When I was a DJ at a classic rock radio station, my friends asked if I got sick of certain bands that seemed to get played endlessly. The answer was always no, because they have such a huge catalog of songs.
One of the bands that had over 10 songs always in rotation was Jethro Tull. They were also a band that would do great promotions and great concerts. I kept trying to get lead singer/flutist Ian Andersons autograph. It was difficult.
My friend Arnold, whose favorite band was Jethro Tull, won a contest from another radio station. He got tickets to see Tull in concert, as well as the new album when it came out – which included him being thanked in the liner notes. We didn’t believe him, until a few months later when he picked up his prize. Sure enough, there was a message that said something along the lines of: Jethro Tull would like to thank the following people for helping make this album possible…And Arnold, whose last name starts with an “A” was first on the list of about 25 names.
Since the sleeve is made of paper, I’m assuming Tull did this in conjunction with various radio stations in each city. A brilliant promotion.
Being an autograph collector, I had to often keep myself in check. There were times musicians would come into the studio, and I was waiting for the signature. It’s how I got Jack Bruce of Cream, Todd Rundgren, and too many artists to name.
There was a more difficult way to get autographs, though. Sometimes record companies would give us autographed items to give away. One time, a pay-per-view boxing package for a Lennox Lewis fight came with pizza, and autographed boxing gloves. I had a note attached to all the winners packages, that said if they wanted to sell the gloves, I’d be interested in buying them. One person called me, and I bought them for $25. He ended up inviting me over to watch the fights. We talked boxing and music all night.
If it was autographed CDs by bands I didn’t care about, no biggie. But when we got autographed copies of Jethro Tull’s “Rock Island,” I went nuts.
I was working a weekend shift on the air. A few of my friends said, “Why don’t you just keep the thing and not give it away?”
Others would say, “Just rig the contest, and have a friend win it and give the thing to you.” But, it wasn’t worth jeopardizing my job for.
During a Saturday shift, I would be giving away two copies of this album. Now, if you work in radio you realize quickly that people will call in for anything. One guy I worked with once jokingly said, “The 10th caller now wins a severe beating for two.”
The phones lit up.
I figured I would gage how interested in the prize the person was. If they weren’t interested, I’d talk them out of it.
The first caller was so excited. She said, “I can’t believe it! All my husband does is play those damn Jethro Tull albums. I’m so sick of that ugly guy on the cover of Aqualung. This will be the perfect birthday gift.”
That’s the perfect winner.
Two hours later a guy won. He said something like, “What song is it Jethro Tull does?” I said, “What song? They have a lot of great songs.” But sensing an opportunity, I said “If you aren’t that into them though, I’ll keep the album. I’d love to keep this thing. I’ll give you some CDs instead.”
The guy said, “I don’t even have a CD player (this was when CD players were still a new thing). I said, “Okay, how about 10 albums.” The guy was thrilled. I was thrilled. I asked the guy to give me a list of his favorite 20 bands, so I could at least try to give him some records he’d like.
The first time I tried to get Jethro Tull’s autograph in person, they had a show 6 months later at San Diego State University. I showed up in the afternoon. A bald guy said, “You just missed Ian Anderson.”
He showed me his signed record and said, “At first he didn’t want to sign. He said he didn’t have the time. I thanked him and said how much I was looking forward to the show. He got 20 feet away, turned around and came back, thanked me for the kind words and signed the album. I couldn’t believe it.”
I waited around and never saw him.
The show was amazing. The stage looked like a restaurant, and when the curtains were drawn, a waiter was taking orders for people sitting at tables. The audience was a bit confused. It was like we were at a play, not a rock concert. Finally, after a few minutes of this, a guy sitting at the bar turned around, with guitar in hand, and played a riff we all recognized. One of the people sitting at a table was a drummer, who pulled sticks out and started playing.
A few years later, Jethro Tull played at the Sports Arena. That show started with a huge boom box hanging from the stage. A janitor came onstage and swept the floor. When he started mopping, he reached up with the mop handle and turned the radio on. The crowd roared its approval.
I waited for an autograph after the show. So did hundreds of other fans. We were around a chain link fence, and the van drove out from an underground tunnel. We never had a chance.
In the 15 years that followed, I attended two more Tull concerts; always an amazing show, with Ian jumping around like a man half his age. Hell, a third his age. His wild hair flying around, and doing things with the flute that would make some people blush.
A few of the concerts were at Indian casinos and security was so tough, after checking out the surroundings, I didn’t try for the autograph.
But one year, they played a venue called Humphrey’s in Shelter Island, San Diego.
When I showed up in the afternoon, I noticed a lot of fans standing around. Apparently a radio station had a contest, and these people would get to watch the soundcheck, and each get the new CD and a meet-and-greet with Ian Anderson. I had my three favorite albums.
One lady said to me, “My husband is so upset. He wishes he would’ve thought to bring a record.” I said, “Well, I’ll give you one of my albums for yourself. But then, you have to take one of my albums in and get Ian to sign it for me during the meet-and-greet.” Her husband was walking back from the bathroom at the time and heard this. He was thrilled by the deal.
As I gave them my card and walked away, I saw a van pull up. I looked hard at the tinted windows, and thought it looked like Ian Anderson.
I had that one album in my hand. He got out. I said, “Can you sign my album, Mr. Anderson?” He said, “Uh, sure. I’m a bit pressed for time, but yeah.”
I told him how I saw him do “Budapest” when he played here, and it was beautiful. He thanked me, and waved to a few of the other fans that were applauding him.
The couple called me a few days later. They gave me my signed album, and thanked me for giving them an album to get signed. They then asked me if I wanted the four other Jethro Tull albums, along with 50 albums they had in their garage. They said, “We don’t play albums any more.”
I gladly accepted.
Working in the media has its perks, and I was offered the chance to interview Ian Anderson. Unfortunately for me, it was on the phone. When he called, I said I would only take 10 or 15 minutes of his time. I started off by asking, “Is Martin Barre still in the band?” Anderson replied, “I hope so. He was just on the flight when we left Turkey.”
For some reason, politics came up. He asked who I was voting for. I told him Obama (side note: this was before Obama’s first term). He jokingly said he’d note that for a survey he was doing. But as we talked, I realized it was a good thing I said that. He’s liberal. I had forgotten about how much he cares about the environment until some of the topics we got on. He even brought up his song “Skating Away (on the thin ice of a new day),” saying, “This was the first song ever written about global warming. I had read a lengthy report on climate change. And things looked bleak for the future of the environment.”
The interview got into rocky territory when I brought up a story I read when I was a teenager. He said how he hated American crowds because of all the hollering they do during the acoustic sections of songs, when during those times, he wishes they were quieter.
Being defensive, he explained his answer better. I was in total agreement with him. He ended by saying, “We aren’t at a football or hockey game. And, I’ve had fans after shows tell me that some buffoon next to them was so loud with the hollering, they couldn’t hear the songs. And when we’re in other countries, it’s not as bad as America. Maybe they can’t hold their liquor at American shows. A concert in Pittsburgh is a lot different than a show in Rome. I nearly quit touring following an American tour once in the early 70s. It’s why the Beatles stopped touring. It wasn’t the applause I minded. I just wish it would be held until after the song was over.”
Since Ian mentions fans telling him about other obnoxious fans, I bring up his website. I ask why they don’t have message boards for fans to talk with one another. He says, “Ah, yes. Well, we did that. Things were getting out of hand and people were getting insulting, so we just shut those down. I won’t be giving you the names of the guilty parties.”
When Ian would go on long jags about the planet or religion, I enjoyed listening. He’s intelligent and at the same time, very funny and interesting; something refreshing from a rock star.
As I fumble threw my papers with questions, I had written down something about him making millions of dollars on salmon farms. But I had read a year ago that he sold them. I said, “I don’t need to ask you about salmon, do I?” He says, “Yeah, I’m done with that. I just finished selling all of that off.”
I then said, “I know you’ve had to talk about this in a million interviews, but I have to ask about winning the very first Grammy given for ‘Best Heavy Metal album’. It was just weird to see you beating out Metallica, who was favored. Especially since you aren’t a metal band.”
Anderson laughed and responded, “Well, we put out this humorous ad afterwards that said ‘A flute is a heavy instrument.’ And they were good sports about it. As expected, they won the award the following year. And they put out a hilarious ad that thanked Jethro Tull for not releasing an album that year.”
Since Tull albums always had such creative covers, I ask him if he’s bummed that CD covers take a lot of the art work away. Anderson responded, “Well, that will be gone soon. With MP3s and all that, it’s all going to be a thing of the past. Everything will be digital, and audio files. The day of the CD is not over, but its time is limited. I even groan with horror when given a CD of something to listen to.”
Anderson then starts getting real technical. He’s using terms like 16-bit, and it’s all going over my head. I take that opportunity to glance at my other questions. I wonder if he’ll think it’s funny if I say that he has three songs written about Jeffrey Hammond, and would it be possible for him to write just one song for Josh Board. I then think he might not realize I’m joking. I cross that question off my list, as he continues on about digital downloads.
I think about asking what he thought about Will Ferrell and Owen Wilson, in different movies, mentioning Jethro Tull. I anticipate his answer, and decide to nix that question, too.
As he wraps up his story, I go with this question:
When my friend and I saw you in concert, he was mad you didn’t do “Bungle in the Jungle.” It’s weird, because you did about 10 other hits he loved. But we had seen Steve Miller in concert a few days earlier, and he didn’t do the song “Jungle Love,” so it was the second “jungle” song we didn’t hear that week.
“Yeah, we don’t do that song much. Aqualung, Locomotive Breath, those hold up well. They are bench marks, always on the set. We did ‘Bungle’ on a few tours and didn’t find it that pleasurable. There’s no space to breathe. In the studio we did the track with one line over the other, which is harder to do live. Sometimes you do stuff in the studio, and aren’t thinking about how it will sound live. Other times, like when I recorded ‘Steel Monkey’ I did that with a deliberate sound. I played guitar, and it had a sequence similar to a ZZ Top thing. That was a conscious effort to have a song that would get radio play. And it worked.”
I told him how when he did a “couch tour” another friend told me how fun it was. Anderson took people from the crowd, let them come onstage, sit next to him on a couch and ask a few questions. They could then request a song. I said, “He told me you answered a question I always wondered about. But he couldn’t explain the answer properly. It had to do with the movie Spinal Tap. Harry Shearer’s character is named Derek Smalls. And, on the album ‘A Passion Play’ in the program that comes with the record, a character is listed with that name.”
“That was the ‘Rubbing Elbows Tour’, and in L.A. I brought Harry Shearer up on the couch and interviewed him. I talked about his work on The Simpson’s, then Spinal Tap. I said it was kind of interesting how he came up with that character name. I asked how he came up with it, and he said he just sort of thought it up. I said it was a weird coincidence, and then showed him the album. He was a bit uncomfortable as he was looking at it. I then brought up the fact that he smoked a Peterson pipe, and three members of Jethro Tull smoked those. He thought I was accusing him of plagiarizing, but I wasn’t. I think he just forgot where he got the stuff. He’s obviously very talented. It’s like George Harrison using that song [My Sweet Lord] and then paying dearly for it. Beethoven made a living out of it. Andrew Lloyd Weber does it. Musicologists point to it all the time. It’s funny, on one tour we had this band called The Eagles opening up for us. And years later, they had a hit with Hotel California, which used a guitar riff from our song ‘We Used to Know.’ I don’t think they purposely stole it. They may have heard it backstage or something, and it just stuck in someones head.”
I then tell him about how Led Zeppelin opened for the group Spirit in 1968. Spirit had the song “Taurus.”. Three years later, Led Zeppelin released “Stairway to Heaven,” which uses almost the same guitar riff. Anderson wasn’t familiar with Taurus, but said those things happen sometimes consciously and sometimes unintentionally.
I mention liking the Christmas album Tull did, and some of their concept albums. I ask if we’ll ever get any more.
“I could do an Easter album. Dedicate it to the Pope. It could be tragic, have a death theme. Stark and dark, with just a black cross on the cover, about the expiration of mankind.”
I have to ask you about autographs. A few people have told me you signed for them, but seemed reluctant to. You signed for me once, and it was the same thing. You told me you were in a hurry, but still signed. And when…
“Wait. I have to stop you. I’m glad you brought this up. Let me talk about autographs. We just played in Turkey. After the show, before I ever left the building, I signed about 50 autographs. Then outside, it was pouring rain. I see the band waiting in the van. They just want to get back to the hotel, and there are about 60 or 70 fans standing out there. They had been waiting in the rain for an hour at that point. And my heart sank. I had a translator tell them I’d sign one autograph each. And, people would still try to hand me all their albums. Half of the crowd tried to get two or three things signed. But I’ll always sign autographs. It’s very rare when I don’t. But I don’t see why someone needs multiple things signed.”
As a huge music fan and autograph collector, I took the time to explain why. I said, “When I was a kid, Aqualung was my favorite album. But now, I want the Benefit album signed. And a CD, since I don’t have a signed CD from you. So, I ended up bringing three or four of those things. If you think the person is going to sell them, you can just scribble your name messy. Or you can ask their name and personalize it.”
“I don’t want to do that. Martin’s signature actually does look like just a squiggle. I know, because I often sign his name on receipts for his per diem when he forgets. You can barely read his name, and I’m sure people want to read the name that’s signed. If I see someone that has those white cards, and they want three or four signed, I know it’s some shop that wants to sell them. I will personalize. If they say Colin, I intersect that name with the ‘I’ and ‘a’ in my name. That’s my hot tip for the day.”
I then start to tell a story about autographs, and for an example I say, “It’s not like your going to get a million dollars selling the autograph of the bass player from Mountain.”
Anderson laughs and says, “Well, that name is so long. Felix Pappalardi. It should be worth more money.” He then continues, “I remember getting a record contract and the label asking if there was anything they could get me. And I sort of joked and said ‘An autograph of Cliff Richards.’ He’s like an English Elvis and still popular in England. Well, with the older generation. We were on the same record label. They sent me a letter on his stationary that said ‘See you on the charts. Bless, Cliff.’ I still have it. And I’ve met him a few times since then. I didn’t feel the need to get him to sign anything else. I already have his autograph. So I don’t understand why if someone has one album signed from me, they need multiple albums autographed. Getting one autograph should be enough for anyone. The experience should be about meeting the person, getting to look them in the eye, having their item signed, and treasuring that whole experience.”
I hear a noise in the background and Anderson says, “Hey, my daughter just showed up. I’m going to have to let you go.”
Our 10 minute conversation lasted an hour and a half.
And five years later, I saw him at another casino. He signed for that same bald man I met at the SDSU show. I never saw him before the show, but after the concert, he was already in a vehicle. I followed it to the front of the casino, and he tried to get out with a hat covering his face. I yelled out his name, and he ran over, quickly signed, and then left. I hate to say this, but…now I have three items signed by him! (well, three that I got myself).