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Tull's Ian Anderson Is a Fans' Fan

Pop music: Front man for the enduring and endearing band, which is coming to Irvine, actually answers mail.

September 19, 1996|JOHN ROOS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson is one rock 'n' roll star who acknowledges his fans in a most tangible way. The affable singer-songwriter-flutist makes no bones about his indebtedness to fans during the band's 28-year career, and he's determined to reciprocate their loyalty.

"Touring is the only real way to gain fan loyalty," a chatty Anderson said by phone from St. Louis, a recent stop on a summer tour also comes to Irvine Meadows on Saturday. "I wouldn't say I answer every piece of fan mail I get, but I do try to write a couple of lines each to a lot of our fans."

"That [responsibility] comes with success. If you go out there and reach out to people's hearts and minds with your music, and someone takes the time to acknowledge you, it's certainly not asking too much to acknowledge them back.

"I spend one day a week doing my mail," he continued. "I imagine there are some folks out there who are surprised to receive an autograph or a couple of lines from me. They've earned that by supporting us. They've probably bought 10 of our albums and spent hundreds of dollars on concert tickets over the years."

Such Tull concert veterans know well that each night's set list will vary, depending on the time of year and type of venue the band is playing.

"Right now, we're on a predominantly outdoor-amphitheater tour of North America," Anderson said, "and I definitely feel there's an obligation to play a retrospective of what it is we've done.

"On a warm summer's evening . . . and even now when it's getting a little cooler, you have the feeling that people have come along not to be challenged or tested by your latest work, but to sit back and relax with a glass of wine, or whatever, and hear the things that many of them grew up listening to."

Yet Anderson, a 49-year-old native of Edinburgh, Scotland, insists that that doesn't result in a static program of oldies.

"We have so much material that we can always play something we haven't performed live in ages, or in some cases ever," said Anderson, famous his perched-on-one-bent-leg flute playing.

Jethro Tull was basically a blues band when it began in Blackpool, England, in 1968. The group's stylish blend of rock, jazz, blues and Celtic-based folk music would develop into "Aqualung," a startling album from 1971. Its railings against organized religion found an audience with such songs as "Hymn 43," "Cross-Eyed Mary" and "Locomotive Breath." (A remastered CD has been packaged with five additional tracks plus a 24-page booklet to mark the album's 25th anniversary.)

Other key albums from the Tull catalog include "Thick as a Brick" (1972) and "A Passion Play" (1973), two back-to-back concept albums that reached No. 1 on the pop album charts.

Live, Jethro Tull--named after an 18th century British agronomist who invented the machine drill for sowing seed--has been both lauded and lambasted for its classical underpinnings, extended instrumental solos and extravagant stage shows. Even Anderson concedes that some of the criticism is valid.

"Sure, we're a little over the top and idiosyncratic, but I love passion and creative originality," said Anderson, who is joined in the current Tull lineup by keyboardist Andrew Giddings, drummer Doane Parry, bassist Jonathan Noyce and longtime lead guitarist Martin Barre.

"I truly believe we're a band that did something that no one else was doing. I admire musicians like Richard Thompson, the Ramones and the Stranglers because they're quirky and one-of-a-kind. They refuse to fit into that Bon Jovi mold."

*

Alone and with Tull, Anderson has continued in the '90s to experiment, with albums ranging from his flute-driven instrumentals in "Divinities: Twelve Dances With God" to the band's most recent collection of relatively standard rock 'n' roll, 1995's "Roots to Branches."

Anderson said he's planning to release a solo acoustic album next year that will be "my most personal and introspective collection of songs yet."

Even after all these years, he said, writing remains an arduous task, the fear ever-present that the creative well will run dry.

"The juices don't always flow when you want them to," said Anderson.

"If you're patient, you can wait and follow your muse sometime later," he said. "Or you can get up, have a cup of coffee, and get on with it. Personally, I've found myself doing it both ways.

"I believe everybody has at least one great song in them, and if nothing else, I hope I've been able to inspire the unearthing of that creative spirit within someone else. I'm convinced it's just waiting to be set free."

* Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake & Palmer perform Saturday at Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8800 Irvine Center Drive. 8 p.m. $28.50-$44.35. (714) 855-4515.

* GOOD THEATER: Before Gene Simmons and Alice Cooper, there was Keith Emerson. F3

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