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- Posted on Dec 5th 2009 12:00PM by Pat Pemberton
"If I had not taken up the flute, I would have been looking around for something else," he tells Spinner. "I'm not sure what. I've always rather liked the idea of playing the violin. But it's a fiendishly difficult instrument to play and not one that you can make a pleasing sound on without actually playing it for a few years."
While he's now accomplished flautist, Anderson didn't take up the flute until the winter of 1967, just a few months before Tull's first album. When Anderson walked into a music store and saw a flute hanging on a wall, he traded in a guitar for the flute and a microphone.
"It was only because they were both shiny and silver and they looked kind of nice. They were smaller than guitars and easy to carry around," he says. "I had no idea what I was going to do with the flute. It was an impulse buy."
After bringing his flute home, Anderson came to regret trading in his guitar.
"[The flute] sat there for about four months before I decided I should try and see what I could do with it," says Anderson, currently touring as a solo act in between Tull tours.
He picked it up again around Christmas 1967 and three months later, he was playing it on stage. Four months after that, the flute appeared on 'This Was.' Through the years, the flute would give Jethro Tull its distinctive sound -- hard rock with a Medieval touch, Led Zeppelin meets the Pied Piper. While other bands would use the flute from time to time, none were identified with the flute like Tull.
"Nobody really did it in a big way," Anderson says. "It was just an occasional little bit of Christmas tree decoration. I think at the time I started playing it, I was putting it right in front, being a real lead instrument in the band."
Anderson isn't surprised the flute is seldom used in rock. According to him, the instrument is difficult to amplify and integrate into rock music -- and too much of it can be annoying. "Altogether, it's really not a suitable instrument for rock music," he says. Still, Anderson used it to drive songs like 'Locomotive Breath,' 'Living in the Past' and 'Thick as a Brick,' helping Tull become one of the top draws of the 70s.
The key to playing flute in rock music? For Anderson, it was to play flute like it wasn't really a flute.
"I started playing the flute in the way other flute players wouldn't," he says. "I began by playing improvised solos, playing the kinds of things I played on the guitar. I didn't learn scales or the niceties of tone and vibrato. I went straight off the deep end, thinking guitar but playing flute."