For decades, he has been the minstrel of rock and roll while leading his band Jethro Tull with his masterful flute playing, articulate song writing and powerful vocals. Ian Anderson is still going strong after 4o years with Jethro Tull, still touring and thrilling audiences of all ages. Today, Ian is in the midst of a solo tour that comes to Westbury on Wednesday, November 24th. Recently, I had a nice conversation with Ian while on a break between gigs...
MICK: How is the tour going?
IAN: We are more than half through a year's worth of touring at the moment having just started the second leg. Playing some nice little theaters including some places we haven't played before. A mixture of some familiar sights and few new experiences.
MICK: I've heard that you wrote some new songs for this tour. Is this something you normally do when you go on tour?
IAN: I think it's pretty common going back to the very beginning of Jethro Tull to do some new material on stage. Of course not every concert and every tour. Quite frequently we try out some new material on stage live before we record it in the studio which is a useful and challenging experience, certainly for the musicians. Particularly at a Jethro Tull show there are expectations of a certain kind of music. It's always risky for the artist but to me it's important as it takes me back to the beginnings of performing live in front of an audience. Think about it in the context of when we first time we came to play in America and pretty much everything we played was unfamiliar to the audience. It puts us back in that less comfortable zone where we actually have to win people over.
MICK: How is this solo tour different from a Jethro Tull tour?
IAN: All of my solo tours, whether it be acoustic shows, orchestral shows, string quartet shows, Christmas shows, are different in one crucial way which is they give me the opportunity to go a little deeper into the Jethro Tull catalog to explore some less known pieces of music. I also do some of the better known pieces of music with perhaps different arrangements and a different slant on the music. Seventy percent of it is Jethro Tull repertoire and the balance is made up of some solo album tracks, three or four new songs, a couple of classic pieces of music. A mixture with most of the emphasis on the Jethro Tull catalog. Some of it more obscure, songs you wouldn't hear on classic rock radio every day.
MICK: You still enjoy touring?
IAN: It's what I set out to do when I left school. It's my job and my passion so I do enjoy it.
MICK: Is Westbury the last stop on this tour?
IAN: Yes it is
MICK: Will there be any new Jethro Tull albums in the near future?
IAN: Nothing has been scheduled, no.
MICK: How many flutes do you own?
IAN: I guess around ten. There's probably four or five flutes I won that I wouldn't take out of the house being that they are more valuable and hand made. I would not risk taking them on tour because of the great likelihood of damage, theft, loss and there's a certain degree of stress from temperature. The ones I take on tour are essentially ones that I can probably replace in any major city. I'm not going to take a hand made, gold flute on tour! Nor would i send one into space! I have a flute currently waiting on the international space station for a flute player astronaut to play when she gets there next month. That is not an expensive flute because I might not see it again. I'm told it will come back to me! NASA doesn't like to lose astronauts and flutes!
MICK: You have a very unique style of playing the flute while standing on one leg. When did you start playing that way?
IAN: In late February, 1968. I used to play harmonica while standing on one leg so when I began playing the flute in the early months of 1968, I played it standing on one leg also. It was something that media noticed about Jethro Tull in the early days. It got talked up a bit more than perhaps it deserves. It's sort of a trademark that stuck from the early days.
MICK: In 1989, Jethro Tull won the Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance. What are your thoughts on that? They say it was one of the biggest upsets in Grammy history.
IAN: It was a peer group award from 6000 voting members of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. They have different categories and that particular year, there was a new category for Best Hard Rock/ Metal Act. For some reason, our record company put us in. We were nominated among other bands in that category and that in itself was strange and unlikely. When it came to people casting their votes, the 6000 voting members probably thought Jethro Tull has been around a long time and they haven't won a Grammy so lets give them a pat on the head! Metallica was the favorite to win and when we won, it created a little fiery amongst the audience and the pundits at the time. It wasn't something to get carried away about. Nice to have but it doesn't impact upon me hugely the fact that I have a Grammy or don't have a Grammy. Or even if Jethro Tull is or isn't in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or any of things kind of measuring sticks of palpable success. It's nice to have that kind of symbol of success but it's doesn't rate anywhere remotely rewarding as standing in front of an audience and feeling their pleasurable response. That's the thing that most musicians would put at the top of their list of accolades.
MICK: What are some of your favorite venues?
IAN: A number of them that are particularly ancient places that I've played. Amphitheaters around the world that are maybe a few thousand years old. Those are quite memorable places. Of course, when you're outdoors in these amphitheaters, they tend to have easy acoustics to work with. They are ancient and relevant of history and culture, an easier thing to get excited about than playing in some concrete sports hall. That's my least favorite..playing in some multi purpose concrete buildings not designed for music.
MICK: Who do you enjoy listening to?
IAN: Mainly folk music from different parts of the world. I've always been an acoustic musician and listened to acoustic music. It's always been my main interest whether it was jazz or blues, western folk music or classical music. I've always found acoustic music rewarding and exciting to play as a musician. Having long been associated with a band that's considered at least on the periphery of rock music with electric instruments, it's not my natural preference. On this tour, it's half and half between electric music and acoustic music.
MICK: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time other than music?
IAN: I don't have a lot of spare time but when I do, it's just very simple domestic pleasures. I like to take my cats for a walk.
MICK: Do you have a favorite Jethro Tull song?
IAN: It tends to vary from time to time. Perhaps the songs "Budapest", "Songs From the Wood", "Aqualung", "Locomotive Breath" are four that generally sit on top of my list.
MICK: Which of today's artists do you like?
IAN: Anyone whose name I can remember which reduces it to approximately zero. I've never been a listener of contemporary pop and rock music. It's not something I've ever done much of. You could probably play me something and I wouldn't know if it was from yesterday or five years ago. I can only comment on things that are more folk oriented. Among today's relatively new folk artists I like Seth Lakeman, the English guitar player/ violinist /singer/ song writer. I've played with him a couple of times.
MICK: Do you have any fond memories of performing here on Long Island?
IAN: I have lots of memories. I wouldn't say they were all particularly fond because many of them did have to do with playing in arenas or places not so conducive to easy music. We've also played in a few theaters like Westbury from time to time. Those are the more memorable and enjoyable ones. I'm a theater guy and I like something that has a theatrical feel with dressing rooms backstage. It has the conventional layout of the concert hall or the theater. It's always been my preference. When I first started playing in theaters in 1969, I finally felt that I had arrived in a place that felt like home. I didn't like playing in clubs with the noise, the smell of beer, sweat, not something that i enjoy at all.
MICK: You are a survivor of Deep Vein Thrombosis. What exactly is that?
IAN: It's a blood clot usually caused by inactivity following physical accidents. It's something that can strike people like athletes, skiers, football players, folks that have lower limb injuries. Especially for those who travel for a period of time because a blood clot can form in a vein in the leg and build up to a dangerous level. It can break loose and travel to the heart or brain and it can kill you. I tore my ACL anterior cruciate ligament in 1996 in South America when I was on tour. I was flying every day following that physical injury and somewhere along the line I got the blood clot. It wasn't diagnosed until I got to Australia some weeks later. It got a little tense for a week or two.
MICK: Do you still own salmon farms?
IAN: No I don't. That was about ten years ago I gradually got out of the farming and processing business at a time when it reached a level, to me personally, rather beyond the cottage industry that it began as. I felt that I had to make a decision between staying with a major commitment in time, energy and finances to something that would reduce my stoke to play music when I get older. So i made a decision to sell, lease, merge my companies with some regret but it was actually a lucky break. In the last three years, the economy has suffered greatly and one of the major companies that I sold to actually closed it's doors last summer. I was very sad to see it fold. I was very lucky to get out of it when I did.
MICK: What are your long range plans?
IAN: Well they're not fishing or golf! I'm probably the "die with my boots on" kind of guy. I'd like to continue to be a formidable musician but not at the scale or intensity that I do at the moment. I think it would be nice to carry on doing stuff as long as possible two or three days a week rather than six.
MICK: Will there be a Jethro Tull tour anytime soon?
IAN: Not this year because we finished doing Jethro Tull in September. We were on the road from end of February until September and now I'm doing solo tours the rest of the year. Next year, Jethro Tull will be touring Russia, Australia and the USA in June on the West Coast and through Canada since we were on the East Coast in June of this year.
Ian Anderson will be performing at the Theatre at Westbury, 960 Brush Hollow Road, in Westbury, on November 24, at 8 PM. Tickets are $62.45. Call TicketMaster for more info and visit http://www.livenation.com.