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Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson Reveals How Eric Clapton Helped Him Quit Guitar

Mark Metcalfe / Jo Hale, Getty Images

It’s hard to picture Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson without his famous flute in tow. What’s surprising is how he first came to embrace his favored instrument that has become a signature part of his public persona.

It was the guitar playing of ‘Slowhand,’ better known to some as Eric Clapton, that pushed Anderson towards the flute. As he shares with Classic Rock Magazine, he was working as a teenage guitar player to find his own stylistic voice, molded around the blues and jazz that was in his record collection at that point.

Listening to Clapton’s work with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, he “realized how far ahead of everybody else [Clapton] was.”

Clapton wasn’t alone – Anderson heard of other players like Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page who were similarly talented and “it was collectively, enough to put me off continuing as a third-rate blues guitar player.”

The writing was already on the wall though, because the John Evan Band, the pre-Tull outfit that Anderson was part of, already had a guitar player.

“I got the feeling that my guitar playing days were behind me and I should look for something else. So in the middle of 1967, I traded in my guitar for a flute, but I couldn’t get a noise out of it at all for four or five months.”

He not only found that sound, but he also took a unique approach, playing it not like a flute, but as if it were a lead guitar. And the rest, as they say, has been history.

Anderson will be touring Jethro Tull’s classic ‘Thick As A Brick’ album this year — minus the other Tull members. It’s a better format for Anderson, because he says that “the audiences that I attract as Ian Anderson have come to listen to the music and have the sensitivity to keep quiet at the appropriate moments.”

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