Jethro Tull are a British rock band formed in Blackpool, Lancashire, in 1967. Initially playing blues rock and jazz fusion, the band later developed their sound to incorporate elements of hard rock and folk rock to forge a progressive rock signature. The band is led by vocalist/flautist/guitarist Ian Anderson, and has featured a revolving door of lineups through the years including significant members such as guitarists Mick Abrahams and Martin Barre, keyboardist John Evan, drummers Clive Bunker, Barriemore Barlow, and Doane Perry, and bassists Glenn Cornick, Jeffrey Hammond, John Glascock, and Dave Pegg.
The group first achieved commercial success in 1969, with the folk-tinged blues album Stand Up, which reached No. 1 in the UK, and they toured regularly in the UK and the US. Their musical style shifted in the direction of progressive rock with the albums Aqualung (1971), Thick as a Brick (1972) and A Passion Play (1973), and shifted again to hard rock mixed with folk rock with Songs from the Wood (1977) and Heavy Horses (1978).
Jethro Tull has sold an estimated 60 million albums worldwide, with 11 gold and five platinum albums among them. They have been described by Rolling Stone as "one of the most commercially successful and eccentric progressive rock bands".
Jethro Tull paid their dues with beginnings in 1964. By 1967 they were still having trouble getting repeat bookings and they took to changing their name frequently to continue playing the London club circuit. Founder Ian Anderson recalled looking at a poster outside a club and slowly realized that the band name he didn't recognize was actually his. Band names were often supplied by their booking agents' staff, one of whom, a history enthusiast, eventually christened them "Jethro Tull" after the 18th-century agriculturist. The name stuck because they happened to be using it the first time a club manager liked their show enough to invite them back.
Living in a tiny unheated apartment her shared with Glen Cornick at the time, Anderson bought a large overcoat to keep him warm, and, along with the flute, it became part of his early stage image. Anderson and worked as a cleaner for the Luton Ritz Cinema to pay the rent and according to Cornick, "we were so poor that we would share one can of stew or soup between us each evening."
The group's first major break occurred at the National Jazz and Blues Festival at Sunbury-on-Thames in August 1968, where the band drew a rapturous reception and positive reviews in the music press. The band have since claimed that the success at Sunbury was a result of their persistent touring, which had generated a grassroots following who had all assembled at the festival and encouraged the rest of the audience. Cornick recalled, "from that moment on, we were a big band".
The group recorded their first album, This Was, between June and August 1968, and it was released in October, reaching number 10 in the charts. Guitarist Mick Abrahams left the band in December to form his own group, Blodwyn Pig. The group tried several different replacements for Abrahams. One was Mick Taylor, who turned the group down because he felt his current gig with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers was a better deal (guess he didn’t turn down the Rolling Stones soon afterwards…).
Following this, the group put an advertisement in Melody Maker which was answered by Tony Iommi. After a few rehearsals, the group appeared in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus in December. The group performed "A Song for Jeffrey", but only Anderson's singing and flute were live; the rest was mimed. Iommi felt closer to his old band, 'Earth', so he returned to Birmingham to rejoin them. However, his brief time in Jethro Tull instilled a strong work ethic in Iommi. 'Earth' later became Black Sabbath. Martin Barre got the job.
The next album was Stand Up, released in September, and it quickly reached No. 1 in the UK charts, the only album by the group to do so. Anderson had now established himself as the group's leader and songwriter, and wrote all of the material, aside from his jazzy rearrangement of J. S. Bach's "Bourrée in E minor BWV 996 (fifth movement)". The album cover unfolded to a photo insert of the band attached to the covers like a pop-up book.
Immediately after releasing Stand Up, the group set off on their first headlining tour in the US, including an appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival. Barre recalled, "It was really the turning point for Jethro Tull—for everything that we were to become and everything we were to inspire in others."
The band was invited to play in the Woodstock Festival, but Anderson declined, being afraid that the band would be permanently typecast as hippies, able to play only one musical style. Doh!