Jethro Tull frontman Ian Anderson: Eric Clapton to blame for my flute playing

Ian Anderson is the legendary flute playing frontman for Jethro Tull. Their 1972 concept album Thick as a Brick and its 2012 sequel Thick as a Brick 2 followed the fictitious character Gerald Bostock. Anderson told Fox 411 about the next chapter in Bostock’s musical tale, and the story of why he took up the flute in the first place.

FOX 411: Okay, tell us how the flute came to be.

Ian Anderson: I, like most teenagers growing up at the time that I did, and I imagine it’s pretty much the same today -- the guitar is your instrument of choice. You know the guitar, the Fender Strat, the Gibson Les Paul, that’s the F-18, you're a fighter pilot, you're a guitar player. Some guy banging the drums at the back or playing the bass, you know, no -- guitar, lead guitar. That always seemed to be the racy and sexy thing to do. There was just one little problem that I had when I was a teenager beginning to play, one little problem, by the name of Eric Clapton.

When I first heard him play I thought, I'm not going to be that great. It's going to be step too far for me. I could play solos and I could improvise a bit but I just didn't have that fluidity and that wonderful sense of rhythmic ease that Clapton had and still has.

So I thought well what else is there to do? Maybe the thing is to be a big fish in a very small pool, instrumentally speaking, and find something that isn't the everyday instrument of the rock band or the blues band. For no particularly good reason the flute announced itself shining glistening on the wall of a music store, and like a magpie I had to have this shiny bit of silver jewelry, and I couldn't get a note out of the damn thing for probably the best part of nine months, but suddenly a bit of a note came. I thought of it like blowing into a bottle, over the neck of a bottle, and making a noise.

And suddenly I got it. And once I got one note, I got two, and I could figure out the ergonomics of flute playing. I never had a lesson, I didn't have an instruction book that said this is where you put your fingers, you just kind of figure it out.

It occasionally featured in some pop music as a decorative instrument, but having been a guitar player I wanted to give it more authority a bit more of a striking quality, make it the equal to the guitar that I was now no longer playing. So whilst I was not the best flute player in town by any means, I was probably the loudest.

FOX 411: You are performing “Thick as a Brick” and “Thick as a Brick 2” in concert in their entirety. Is this the way you’ve felt these need to be performed?

Anderson: It’s partly an artistic vision. Partly it’s just me digging my heels in because of some unfinished business back in 1972 when we went out on the road with the original “Thick as a Brick,” which was a doddle in the UK and the few shows we played in a couple of other countries, but it was a really hard job in the USA because we were playing in arenas and the audience understandably the year after the “Aqualung” album thought they were going to get the hard rock Jethro Tull and what they got was something rather complex, with a lot of acoustic passages, and time signature changes and rather more symphonic style of writing. That caused a little bit of tension in the audience. Made it very difficult for me to enjoy performing it so 40 years later I thought let's try this again, see if they'll be more sympathetic, and so far it's great.

We try and make it entertaining because of the video screen and the more theatrical nature of the performance. You’ve got to suck them in gently into something that is kind of hard work to listen to and even harder work to play.

FOX 411: Tell us about Gerald Bostock and how you continue his story 40 years later.

Anderson: I thought well let's look at some of what might have happened to the young Gerald Bostock growing up.  Let's consider the what-ifs, maybes, and might have beens of his life. Which is a kind of a parallel for the lives of most of us because we all have to make decisions and choose the path through life.

The next project whilst it's not “Thick as a Brick Part 3,” it has a little back story to it which does tie in with the Gerald Bostock and some of the characters that are loosely referred to in those two albums.

FOX411: What about staying on the road still 100 or so days of the year, still love it as much as ever?

Anderson: It’s hard work but you can make it a lot easier if you apply yourself to the organizational aspect and don’t fall into the clutches of managers and agents and people who do it all for you, and then you find yourself with this schedule which really isn’t what you want to do. Back in 1975 I tried to develop the management side of things and make some of the decisions myself.  These days I make most of those decisions. I have two or three people I work with, but when it comes to booking flights, I know which airlines I want to fly, I know the aircraft I prefer to be on, and so by the time I've researched it I might as well push the button that says buy ticket.

FOX 411: Would you ever give up this gig?

Anderson: By and large people who do what I do prefer to die with their boots on. We'd rather go to the bitter end and be having some kind of fun doing it than retiring and playing golf and going fishing, which may be seductive to someone who's spent their entire working life sitting in an office, but obviously my job is a little bit more… invigorating, and a bit more romantic in a kind of way."