IT might not be far-fetched to say that only hardcore fans of legendary progressive rock group Jethro Tull would be aware of the role of bassist Glenn Cornick. Most people identify the band with its charismatic vocalist and flautist Ian Anderson, and many of them recognise its long-standing guitarist Martin Barre.
Cornick, who passed away at age 67 on Thursday, August 28, certainly had an important role to play in the band’s early development. After all, he was with the band since its inception in December 1967, and stayed with them for three years, before leaving or being asked to leave, depending on which story one may have heard. He formed Wild Turkey in 1971, and later played with the groups Karthago and Paris.
With Tull, Cornick appeared on the albums ‘This Was’, ‘Stand Up’ and ‘Benefit’, was part of what was later released as the ‘Living In The Past’ compilation, and appeared on the famous Isle of Wight festival concert in 1970. Along with drummer Clive Bunker, who left after the 1971 album ‘Aqualung’, he’s played important portions of such classic Tull numbers as ‘Bouree’, ‘Teacher’, ‘A New Day Yesterday’, ‘A Song For Jeffrey’, ‘Nothing Is Easy’, ‘To Cry You A Song’, ‘Living In The Past’, ‘Sweet Dream’, ‘We Used To Know’, ‘Witch’s Promise’ and ‘Nothing to Say’. He even played concert versions of the famous song ‘My God’, but had quit by the time its studio version was released in ‘Aqualung’, where he was replaced by Jeffrey Hammond.
Again, only a true-blue Tull fan will understand the true value of each song mentioned. Because of them, the band evolved into a sound that they later successfully endorsed in the albums ‘Aqualung’, ‘Thick As A Brick’, ‘Songs from the Wood’ and ‘Heavy Horses’. Of course, Anderson was singularly responsible in creating and singing those songs, besides giving them a unique flute voice, and that’s why the world by and large equates Jethro Tull with him.
In the history of rock music, there have been quite a few bands where the frontman hogged most of the attention and fame. Jim Morrison of the Doors, Freddie Mercury of Queen, Steve Winwood of Traffic and Paul Rodgers of Bad Company are four examples. But all these bands have had steady line-ups, and the other musicians had their cult following too. Guitarists like Queen’s Brian May, Doors’ Robbie Krieger and Bad Company’s Mick Ralphs have had their set of admirers, whereas Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek has always been considered to be the man who gave the Doors sound its own distinct flavour.
With Tull, it was different. Anderson has been there from the beginning, and Barre for most of the time. But otherwise, musicians came and went, with many playing only on an album or two. Guitarist Mick Abrahams appeared on the debut album ‘This Was’, only to be replaced by Barre subsequently. Cornick and Bunker played on the early albums, but eventually made way for Jeffrey Hammond and drummer Barriemore Barlow.
Later bassists have comprised John Glasscock, Dave Pegg, Jonanthan Noyce and David Goodier. Drummers have included Mark Craney, Gerry Conway, Paul Burgess, the long-standing Doane Perry, Dave Mattacks and Anderson’s son James Duncan. And the list of keyboardists consisted of John Evan, David Palmer, Eddie Jobson, Peter John Vetesse, Don Airey, Martin Allcock, Andrew Giddings and John O’Hara.
These are besides numerous musicians who have played with Anderson on his solo projects, or have been guests with the band on tours – like guitarists Tony Iommi and Joe Bonamassa in 1968 and 2011 respectively, and drummer Phil Collins, who played only one gig with Tull in 1982.
Needless to say, the constant alterations in line-up haven’t affected the group’s sound a bit, as it was all the brainchild of Anderson. So while Barre had his distinct guitar, even the ever-changing bassist, keyboardist and drummer had a sound that went well with the band’s overall music. And that music has primarily been Anderson’s flute driven blend of rock, blues, folk, classical, you name it. So much so that Anderson recently gave a hint that he would release all future albums under his own name, hinting that the name ‘Jethro Tull’ is now a part of history.
Though Cornick has played in only three of the 21 studio albums released by Tull, he has played in those three that shaped the band’s sound. The 1968 debut ‘This Was’, which had the songs ‘A Song for Jeffrey’, ‘My Sunday Feeling’ and ‘Some Day The Sun Won’t Shine For You’, had more of a blues flavour.
The follow-up ‘Stand Up’, with the tracks ‘Bouree’, ‘Reasons for Waiting’, ‘A New Day Yesterday’, ‘We Used To Know’, ‘Fat Man’ and ‘Nothing Is Easy’, marked the beginning of the Tull sound as one later recognised it. The instrumental ‘Bouree’, based on a piece by German classical composer JS Bach, is primarily known for Anderson’s flute, but here, Cornick’s bass is a song by itself.
The third album ‘Benefit’, released in 1970, is considered by the more serious fans as one of the best Tull albums. It featured keyboardist John Evan, and had the songs ‘To Cry You A Song’, ‘Inside’, ‘Nothing To Say’, ‘Sossity, You’re A Woman’ and ‘With You There To Help Me’. While the UK release had ‘Alive and Well and Living In’, the US record featured ‘Teacher’, a concert favourite which had a trademark bass back-up by Cornick.
‘Living In The Past’, released in 1972, had many early singles featuring Cornick. These included the title song, which used a distinct 5/4 rhythm structure, ‘Love Story’, ‘Christmas Song’, ‘Sweet Dream’, ‘Witch’s Promise’ and ‘Teacher’.
In a 1996 tribute album ‘To Cry You A Song – A Collection of Tull Tales’, Cornick was joined by former Tull musicians Clive Bunker, Mick Abrahams and Dave Pegg, on the songs ‘Nothing Is Easy’, ‘To Cry You A Song’, ‘A New Day Yesterday’, ‘Teacher’ and ‘Living In The Past’. One doesn’t know whether the album was released in India.
Today, one can check some of Cornick’s appearances with Tull on YouTube. What strikes one most is his appearance of a hippie showman. Bearded and slim, he had an animated stage presence, matching Anderson’s movements perfectly. And yes, he formed part of what many consider the classic Tull line-up that also had Anderson, Barre, Bunker and for some time Evan. Rest in peace, Glenn Cornick.