Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson Shares the Story Behind the Iconic Riff From "Aqualung"

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Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull)
“Aqualung” Aqualung (1971)

“I compose most of my songs on acoustic, and therefore the way I play the guitar impacts on the way the song sounds.

"I wrote the main riff [to ‘Aqualung’] in a hotel room in New York City. At the time I was trying to write songs that had [single-note] lines that would translate on the electric. I knew the ‘Aqualung’ riff would work well because it pretty much echoes the vocal melody.

"In this case, the riff I played for Martin Barre [Jethro Tull lead guitarist] on the acoustic instantly became the song’s electric part.”

Here's a live video of the band performing "Aqualung" at Madison Square Garden in 1978:

From the GW archive: This story originally appeared in the February/March 2005 issue of Guitar World Acoustic.