‘It’s a pretty small field’: Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson on his unique role as a rock flautist

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Ian Anderson wasn’t exactly following the hot trend when he traded his guitar for a flute. So, the Jethro Tull frontman had to come up with his own rock ‘n’ roll style on the instrument.

“When I started, being an ex-guitarist, I tried to play the things that I played on guitar — which was aggressive and forceful, with riffs and solos,” Anderson says in this talk with WOR. “It set me apart from the other guys, I think.”

And by the other guys, he means … who exactly? Even Anderson admits there were precious few others playing his instrument of choice — the Moody Blues’ Ray Thomas comes to mind, but that’s about it — during those heady days of discovery in the late 1960s.

“It’s a pretty small field,” Anderson says. “When I started, there were a few people playing, most of them in pop music. There would be just this little smattering of flute, more as a decorative thing.”

Anderson says that things were no different with Thomas, whose notable writing contributions for the Moodies included “Watching and Waiting” from 1969’s To Our Children’s Children’s Children and “Painted Smile” from 1981’s Long Distance Voyager before his retirement in 2002.

“The Moody Blues were probably the band who were contemporanious with the early Jethro Tull who had a flute player in the band,” Anderson says. “But he didn’t really play to the full extent of the instrument. It was really more in a decorative way.”

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