An Interview with Martin Barre

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

(No, that’s not him pictured.)

Martin Barre’s Guitar Wizardry

Clarity and resolution are the key to getting the most out of this album. How about all the fuzz on Barre’s fuzzed out guitar on the song Aqualung? Sure, there’s guitar fuzz on the typical pressing but there’s SO MUCH MORE on the truly elite copies. When you hear it right, the sound of that guitar makes you really sit up and take notice of how amazing Barre’s solos are. (The guy is criminally underrated as both an innovator and technically accomplished guitarist.) The distortion is perfection and so is the playing.

Highlights from an Interview with Premiere Guitar  in 2011

Max Mobley

You have very pure tones on your recorded work. Do you use much processing or EQ in the studio?

No, I don’t use any EQ. I only want the sound of the guitar coming out of the amplifier—nothing else. When I go to any studio, I insist the EQ is either turned off or set to null.

The tone on your solo work, while it doesn’t sound processed, is quite different from your tone with Jethro Tull.

Well, in Jethro Tull, I get one or two hours and that’s it. If I haven’t got it by then, then my solo is going to be a flute solo. On my solo albums, I have the luxury of spending as much time as I want to experiment with different guitars, different sounds, and mics. It’s a different process and there is no pressure. With Jethro Tull, there’s always somebody waiting to record their part, so there is a bit of pressure on you. I don’t spend a lot of time doing guitar parts, because I want them to be fresh. But I think that if something doesn’t work in one or two takes, that bit of music doesn’t work or you’ve got to completely rethink what you are doing. You can’t just keep bashing away at the same idea.

You used a 1958 Les Paul Junior on Aqualung. Why that guitar?

We did a tour with Mountain. Back then, bands weren’t particularly friendly with one another, and Mountain was the first band that we really became friends with. I just loved Leslie West’s playing and they truly were a great “feel” band with the way they fed off each other live. He’s probably the only guitarist who has influenced me directly. He played a Les Paul Junior, so that’s why I bought mine.

The solo on the song “Aqualung” has received as many accolades as any rock guitar solo in existence. Was that composed, one take, or a composite?

It was a one-off and I did it first take. I’ve never learned licks—especially at that point of my career—and I never, ever used the blues licks. All the other guys were doing that and I wanted melody. In my mind, I can hear a melody, and then I can play it. That’s what I’ve always loved about playing an instrument. You hear where you want to go in your head, and your fingers can go there for you—it’s sort of a direct connection. I don’t have any sort of hang-up about having to play a B.B. King or Freddie King lick. I love the blues as well, but in those days, it was a very free approach. I just played……………

Ian wanted a guitarist that with no pre-conceived style. He didn’t want a blues guitarist. He had already had one in Mick Abrahams, who went on to form Blodwyn Pig. Ian wanted someone with an open mind who would try stuff out and go to a different place without questioning it. So it worked out perfectly.

As a self-taught guitar player, how were the complex parts that make up a Jethro Tull song communicated?

I knew everything they knew. I was taught flute professionally before I joined Jethro Tull, so I could read music and I understood music. We were all at the same level musically.