This is a really fun report from the road with at the end of the sixties. Was touring different then than now?
In some ways, yes, but there are similarities too. If you want to know more, then read this excellent articlefrom the music journalist legend that is Nick Logan!
Nick Logan takes you along…
The tough road taking Jethro to top in U.S.
WHEN she heard I was off to America with Jethro Tull my dear old gran was aghast with fears for my safety because she`d seen Ian Anderson on Top Of The Pops and was unshakeably convinced he was mad.
No doubt she saw him maniacally clubbing me about the head with his flute and ejecting me out of a skyscraper hotel with a deft swing from his dancing toecap. If so, I have to disappoint her.
All the same, had she been aware of the fearful battering my senses were to take during my eleven days on the road with Jethro Tull she would have had good cause for concern.
For while the spoils open to a successful group in America are colossal, the route towards can be gruelling in the extreme.
On a typical day we’d get a midday flight, pick up two hire cars at our destination, drive first to the gig to check equipment and PA, check in at the hotel and get a meal, go back for the show, return to the hotel and sleep until the cycle began over again the following day.
And as it went on, one day would blur into another, and one town, airport, hotel room and auditorium would become indistinguishable from the rest.
New York, where I joined the Tull entourage for the final dates on this their third and eminently profitable tour, gave few signs of what was to come. After runaway successes on the West Coast the group had had the week free in the city before their four sell-out shows that weekend at the Fillmore East.
Ian had been meeting journalists and composing tracks for the third Jethro LP in his hotel room; Martin had been spending his time with his girlfriend Liz, a student from Chicago he had met on a previous tour.
So it was in good spirits on the Sunday, after the last Fillmore set had finished at five the same morning, that we drove the 200 miles north east to Boston, arriving after getting lost in a snow blizzard at 2.30 am.
By the following morning the snow had turned to rain which fell with depressing consistency throughout the day. Breakfast was taken mid-afternoon with Martin lamenting having to leave Liz behind in New York.
Ian appeared around four in the afternoon complaining of a sore throat, and soon after we went to the gig for rehearsals. Clive was there already to supervise the setting up of his drum kit.
Roadies Chip and Roy, as usual, had travelled ahead early in the morning with the group’s equipment. Our party was completed by tour manager Eric Brooks, whose numerous tasks included providing the humour on arduous journeys and supervising the sound balance, and Terry Ellis, the group’s young manager whose presence as instructor and counsel throughout the tour was invaluable.
The gig, for the next two nights, was the Boston Tea Party, a converted garage holding up to 2,000.
The two dates, I was informed by Terry, had been booked some time back and would be the last club appearances Jethro would make anywhere. Next time round Boston would see them at the Symphony Hall.
THE EVENING’S SHOW WAS A GOOD ONE; THE CLUB NEAR TO CAPACITY DESPITE THE WEATHER. THE GROUP WENT FOR AN ENCORE AND GOT IT FROM AN ULTRA RESPONSIVE AUDIENCE. BOSTON IS A GOOD PLACE FOR ROCK.
Ian got to bed at 6 in the morning, after getting into discussions with Terry, and woke the next day with a heavy cold.
His is by far the most energy-sapping position in the group; not only working and moving the most on stage but also being Jethro’s front man for interviews which, where the American Underground papers are concerned, can be long and mentally tiring.
Like the others he would come off stage each night his clothes soaked in sweat, then have to change in an often cold dressing room and go straight out into the night air… which is enough to tax even the toughest germ defences. He had been ill on both previous tours, once with tonsolitis.
AS HE POINTED OUT: “ONCE YOU CATCH SOMETHING IT IS HARD TO GET RID OF IT. YOU CAN’T JUST STOP AND TAKE A COUPLE OF DAYS OFF TO RECOVER.”
The four interviews lined up for him that afternoon didn’t help to improve his condition.
Glenn had gone to jam at the Tea Party with West Coast group Sons Of Champlin so Martin and I took advantage of the couple of hours of daylight we’d see that day and drove into Boston to shop. On the way he pointed out that the thrill of arriving in a new place vanishes early in a group’s touring life. “And anyway,” he added, “you don’t get much time to see a place when you’re working the hours we do.”
In the dressing room before that night’s show Ian was shivering; his shoulders hunched together. The club was so crowded we had to go out into the street to reach the stage through a back door. Ian kept on his leather coat to keep warm and changed behind the stage.
The chatting to the audience had to go, but it said much for the group that musically their act suffered very little. Between numbers, to those who knew, it was painfully evident that Ian was sick.
WEDNESDAY SAW THE START OF THE MOST ARDUOUS PART OF THE 11 DAYS. FIVE TOWNS AND EIGHT SHOWS IN FIVE DAYS BEFORE THE FLIGHT HOME, WHICH ALL WERE COUNTING OFF THE DAYS TO.
On the flight out from Logan Airport, Boston, for Kansas City, Glenn was saying that he in fact preferred the one night gigs because they made the time go quicker. To him the travelling was not so much tiring as depressing.
None of the group seemed concerned about the actual flying.
I certainly was when we arrived at Kansas City just after dark in a blanket of snow, sleet and fog and landed only on the second attempt.
Kansas and the mid-west, like Texas which we were to visit later, are somewhat depressed areas for rock, being anything up to a year behind New York and the West Coast. In Boston the reaction had been one of amusement followed by bemusement when told we were going to Kansas City.
So it was that three of Britain’s top groups — Jethro, Fleetwood Mac and Joe Cocker — turned up at the unfriendly Soldiers And Sailors Auditorium in miserable Kansas in an effort to open up new territory for rock.
In the cold dressing room before shows we temporarily raised morale with a game improvised from spinning plastic coffee cup tops. Ian’s cold had given way to stomach sickness; Clive had developed a cough; Martin a sore throat and myself the first signs of a cold. Cold pills and throat pastilles were administered to all.
On stage through both show Jethro, who were topping, played well below themselves, as did the other two groups before a cold unresponsive audience.
IN THE AUDITORIUM BURLY COPS, WITH GUNS IN HIP HOLSTERS, WERE STATIONED AT VARIOUS POINTS IN THE HALL – A SIGHT THAT WAS LATER TO BECOME FAMILIAR IN TEXAS.
In both States there was a noticeable feeling of hostility in the air that, if allowed to, could continually play on one’s nerves.
After the shows we learnt that, since our arrival, all flights out of Kansas had been grounded and the possibility of being stuck in Kansas or having to drive the 800 miles to Houston, Texas, became a nasty probability.
In Fleetwood Mac’s dressing room Mick Fleetwood was reflecting on the large number of British groups flying across America and doomily forecasting that another Otis Redding would have to happen soon.
Fortunately the snow had started melting by next morning and we were all glad to get out of Kansas. At the airport a young American G.I. came over to talk to us. He had been a long-haired “freak” a week or so back, before getting drafted. Would Jethro be going to Miami he wanted to know? And could he have their autographs for his girlfriend?
It was 75 degrees when we arrived in Houston, a totally impersonal mass of glass and concrete rising out of the flat surrounds. In the town, like at airports, fat women with winged glasses and Glen Campbell types in cowboy boots would stare with hostility at us as we walked around.
Ian and I had bought a ball at Kansas Airport and at the gig — a huge and impressive circular music hall — we started a game of football at the back of the stage. Ian is as nimble with a ball as he is on stage but detests all organised sport. “Because of the social implications,” he says mysteriously.
Again Fleetwood Mac and Joe Cocker were the supporting acts and, when we arrived, the Mac had played their first set. It was the worst they’d ever played, said their roadie Dinky, explaining that their vast and expensive PA system had got detained in Kansas by the airline. Mick Fleetwood found solace in a bottle of kosher wine.
Cocker and Jethro, who had been using the house PA on all their gigs, also suffered from the poor sound quality; although both acts were well received.
THE GROUP KNEW, HOWEVER, THAT ONCE AGAIN THEY WERE PLAYING WELL BELOW THEMSELVES AND THE STRAINS BOILED TO THE SURFACE WHEN TERRY ASKED IAN TO TALK TO TWO LOCAL JOURNALISTS.
“I thought we’d decided not to have journalists in when we’re doing a show,” argued Ian. “It’s very difficult to turn on the charm when you’re sweaty and feeling bad.” A heated altercation followed between the two, culminating in Terry slamming the door and storming out. A few minutes later their normally compatible relationship was restored.
After the shows, Fleetwood and Jethro members and roadies conferred backstage and decided they’d both use the Mac PA on the next gig. (Cocker was to go on to a different date).
Next day we flew the 200 miles west to San Antonio, a picturesque tourist town on the Mexico-Texas border that is a mixture of the two cultures. It also houses the Alamo.
At least it looked more human than space age Houston but the optimism had no foundation.
We did, however, have a pleasant walk along the palm-tree lined river that ran past our hotel, the Hilton, and Martin provided a moment of light relief by tipping his meal onto his knee during lunch at the plush restaurant.
Here, we were at the 4,000 seater Municipal Auditorium, the gigs getting bigger and better with each town. But once again Jethro played below their best, though better than the previous two nights.
The others wouldn’t show their disappointment so readily but Ian, who is normally quiet anyway, frequently fell into long periods of silence during which it was difficult to gauge his feelings.
Austin, the capital of Texas, was the next stop; 70 miles drive away to the north through Texas sunshine. Dinky had warned us to watch out for cowboys in Chevrolets with guns in the back — he’d driven through Texas with a coat over his hair — but we saw none.
Again both groups used the Mac PA system and this time both hit top form to go down strongly with the sell-out house.
IAN, THOUGH STILL SICK IN HIS STOMACH, CAME RIGHT BACK NEAR HIS BEST WITH THE ASIDES AND THE WHOLE BAND RAISED THEIR LEVEL DRAMATICALLY FROM THE LOW OF PREVIOUS NIGHTS.
“One more gig and then home,” said Glenn happily when they came off. “It will be nice to finish with another good one.”
Ian too was more cheerful, but later back at the hotel when both groups gathered to chat in Peter Green’s hotel room — it was the last night with the Mac – he went off to his room to sleep.
In Chicago the group had been scheduled to play the Kinetic Playground earlier in the tour and had already sold out all tickets. Since the place had been burnt down by gangsters the gig had been re-scheduled at the Aragon Ballroom.
Aside from the fact that it was the last stop before home, Chicago appeared as unfriendly and impersonal as anywhere else we had been. It was bitter cold and snowy and only Martin, who would be able to see his girlfriend, was pleased to arrive.
He would be staying on with her for a few days after we had flown home.
The Aragon turned out to be an old, gaudy ballroom with its interior constructed and decorated after the style of a Moroccan castle. A flea market (junk stalls) was in progress on the dance floor, when we arrived for rehearsals.
The PA was the worst of the tour — it was enough to convince Jethro to bring over their own system next trip — and the dressing rooms were tiny and dirty, letting in the frozen night air through two broken windows.
THAT “LAST GOOD GIG” GLENN HAD TALKED ABOUT WAS OBVIOUSLY NOT GOING TO COME OFF. BUT AT LEAST IT WAS THE LAST ONE.
Afterwards we made obscene haste away, leaving Martin trying out Les Paul guitars a friend had brought along for him to buy, and got to the airport with a couple of hours to spare before the 2.30 a.m. flight. The cold had by now passed on to Glenn, who managed to convert it into influenza back in England.
We slept on the plane to New York and landed at snowy Kennedy Airport cold and tired with four hours to wait for the connecting flight to London at ten.
Nevertheless, energy was raised for a short game of early morning football in the baggage claim area that left American travellers amazed and a little frightened of the mad, hairy Englishmen.
Heathrow was reached at 11.30 London time, due to delays and the seven hour time difference, and we were soon being gladly dispersed around the city in a hired chauffer-driven Austin Princess.
Despite the ups and downs, it had been a most successful tour — and next time into America Jethro will be up to the 4,000 to 10;000 seater class of auditoriums.
By the time they become the top British attraction in the States, which they undoubtedly will, they’ll have earned every penny.
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