The Jethro Tull leader Ian Anderson first started his musical career in 1962 and helped to form the influential Progressive Rock band in 1967, releasing the debut album “This Was” one year later. Since then the group became one of the most successful acts from that genre and have sold an estimated amount of more than 60 million records worldwide.
Anderson had the chance to see up-close the evolution of music over the decades and to be in touch with many incredible artists. He even revealed who is, in his opinion, the best songwriter of all time.
The best songwriter of all time according to Ian Anderson
Ian Anderson is the only member of Jethro Tull who was part of all their albums since their foundation more than 50 years ago. He is the band’s main songwriter and was heavily influenced by Rock and Roll and Classical Music. However, he has a very broad taste and even revealed recently that also likes bands like Motörhead and The Ramones.
But when it comes to choose who is the best songwriter of all time, Anderson picked a famous British Folk Rock artist. In an interview with Classic Rock in 2023, he said that Roy Harper is, in his opinion, the greatest songwriter that ever existed.
“From 1968 to 1970 I bought his records. He stood apart from other songwriters of the era, because he covered a lot of range. From political and social issues through to plain and simple, stoned love songs.”
Ian Anderson continued:
“I’m always drawn back to Come Out Fighting Genghis Smith [’68]. I’d just moved to London myself. It resonated with me. So hats off to Roy Harper, as Led Zeppelin once said,” Ian Anderson said.
As mentioned by Anderson, Led Zeppelin released a song called “”Hats Off to (Roy) Harper” on their 1970 album “Led Zeppelin III”. Based on the Bukka White Blues track “Shaeke ‘Em On Down” it was named as a tribute to Harper. His influence on the band can be seen especially on the acoustic songs composed by Jimmy Page.
Harper a very prolific artist and have released since the mid-60s, 22 studio albums. Some of his most famous tracks are: “Francesca”, “Forever, “How Does It Feel”, “Me and My Woman” and “Goldfish”. He is also known for being the vocalist on the famous Pink Floyd track “Have a Cigar”. At the time he was using the same studio as the Prog Rock group and he was invited to sing. The classic track is from the 1975 album “Wish You Were Here”.
Anderson and Harper know each other for decades already. In 1998, the Jethro Tull leader played the flute on Roy Harper’s twentieth studio album “The Dream Society”. Two years before, in 1996, Harper was part of the Tull tribute album “To Cry You a Soung – A Collection of Tull Tales”, covering “Up The Pool”. That track was first released by the band on the United Kingdom EP “Life Is a Long Song” in 1971.
Ian Anderson’s favorite Roy Harper album
Over the years, Ian Anderson had said many times that his favorite Roy Harper album is “Come Out Fighting Ghengis Smith” (1968). It was one of the first LPs that he ever bought when he had his first vinyl player at the age of 21. He recalled that in an interview The Quietus in 2013.
“It was my summer album of 1968, as it felt like London in the summer. North London in the summer more importantly. It was redolent of the sounds and the images: Hampstead Heath, Highgate Cemetery, the streets, Soho. It was an album that really dovetailed with my own personal experiences of my first summer in London as a young man,” Ian Anderson said.
He had praised the same record in an interview with Spin in 2023. The Tull leader called him the master of intimate and esoteric writing. “Idiosyncratic modern folk by the master of such intimate and esoteric writing in the late-‘60s who influenced generations of very different musicians. But who not so many people know of.”
“My (almost) only album when I lived hungry and cold in a little bedsit room in North London in 1968. Roy’s guitar playing and vocal phrasing rubbed off on me in some of my songwriting in the years following.”
Besides Anderson, there are many other famous artists who were influenced by Harper. Some of them are Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Pete Townshend and Kate Bush. The Folk artist is also praised by his unique fingerstyle playing and the complex compositions that are compared to Jazz. His most recent album is “Man and Myth”, released in 2013. One of the special guests was The Who’s Pete Townshend.