The band Jethro Tull really began with Johnny Breeze & The Atlantics, a pop band from Blackpool, England. This band's local popularity inspired The Blades in 1963, comprising teenage friends Ian Anderson (guitar), Jeffrey Hammond (bass), John Evan (drums), and Michael Stephens, formerly of The Atlantics. The Blades expanded and eventually became The John Evan Band.
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Around '67, the John Evan Band had dissolved, leaving only Ian Anderson and Glenn Cornick. They hooked themselves up with Mick Abrahams, their new guitarist, and Clive Bunker, who had played drums with Mick. This was the lineup of the original Jethro Tull, though this wasn't yet their name. Ian Anderson likes to tell the story of how the band was originally so bad that the only way they could get re-booked was to change their name for each gig. They varied week to week, from Navy Blue to Bag of Blues to Ian Henderson's Bag of Blues and so on. Their producer at the time wanted to permanently name the group "Candy Coloured Rain," but alas, so . . . erm, upbeat a name was not to be. When Terry Ellis, their future producer and headman of Chrysalis Records (which started with Jethro Tull), came up with "Jethro Tull" from a volume (most likely "Horse-Hoeing Husbandry" by the original Tull) on a bookshelf in someone's office, they used that name for their single "Sunshine Day" (an interesting song, but not even the slightest bit Tull-esque). Due to misprint, however, the name on the single was "Jethro Toe." An original copy of the Toe single is worth an awful lotta money today, but I digress.
After their smashing performance at the Sunbury Jazz and Blues Festival in 1968, Tull became a recurring act at the famous Marquee Club in London, where other notable acts like Joe Cocker and The Nice (Keith Emerson's band prior to ELP). Tull's first LP, This Was, met with reasonable success, as they had already established themselves as a live band. Shortly thereafter, however, Mick Abrahams left the band, leaving Tull on the brink of their first U.S. tour without a guitarist.
Martin Barre filled the void, not so much because of his talent but more because, in Ian's words, "he seemed keen, so we gave him a go." Martin has been Tull's guitarist ever since.
The second album, Stand Up, is the first album in which the original and distinctive Tull sound came into being. It went to #1 in the British charts, and propelled Tull even further into international stardom. The subsequent hit single "Living in the Past" cemented the group as a household name.
For the 1970 album Benefit, old friend John Evan left college and re-joined the group. During the period between '70 and '71, Glenn Cornick left the band due to his very different, more party-animal lifestyle, and was replaced by Jeffrey Hammond, another old friend from Blackpool whom Ian had immortalized in song with "A Song for Jeffrey," "Jeffrey Goes to Leicester Square," and "For Michael Collins, Jeffrey, and Me."
Jeffrey, not yet a very good bass player but appropriately flamboyant on stage, joined Tull for the LP Aqualung, arguably the band's biggest hit to date. The title song "Aqualung" and the driving "Locomotive Breath" are two of the few Tull songs that still get radio play today.
Not only was Aqualung probably Tull's biggest hit, but it was also a great turning point for the band, showing the world Ian's gift for socio-religious satire ("My God") and also the full range of his musical talent, not just thumping rock tunes but also gentle acoustic melodies ("Wond'ring Aloud"). One newspaper headline cried out, "Good heavens, now Ian Anderson wants us to think!"
Shortly after Glenn Cornick left, funky-looking drummer Clive Bunker also moved on. Barrie Barlow (from The John Evan Band) replaced him, thereafter to be known as "Barriemore" Barlow, for reasons which historians to this day cannot explain. He arrived just in time for Thick as a Brick, the 45-minute song supposedly written by child prodigy Gerald Bostock and featuring some of Ian's most complex lyrics ever. The live tour which accompanied the album was the grandest Tull tour yet, hailed almost universally by critics and propelling Tull to the peak of their fame.
Later in 1972, Tull released Living in the Past, a double compilation album featuring a few new tracks but mostly old, unreleased material. The next album was '73's A Passion Play, an even "thicker" continuous piece of music whose lyrics deal with life, death, and everything in between. This is probably the most talked-about Tull album ever, and its depth was too much for the quick-fix audiences of the time. Heaps of critical lambast caused the band to retire from live performances for a while. The retirement lasted only for about two days, but it was significant news in a world that still paid an awful lot of attention to Jethro Tull.
The next album, WarChild, was originally intended to be a musical film about a young girl who is killed in an accident, with a story that followed her experiences in the afterlife. Hollywood wasn't especially receptive to so dark a story, so it became a standard Tull album in 1974, signaling the band's triumphant return to live performances.
The 1975 album Minstrel in the Gallery, recorded mostly in the band's new mobile studio, was thought by Ian to be "too personal an album, which is a shame." Nevertheless, it contained some of the band's most brilliant music, and the title track still makes it into many Tull concerts today (and sometimes even on the radio!).
Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond (the second Hammond being an addition to his name by Ian) left the band in 1976 to take up painting again. His place on bass was filled by John Glascock, formerly of Tull support band Carmen and close friend of Barriemore Barlow. For the '76 album Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll, Too Young To Die!, David Palmer of the Royal College of Music (London) helped out with orchestration. The album, a story of an "old greaser" who falls out of fashion and then falls back into it again, was thought by critics to be an autobiographical story about Ian himself. Ian responds, on the 1978 double live album Bursting Out: "Indeed, that I was singing about myself . . . ha . . . silly sots, of course I wasn't, I was singing about some other *BLEEP*."
David Palmer officially joined the group in 1977 for the Songs From The Wood album, which signaled a major change in direction for the group: more of a rustic, folk-rock (with emphasis on rock) sound. These rural themes were continued in Tull's 1978 release, Heavy Horses.
The following year, Stormwatch was released. This album's colder, darker tone can be attributed to tensions within the band, as well as the unfortunate loss of bassist John Glascock to heart surgery complications.
The album A marks the end of what many Tull fans consider the "golden age" of Jethro Tull. Named after the initial for "Anderson," A featured a more heavily electronic, keyboard-instensive sound, ironically coinciding with the arrival of Dave Pegg from Fairport Convention, a British folk group.
1982's Broadsword and the Beast, though still electronically-influenced, was celebrated as a more "Tull-like" album than its predecessor. This more fan-friendly sound would be short-lived, however, because after Ian's solo album Walk Into Light, the 1984 LP Under Wraps surprised everyone with an even more synthesized sound, abandoning even drums for the electronic alternative. UW met with mixed reaction from Tull's audience, and the response caused the band to rethink their recent electronic emphasis.
Towards the end of the Under Wraps tour, Ian developed a serious throat problem which forced the band to cancel some later tour dates. The ailment affected Ian's voice permanently, and the band entered a three-year period of rest, punctuated only by the releases of the "greatest hits" album Original Masters and David Palmer's A Classic Case, a symphonic interpretation of Tull's music with Ian and Martin playing on some tracks.
Crest of a Knave (1987) marked the resurrection of Tull, and is widely regarded as an album of very high quality. The track "Farm on the Freeway" makes it into many of Tull's concerts, and in fact the song "Jump Start" won Jethro Tull a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance, much to the chagrin of Metallica and its fans.
In 1989 Tull released Rock Island, which met with only a lukewarm reception. Its slightly dark tone would be offset by 1991's Catfish Rising, a more upbeat, "rocking" album.
The next four years consisted primarily of live and previously-unreleased compilations like A Little Light Music, the 25th Anniversary Boxed Set, and the 2-CD Nightcap.
In 1995, Ian and keyboardist Andrew Giddings worked together on the Ian "solo" album Divinities, which ushered in the Tull album Roots to Branches. Yet another change in direction, Divinities and RtB signaled a move away from the more rock-like sound of Rock Island and Catfish Rising, and towards a more Eastern sound.
The band's latest album, "j-tull Dot Com", was released in 1999.
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