Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson: the soundtrack of my life

Ian Anderson wearing a hat
(Image credit: Will Ireland)

The first Jethro Tull studio album for nearly 20 years, The Zealot Gene landed high in our Albums Of 2022 list. Mainman Ian Anderson may be 75, but his talents as a songwriter, flautist and frontman remain undimmed. 

With the follow-up album done and due next year, we asked this prog god for his Soundtrack selections.

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The first song I remember hearing

In The Mood by Glenn Miller and his orchestra. I was about six. My father had a few treasured wartime records, mostly big-band stuff. I remember having an epiphany, because In The Mood introduces you to the elements of blues, effectively. That was my first moment of thinking: “Hmm, this music is something special...”


The first song I performed live

Around 1964 [early Tull members] John Evan, Jeffrey Hammond and I dared to play a few songs at the youth club of the Holy Family Church in Blackpool. Among them was Walking The Dog by Rufus Thomas, as covered by the Rolling Stones. We knew the Stones were a fake, so we went back to find the originals of the music they covered, then did it our own way – in a not dissimilar fake fashion to the Rolling Stones!


The guitar hero

In the early Fleetwood Mac days Peter Green had a real soulful quality. He could make a guitar sing like a human voice. Peter had this wonderful tone, wonderful control. He could play a lot of notes when the music warranted it, otherwise he seduced you with quality rather than quantity.


Best songwriter

Roy Harper. From 1968 to 1970 I bought his records, and he stood apart from other songwriters of the era, because he covered a lot of range, from political and social issues through to plain and simple, stoned love songs. I’m always drawn back to Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith [’68]. I’d just moved to London myself, and it resonated with me. So hats off to Roy Harper, as Led Zeppelin once said.


The singer

Head and shoulders above all rock singers for me is Lou Gramm. Incredible precision and diction – you can hear every word he sings, unlike the majority of singers before and since. He had decorative elements in his delivery that weren’t overdone – mainly he sang on the beat, in tune and with great emotion.


The greatest album of all time

The Deutsche Grammophon recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, from around 1962. I became besotted with his symphonies, particularly the Ninth, and it’s stayed with me all my life. Not very rock’n’roll, but in a different kind of away, yes it is rock’n’roll.


The best record I've made

The one I’ve just finished recording. If people liked The Zealot Gene, they’ll like the new one more. But if you were trying to pin me down for a record you might know, then I might go for Songs From The Wood [1977].


The worst record I ever made

The song Singing All Day is a stinker. A throwaway track that we immediately sidelined until we were desperate for some material for a compilation album we had to make under contract with Warner Brothers. It came from the bottom of the barrel. A real turkey.


The most underrated band ever

The Six And Violence were a bunch of guys from New York who played thrash metal. They were violent on stage but absolute pussycats off it. I played on [1990 debut] Lettuce Prey. They struggled on manfully for a few years but never got the breaks. I always thought they deserved better.


My biggest disappointment

When Frank Zappa was terminally ill, I received a message to say he would like me to call him. I’d never met him. I was a fan, but my instinct was he really didn’t like Jethro Tull, so it was a little odd. I dialled the number three times, but each time I hung up in panic; I was embarrassed – what do you say to a dying man? 

A few weeks later he died. From what I heard he’d wanted to talk to a few people, just to say hi, and I was one of them. It wouldn’t have changed anything, except I would have had my first and last words with one of the great original composers and performers of rock music history.


My guilty pleasure

I have a soft spot for the brutal, simplistic music of Motörhead and the Ramones. And I like Marc Almond too. We have performed together regularly at Christmas, in fundraisers and cathedrals. That might surprise people – we’re of a different era, personality and character, but we are good buddies.


My 'in the mood for love' song

Roy Harper’s Another Day. A lot of people have been drawn to the romantic intimacy of the lyrics, and the languid orchestral arrangement on Roy’s original recording. It’s romantic first, and sexy second. It talks of intimacy in a respectful way.


The song I'd like played at my funeral

What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. For several decades we’ve used it as the end-of-show music. It always seems to me a very fitting way of saying goodbye to a departing audience, so it would have a great resonance for me personally because of that fact. It’s a song of gratitude, of thanks for a wonderful world which we live in.

Grant Moon is the News Editor for Prog and has been a contributor to the magazine since its launch in 2009. A music journalist for over 20 years, Grant writes regularly for titles including Classic Rock and Total Guitar, and his CV also includes stints as a radio producer/presenter and podcast host. His first book, 'Big Big Train - Between The Lines', is out now through Kingmaker Publishing.