Ian Anderson, Jeffrey Hammond, and John Evan met in grammar school in Northwest England in the late fifties. John began playing the piano and later switched to the organ, while Ian learned to play guitar. They recruited John to play bass, and the trio played in local clubs. Jeffrey left the group to study art, and several guitar players came and went. Mick Abrahams joined as a guitar player, and Mick’s friend Clive Bunker began playing drums for the group.
It was difficult for the group to book return engagements at clubs, and, as a workaround, they began changing their name often. Some names they used included Navy Blue, Ian Henderson’s Bag o’ Nails, and Candy Coloured Rain. One of their book agents listed them as Jethro Tull, the name of an English agricultural pioneer who invented a horse-drawn contraption that planted seeds in straight rows. That name stuck.
The group recorded the single Sunshine Day in 1968, but MGM released the single with the group named Jethro Toe on the label.
Ian was not comfortable playing just rhythm guitar behind Mick’s lead guitar and bought and began playing a flute.
The group recorded their first album in 1968 and it did fairly well in the UK. Still more members came and went as the group toured. They toured the US in 1969 as a warm-up act for Vanilla Fudge and Led Zeppelin. The other members of the group asked Ian to write them a hit single, and he came up with Living In The Past, which reached #3 in the UK but failed to chart in the US.
The band had two more top ten singles and a few more top forty singles in the UK by 1971. Their only appearance on the US Hot 100 before 1971 was a song from the Aqualung album that only reached #91 (and that missed the UK charts completely).
The group’s music became increasingly more eclectic, switching genres with almost every release. They released the multi-platinum album Aqualung in 1971. While the six-minute title song got a great deal of airplay on FM radio, the best results they could get from a single was a record that only reached #91. Fans and critics tried referring to the album as a concept album, which annoyed Ian since he had not intended that.
For the group’s next album, Ian deliberately attempted to create a concept album. Thick As A Brick was one forty-two minute song split up over two sides of the album. While edits of the song that lasted three minutes and six minutes existed, there were no hit singles to be had from the album. The album gave the group their first number one album in the US in 1972.
The band tried to record a double album, but poor results put an end to that idea. Instead, their record company filled up a double album with some early single tracks, some b-sides, a side of live recordings, and the five songs from a recent EP. They named the album Living In The Past. Their record label re-issued Living In The Past as a single in late 1972. It earned the group their first US hit when it reached #11 on the Hot 100 in early 1973.
The group had one more hit single in the US in 1974 when Bungle In The Jungle from their seventh album reached #12. While they had eight singles reach the top forty on the US Mainstream Rock chart between 1982 and 1991, they never again got near the Hot 100 top forty.
The group underwent endless line-up changes over the years but continued releasing a steady stream of new studio material. Their last studio album came in 2003 with the improbable release of The Jethro Tull Christmas Album. Countless compilation albums and live albums have continued to appear.
In 2011 the band broke into two separate bands, neither of which was Jethro Tull: the Ian Anderson Touring Band and the Martin Barre Band. Ian also released a solo album in 2014.
In November 2019 Ian announced The Prog Years Tour would take place in late 2020 featuring Ian Anderson and the Jethro Tull band.
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