Why Ian Anderson Gave Up on Guitar and Bought a Flute
Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson recalled the reasons he abandoned guitar and bought a flute in 1967.
He’d already formed an early version of his band, but at the time they were performing regular blues songs, because he didn’t believe there were many other options.
“We came out of that period where to get a gig – let alone get a record deal – you had to be in a blues band or an out-and-out pop group,” Anderson told Classic Rock in a recent interview. “But on the periphery there was Captain Beefheart and the Graham Bond Organization – very different to purist black American blues – which was important to the development of Jethro Tull.”
Anderson noted "that signpost got bigger in the summer of ’67 when Pink Floyd had The Piper at the Gates of Dawn and the Beatles had Sgt. Pepper. Those records energized me – you could step outside the comfort zone of 12-bar blues or pop music and you could do something different.”
It was around that time he decided to change instruments. “I’d been playing guitar and harmonica, but as a guitarist I was never going to be as good as Eric Clapton, simple as that,” he reflected. “So I parted company with my Fender Strat, whose previous owner was Lemmy Kilmister, who was then the rhythm guitar player for the Rockin’ Vickers, and I bought a flute, for no good reason. It just looked nice and shiny.”
Anderson admitted he struggled to settle with the new instrument, and ignored it for six months after he purchased it, until “somebody said to me, ‘You don’t blow into the hole, you blow across it.’ Oh, okay. Suddenly I got a note, then another and another. Within a week I was playing blues solos, and it became part of our gig. That was the beginning of the Jethro Tull with the guy who stands in the middle playing the flute while standing on one leg.”