Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson is still happy to play the hits, after 50 years

SILVIA FINKE

The “Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson” concert at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, Nov. 1, will feature Anderson, center, and, from left, Scott Hammond, John O’Hara, Florian Opahle and David Goodier.

“It’s just another day in the global office, just variations of where,” said a resolute Ian Anderson as he discussed the Nov. 1 “Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson” concert at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. “Whether I’m jumping on a plane to Germany or a show in New Jersey I’m very fortunate to still be doing the job I love for nearly 50 years.”

Formed in Lancashire, England, in 1967, the group has gone through multiple personnel changes over the years, with Anderson being the one constant and the face of Jethro Tull. Once quoted as saying, “A band to me is whoever is in the room at the time,” Anderson has a steady complement of players on the roster at the moment: Florian Opahle (guitar), Scott Hammond (drums and percussion), John O’Hara (keyboards) and David Goodier (bass).

“I’ve been playing with the same bunch for the last 12 years,” he said, as if he found it difficult to believe. “Now that I think about it, this is one of the longest continuous lineups that the band has had. I’ve had 33 different musicians and many different versions of Jethro Tull. Some are dead and gone, others have moved on in different directions. It’s all part of the history of the band.”

The cover of the album “Jethro Tull: The String Quartets,” released in March.

Anderson loves doing what he’s doing for his life’s vocation, and therefore is constantly finding ways to re-invent his old material. Various guest musicians, a new album called String Quartets, a holiday song and even a mesmerizing, technically spectacular rock opera (telling the story of the man the band was named after, an 18th century agriculturalist) are all methods that Anderson has used to allow Tull to remain a force in music.

“We’ve been on tour without a break, it seems,” he said. “This is our third recent tour of the U.S., so we haven’t really slowed down.

“The rock opera was a different way of looking at Jethro Tull, by telling and re-imagining the story of Jethro Tull had he been alive today. I wanted it to be a playful look at a contemporary Jethro Tull, and I think it came off nicely.

“Working with the string quartet was a planned collaboration. I had two or three projects going on, so in between tours I took a look at some Jethro Tull songs and allowed the strings to interpret them and then threw my vocals and some flute over top and they made good or even mediocre songs sound spectacular. What a difference strings make, in hindsight; I wish that I had a full orchestra (laughs). John O’Hara worked on it with me; we recorded it in churches, which gave it a spiritual ambiance.

“Actually, the first time that I ever worked with strings was in October or November of 1968 when I recorded ‘Ring Out These Bells,’ a Christmas song which is now ‘Pass the Bottle,’ and it was just me and them and they made their presence felt. They were extrapolating on original ideas and it was a whole fresh way of looking at things.”

After this tour comes to its completion, there’s no rest for the weary as Anderson has his sights on a milestone in 2018.

“I’m beginning work on a 2018 tour that will commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Jethro Tull (i.e., the band’s first gig under that name), which will be Feb. 2, 2018. And then in 2019, between tours, we’ll be going into the studio to make a new record. I am still very lucky to have my job and that I am still physically fit to do so.”

So what can one expect at the Red Bank show and the upcoming anniversary tour? Will he and the band go the route of playing just their most recognizable material, like many of the classic rock bands now present to their audiences, or will they mix it up?

According to Anderson, it will be the usual high quality presentations that fans of the band have come to expect.

“Will it be a greatest hits tour? Every tour I’ve done since 1969 is a greatest hits tour,” he said. “So in that respect, it’s very much a greatest hits tour. Our fans will recognize the songs; in most cases, it’s our best known material. There are many artists who don’t like to perform their hits, and I’ve got a couple that I’d rather not, but I understand that they are what the people want, so I don’t mind doing them.

“Hey, if Robert Plant doesn’t like singing ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ but he gives it a go, that’s good enough for me. So can I.”

For more about Anderson, Jethro Tull and/or the purchase of tickets, visit jethrotull.com.

That’s it for this week! Please continue to support live and original music and until next week … ROCK ON!

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