IT TOOK the better part of five decades, but Ian Anderson has finally made his peace with Jethro Tull.
We're not talking about the eclectic British band that Anderson co-founded and led for 47 years as its sole composer and vocalist, as well as flutist and acoustic guitarist. The Jethro Tull in question is the band's namesake.
The real Jethro Tull was a turn-of-the-18th-century British agriculturalist whose inventions included the seed drill, which helped modernize farming. Anderson, 68, has never hidden his dismay that his group, founded as a straight electric blues outfit, took Tull's name.
But Anderson, whose rock-and-roll style of flute playing remains one of rock's signature sonic blueprints, has apparently had a change of heart. His latest solo tour, which tomorrow hits the Academy of Music, is called "Jethro Tull - The Rock Opera."
The program's score is primarily familiar Tull tunes, including "Farm on the Freeway," "Living in the Past," "Songs from the Wood" and, of course, the classic-rock staples "Locomotive Breath" and "Aqualung." However, Anderson cautioned that the show is not a historical documentary. Instead, he explained during a recent phone call, it is set in the present day.
"It's a way of putting the same flesh on new bones," he offered. "The content [in this case, the songs] stays the same [but with] a new basis."
That concept, explained Anderson, had its genesis in 2014 when "I was traveling through Europe. I decided after studiously avoiding too much knowledge about the original Jethro Tull over the years of my [career], well, I'll bite the bullet and see what this guy was about.
"I was surprised to see there was so little detail about his life and times. There were contradictions in the few bits of historical accounting that made it kind of interesting and made me pay more attention to the common elements that were agreed upon in his [life story]. It started me thinking . . . about the parallels between certain parts of his life and certain songs I have written. Some of them were very obvious - I think the term is 'no-brainers' - those songs that have to do with rural activity, farming, conservation, etc. Others became evident because of little bits of detail about his life."
Anderson then used "a little bit of imagination and creative wondering" to flesh out his tale. Agriculture isn't unknown to him, either; he was in the salmon-farming business in Scotland in the 1990s.
To the never-at-a-loss-for-words Anderson, the context of the story was just as important as the song list. He said he started out with a list of "20 or 30 songs that seemed to fit his life story. Rather than pursue it in a historical period-drama form, I thought it would be more interesting to place it in the present day, wondering what Jethro Tull might have been if he had been an agricultural revolutionary in this day and age.
"Chances are he would not be puttering about with organic farming and fiddling about with seed drills [made from] bits of his church organ. He would probably be a pretty advanced biochemist working on patented technology for genetic modification, for cloning, for the other dark sides - as most people see it - of modern agricultural science."
The nut of Anderson's approach was to focus on how society today deals with such scientific issues. "The ethics of that have always struck me as an important issue," he noted. "Our Jethro in my story now is facing that dilemma: Should you be doing these things, and should you be making money at it?"
As for the name of the band that Anderson officially put to rest in 2014, he recalled that it was originally conjured by a booking agent.
"It was no worse than any of the other names that we had in the previous two weeks," he chuckled. "So I kind of went, 'Yeah, all right,' because it sounded like a funky name. I didn't know he had named us after a dead guy until a couple of weeks later.
"By then, of course, it was a very bad career move to change just after we made our first impact and been given a bit of serious recognition with a residency" at the Marquee Club, an iconic nightclub in 1960s London.
Given the artistic and financial success that Anderson has had with the Jethro Tull brand, he obviously feels he owes a debt to the long-deceased inventor.
"For all these years I've felt a bit responsible for identity theft," he admitted. "This is a way, I suppose, of paying homage to the original Jethro Tull, and to make my peace with that sense of guilt by giving him the recognition he deserves."
Academy of Music, Broad and Locust streets, 8 p.m. tomorrow, $39.50-$89.50, 215-893-1999, kimmelcenter.org.