on one foot – flute poised at his chin – has been a fish farmer, a troubadour, a bluesman, and songwriter to say the least. The thing he seems most proud of is the title Grandfather.
Jethro Tull will perform at 7 p.m., Sunday June 20 at the Ravinia Pavilion, 200 Ravinia Park Road, Highland Park, IL. Procol Harum opens. For more information, log on at ravinia.org.