Though classic-rock band Jethro Tull is no longer a huge presence on the music charts, few would deny that frontman Ian Anderson was a major rock star in the '70s and part of the '80s.
Anderson is one of the few flutists ever to attain pop stardom. With his shaggy hair and crooked-legged onstage poses, he assumed an almost iconic presence.
Anderson, who also sings and plays guitar, was born 52 years ago today in Edinburgh, Scotland. As a child, he moved with his family to Blackpool, England, where his father owned a boiler-fluid company. While in school, Anderson met the individuals with whom he would later form Jethro Tull.
First named the John Evan band after the group's keyboardist, they changed their name in 1967 to Jethro Tull. The lineup with which they originally found fame featured Anderson, guitarist Mick Abrahams, bassist Glenn Cornick and drummer Clive Bunker.
Named after an 18th-century farmer/inventor, Jethro Tull had their first taste of fame with a successful performance at the 1968 Sunbury Jazz and Blues Festival in England. That year, the band also played the Rolling Stones' "Rock and Roll Circus," though the film and record of the event weren't released until the '90s.
This Was, the band's 1969 debut, was a hit in Britain and received critical acclaim in the U.S. The LP showcased the group's sound of blues and rock with classical and jazz touches. Jethro Tull toured the U.S. in 1969, helping that year's Stand Up reach the top 20 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond, a childhood friend of Anderson's named in Tull songs such as "Song for Jeffrey," soon replaced Cornick.
In 1971, Tull became a superstar band in the U.S. with its best-selling LP, Aqualung, featuring the hit title track (RealAudio excerpt). The concept album also spawned the hits "Cross-Eyed Mary" and "Locomotive Breath."
Barriemore Barlow replaced Bunker on Thick as a Brick (1972), which comprised one song stretched over two sides, and hit #1 in the U.S. The similarly intricate A Passion Play (1973), however, spawned a critical backlash against what were perceived as Anderson's musical indulgences. Anderson took the bad notices poorly and ceased to tour for a few years.
But Tull had a hit album with 1974's War Child, which produced the U.S. #12 "Bungle in the Jungle." The following year's Minstrel in the Gallery was a total immersion in folk. The title track of 1976's Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll was a big FM-radio hit in the States, and seemed to answer critics who accused Anderson of being too pedantic. Tull also had a top-10 hit with 1977's Songs from the Wood.
For the most part, Jethro Tull's '80s LPs were commercial and critical flops, as the band ventured into keyboard-dominated rock. Anderson issued his first official solo album, the largely ignored Walk into Light, in 1983. In 1984, Anderson took a hiatus from music because of throat problems. Crest of a Knave (1987) received the first-ever Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance, unleashing a torrent of criticism aimed not so much at Tull as at Metal-ignorant Grammy voters.
Tull's stab at an "unplugged"-style album, 1992's A Little Light Music, failed to ignite the charts on either side of the Atlantic. In 1993, Anderson launched an extensive 25th-anniversary Tull tour. That year, Chrysalis Records issued the four-CD Jethro Tull 25th Anniversary Box Set.
Anderson issued the classical-influenced solo LP Divinities: Twelve Dances with God in 1995, and covered Fleetwood Mac's "Man of the World" on 1997's Rattlesnake Guitar: The Music Of Peter Green. In 1996 came Jethro Tull: BBC Radio One Live In Concert, a recording of a 1991 show.
Tull plan on issuing the new J-Tull Dot Com, named after its official website, in two weeks.
Other birthdays: Bobby Hatfield (Righteous Brothers), 59; Ronnie Spector, 56; Patti Austin, 51; Jon Farriss (INXS), 38; Dan Donovan (Big Audio Dynamite), 37; Jeff McDonald (Redd Kross), 36; Todd Nichols (Toad the Wet Sprocket), 32; and Michael "Biv" Bivins (New Edition, Bell Biv DeVoe), 31.