Eastern Iowa, meet Martin Barre.
For 43 years, he was the blistering guitar behind Jethro Tull’s sound and Ian Anderson’s flute and vocal spotlight. When the British band stopped touring in 2012, Barre stepped out of the background to form his own band to continue the traditions. It also allowed him to find his own voice beyond the accolades of “Aqualung,” listed by several sources as being among rock’s top guitar solos.
He’s bringing his mix of re-imagined Jethro Tull classics and his own music to the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids on Aug. 26. And while Barre loves the freedom of being out on his own, the Grammy winner realizes he has to charm new listeners.
“I’m introducing myself to them, because with Jethro Tull, Ian was the frontman who did all the talking,” Barre, 69, said by phone from his home in southwest England. “In the early days, we were very much a front-line band with me, Ian (and) Glenn Cornick, the bass player. In the latter years, there was more flute playing, more flute instrumentals and less guitar playing ... so I just sort of slunk into the background musically and probably physically, as well, and just sort of became part of the band and Ian became more of a solo artist.
“I’m really happy to introduce myself to people, and can actually talk. I’m saying, ‘Look, this is me, this is my band, I love ’em. This is the music I’m going to play. I love it, and I hope you can love it, too.’
“It’s a pretty simple formula, but it’s exciting. They don’t know what to expect, and I’ve got to win every audience over. That’s my mission.”
His mission may seem simple, but his music is not His latest album, “Back to Steel,” is a fusion of styles and tempos that ebbs and flows from the gorgeous calm of “Chasing Shadows” melting into the hard-rocking “Hammer,“ to the urgent fingerpicking of “Calafel” and the bluesy “Peace and Quiet.”
All of those are his own creations, but he also puts his creative touch to a couple of vintage Tull pieces — “Skating Away” and “Slow Marching Band” — as well as the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby,” sporting some dark guitar counterpoint to the vocals.
He thrives on stretching himself as a writer and musician on recordings as well as in his eclectic concert components.
“I’m in the enviable position of just thinking of anything that could be fun to play,” he said.
He crafts his concerts in three parts: reconstructed Jethro Tull songs, his own material and “the fun category,” where he puts his own spins on other hits.
Jethro Tull fans will recognize those tunes.
“The song remains essentially the same, but the way they’re played and the presentation is completely different,” he said, “so they sound very, very fresh.”
That same freshness is injected into classics like “Eleanor Rigby.”
“I just think it’s really good fun. We’ll do a blues a classic like the old ‘Crossroads,’ and I’ll try and make it really different from any other version that anybody’s heard. I’ve got a lot of freedom,”
he said, which he harnesses “to make the end product a fun and energetic show.”
That blending of styles was the hallmark of Jethro Tull, which burst onto the scene in 1968 on the heels of the British invasion that crashed the American music scene with the pop/rock stylings of the Beatles, the Dave Clark Five, the Rolling Stones and more.
Jethro Tull brought a different kind of sound — a mix heralded as progressive, or “prog” rock — and had a jukebox hit with “Bungle in the Jungle.”
“We were different,” Barre said. “We didn’t follow the mainstream, even though we did have long hair, tight pants. Pomp and the rock-star thing always left us cold, and we never followed that route. So when people came to see us, they saw humor, self-deprecation — just something that wasn’t mainstream.
“We were pushing the boundaries, where other bands became clones of each other. ... That gave us even more reason to look elsewhere for our music,” he said.
“The great thing about American audiences is they’re really receptive. You can really throw something left of field to them, and they’re gonna listen. And I think they really liked that we were quirky and trying to do something different.”
He describes Jethro Tull’s music as “that meeting point of so many influences,” which continues to inform his own songwriting.
“In the early days, we were just a straightforward rock and blues band. We were learning how to play, we were learning how to write music. And then as different people joined the band — we had a keyboard player who was an orchestra conductor as well, so we played bits of Beethoven and Bach in the set. And then we had a bass player (who) brought folk music into the compound.
“It’s a terrible thing — when you’re young, you’re very opinionated, and you sort of shut the door to certain music, and say, ‘I play the blues and rock and that’s it.’ Then as you mature, hopefully, you start to look for these other influences. You’re looking for information musically, and it opens up this huge arena, a huge pool of musical information.
“When Tull finished five years ago, I started rocking a lot more, because I had my own band. There were no boundaries. I’m looking at this room, and now I’ve got mandolins, CQ mandolas, CQ bouzoukis, flutes, whistles, acoustic guitars, classical guitars. I’ve got one of everything. They all work together as well. You can have a really heavy electric guitar riff and have a really sweet mandolin line underneath it, and it works.
“There are no boundaries with music, and I think the more you explore that fact, the more you get out of it.”
WHAT: Jethro Tull’s Martin Barre and Band
WHERE: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 26
TICKETS: $35, Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or Paramounttheatrecr.com
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Martinbarre.com