LET'S GET ONE thing straight: Jethro Tull--which plays the TCC Music Hall on Sunday, September 10--is the name of a band, not the name of an individual musician. Oh, sure, there once was a guy named Jethro Tull, but he was no musician and he was dead long before the band that bears his name became a staple of classic rock radio.
Now, this may run contrary to your beer-swilling neighbor's boast that Jethro Tull is the name of the lead singer, but credit that mistake to the beer. The truth is the singer's name is Ian Anderson.
But cut the guy some slack; the neighbor's assumption isn't totally baseless. After all, Anderson writes the material, sings the material, lends the trademark Tull flute, fronts the band on stage, and is one of only two original members still in the group, the other being guitarist Martin Barre.
So then what is the difference between a Jethro Tull record and an Ian Anderson record? Recent releases show it to be a subtle difference. J-Tull Dot Com, the latest Tull release, and one of the band's best in the last 20 years, features Anderson's trademark flute and electric guitar-based rock. Anderson's latest solo release, The Secret Language of Birds, has a similar sound, albeit minus the electricity.
"I write music specifically for one project," the singer says. "Some of the time I'm writing songs for Tull, trying to make the drummer happy. It's quite different to write for solo purposes than for the more team spirit that you have to go into a band album with. With my own record, I can allow the music to go where the music wants to go."
The whole idea of a solo record had been stewing inside Anderson throughout his long career. "In the '70s, on Tull albums, I used to do an acoustic song without members of the group with just me. I guess that was disappointing for them to not play on every song. Adding drums and bass wouldn't have been right for every song, but that led to disappointment for some of the other guys."
He may write material for the band, but he sure doesn't write music to please radio audiences. "I did do that once in 1969, but not in the last couple decades," the 52-year-old Anderson says. "I don't think about radio play. Tull is an international act and radio is so different in different countries and ever changing. One day they're rock; the next day they're talk. Things are always switching around. That's not for me. I just write music I enjoy playing. If we're lucky, we get radio play. If we're not lucky, we don't."
With a sound reminiscent of vintage Tull, the latest disc falls under the "lucky" category. The opening track, "Spiral," sounds so much like a classic Tull song that it penetrated the almost-impenetrable playlists of classic rock radio stations.
However, other recent releases have fallen into the "unlucky" category. "We were disappointed that the album Broadsword and the Beast was not successful in the USA, because it was our most successful record in Europe," Anderson says of Tull's 1982 release. "It was not reflective of radio in the USA because most stations had gone to recognize the new wave of pop and rock music."
The popularity of Jethro Tull is hardly what it was in 1972, but the songs have withstood the test of time. Thanks to classic rock radio, Jethro Tull is still vital and those songs still stick in your head. "The songs that most people like are the ones I like to play on stage. There are a few exceptions, such as 'Teacher.' I don't really like that much but it was quite successful. I didn't like the song 'Living in the Past,' though I have come to enjoy it because we changed the arrangement. But for the most part, the ones I really liked, I still do, and those remain to be my favorites to play on stage, whether it's one year or 30 years later."
And 30 years later, Jethro Tull is still performing hits such as "Bungle in the Jungle" and "Aqualung," though Anderson makes sure to keep the concerts fresh with new material, too. "It's the big picture," he says of his show. "We try to cover the important parts of Tull history and changes of style and musical identity. We, of course, include some up-to-date stuff, 'cause that makes us feel like we have something new to offer."
Tull may still perform "Living in the Past," but the band is clearly living in the present too.
Jethro Tull plays the Tucson Convention Center Music Hall at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, September 10. Tickets range from $26.75 to $36.50 and are available through Ticketmaster at 321-1000 or at www.ticketmaster.com.