Jethro Tull: History & Songs

Instructor: Laura Armstrong

Laura is a freelance musician and has taught college Music courses and holds a D.M.A. in Music Performance.

In this lesson you will learn about Jethro Tull, one of the most popular British progressive rock bands of the 1970s and a pioneer in this genre. They are best-known for their 1971 album ''Aqualung.''

Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull by I, Benoitcor

How many rock bands have a flutist? Not very many...The Moody Blues uses the flute, and Genesis also used the instrument a little bit. What about a flutist who is also the lead singer, a guitarist, and who also writes all the songs? There is only one band that can fit that description: Jethro Tull.

History - Beginnings as a Blues Band

Jethro Tull was formed in 1967 in Luton, England and has been led by Ian Anderson ever since. A man with many talents, Anderson is a singer, flutist, guitarist and songwriter. He co-formed the group with Michael Stephens on guitar, Jeffrey Hammond on bass, and John Evans on drums.

At this time, the group went by the name of the John Evan Band, but by the beginning of 1968 and several personnel changes (Mick Abrahams, guitar and Clive Bunker, drums) they began performing under the name Jethro Tull as a blues band. They took their name from Jethro Tull, the eighteenth-century agriculturist and inventor of the seed drill.

Why did they name themselves after this particular man? According to their official site, this is a question they are asked quite often. There really wasn't a particular reason other than that their manager knew about Jethro Tull from studying history in college. At the time, they were looking for catchy names and this one seemed to fit the bill.

They had their first major concert success at the 1968 Sunbury Jazz and Blues Festival in England and released their first album at the end of that year. This led to more albums, successful tours in the United States, and favorable press reviews. By the time they released their fourth album Aqualung in 1971, they had achieved international acclaim.

Musical Style - Pioneers of Progressive Rock

Jethro Tull has a unique and complex style. Although they began performing as a blues band, they quickly began to incorporate influences from other musical genres including hard rock, folk, jazz, classical, and progressive rock.

Progressive rock or (prog rock or just prog) grew out of psychedelic rock of the late 1960s. Many songs were instrumentals, lasted for longer than the average two-or-three minute pop song, drew from many other musical styles, and explored elaborate themes or told stories. In general, the musicians performed at a higher technical level as well, and their goal was to create more artistic and serious musical works.

One of Jethro Tull's defining characteristics, mentioned before, is Ian Anderson's flute playing. He was self-taught on the flute and added interesting effects such as singing while playing and flutter-tonguing, which creates distorted sounds. He also attracted attention for his habit of playing while standing on one leg and for his his wild appearance, leading the band to use his image as their logo.

Jethro Tull Logo

Albums and Songs

Jethro Tull is best known in the United States for their fourth album, 1971's Aqualung. It includes hit songs Cross-Eyed Mary, Hymn 43, Locomotive Breath, and Aqualung. Aqualung is so popular it even is included in the music performance video game series Guitar Hero and Rock Band. This album explores the difference between religion and God, and follows the character of Aqualung (a shabby beggar) through several scenes of the struggles of modern England.


Thick as a Brick, a concept album, has one continuous song on either side of the LP and was a first for its time in 1972. It was released with an album cover that claimed that an eight-year old boy had written the lyrics and the band had set the words to music. Jethro Tull wanted to challenge listeners with the musical complexity of their folk, jazz, and rock influences and also with incoherent lyrics.

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