Dire Straits (Contemporary Musicians)
Combining country, blues, and R&B influences, Dire Straits made their mark on the late-1970s and 1980s music scene with a rock-n-roll sound that stood out among the punk, new wave, and heavy metal trends. Getting back to the roots of rock, Dire Straits featured a simple sound that filled a stylistic gap. Led by singer Mark Knopfler, the group launched into stardom in the mid-1980s with their album Brothers in Arms and the mega-hit single "Money for Nothing."
Dire Straits began in London with the collaboration of bassist John lllsley and Mark Knopfler. Knopfler had graduated with a degree in English and was writing for the Yorkshire Evening Post. He left this job to pursue a career in music and took a part-time job as a teacher at Loughton College to stay financially solvent. Knopfler performed with pub bands around town, including Brewer's Droop and Cafe Racers. After a divorce and financial difficulties, he ended up sleeping on the floor of his brother David's flat, where lllsley also lived. David Knopfler also played guitar and, in 1977, the three men decided to form a band. After recruiting drummer Pick Withers, they began rehearsing. A friend of Mark Knopfler's helped them decide on their name, a reference to their financial situation. "We never said anything about this to each other," David Knopfler told Diasann McLane in Rolling Stone, "but I had a feeling something was going to start happening, for real."
Soon after the band members borrowed some money to record a five-song demo tape, which included their future single "Sultans of Swing." They took the tape to a deejay named Charlie Gillett, who had a radio show called "Honky Tonk" on BBC Radio London. Originally, they just wanted some feedback from Gillett, but the announcer liked the music so much, he played "Sultans of Swing" on the radio. Two months later, Dire Straits signed a recording contract with Phonogram Records.
In 1978, Dire Straits began touring Great Britain as the opening band for Talking Heads. After their debut single "Sultans of Swing" started to climb the U.K. charts, the group went on their own headlining tour. Their new-found notoriety led to a U.S. recording contract with Warner Bros. Records, and before the end of the year, Dire Straits had released their self-titled debut worldwide. They received more and more attention in the United States and landed at the top of the charts in Australia and New Zealand.
The following year, Dire Straits performed in their first North American tour. They played 51 sold-out concerts over a 38-day period. "Sultans of Swing" scaled the charts to number four in the United States and number eight in Great Britain, while Dire Straifs reached number two and number five on the respective album charts. Bob Dylan, who saw the band play in Los Angeles, was so impressed that he invited Mark Knopfler and Pick Withers to play on his next album, Slow Train Coming.
By the end of 1979, Dire Straits had released their sophomore effort, Communique, which included the single "Lady Writer." Again, the album flew up the charts, reaching number eleven in the United States and number five in Great Britain. Mark Knopfler began to establish himself as a sought-after guitarist and put into motion what would become a long string of side work. In 1980, he played as a guest guitarist on Phil Lynott's album Solo in Soho and Steely Dan's Gaucho.
In July of 1980, David Knopfler officially quit Dire Straits to pursue a solo career. "David was under a lot of strain," John Illsley explained to Ken Tucker and David Fricke in Rolling Stone. "Mark felt very responsible for David and didn't quite know what to do. Once [the next release] Making Movies was out and David had left, it seemed to lift a tremendous strain. Mark felt very freed."
Music Progressed to Another Level
Shortly after David Knopfler left the group, Dire Straits added former Darlings guitarist Hal Lindes and keyboardist Alan Clark to their ranks. They immediately headed into the studio to record their next LP, Making Movies, which included the singles "Skateaway," "Romeo and Juliet," and "Tunnel of Love." The differences in the band and in Mark Knopfler didn't go unnoticed. David Fricke commented in Rolling Stone, "Making Movies is the record on which Mark Knopfler comes out from behind his influences, and Dire Straits come out from behind Mark Knopfler."
The band embarked on an extensive tour, but took some time off before releasing Love Over Gold In 1982, which included the single "Industrial Disease." Knopfler's songwriting sessions were so prolific that the song "Private Dancer" didn't make it on the album, but it became a huge hit for Tina Turner. After the album's release, drummer Pick Withers left the band and was later replaced by Terry Williams. The following year, Dire Straits performed another world tour. Knopfler had also moved into producing albums for other artists and composing film scores. At the end of the year, he took some time off from work to marry his second wife, Lourdes Salomone. In 1984, Dire Straits released a live album from their previous tour called Alchemyire Straits Live. John lllsley also released a solo album on Vertigo/Phonogram called Never Told a Soul.
Broke Sound (& Video) Barrier
In 1985, Hal Lindes left the band and was replaced by guitarist Jack Sonni. The new ensemble released the most successful Dire Straits album in the band's history, Brothers in Arms. The album debuted at number one in Great Britain and quickly soared to the top of the charts in the United States as well. It went on to become a number one album in 25 countries and sold 20 million copies worldwide. The chart-topping hit single "Money for Nothing" featured guest vocalist Sting on the unforgettable "I want my MTV" refrain. Dire Straits produced an animated video for the song, directed by Steve Barron, which quickly jumped to heavy rotation on MTV (Music Television). In fact, Sting's phrase became the tag line for the cable station. Other singles on Brothers in Arms included "Walk of Life" and "So Far Away."
Following the release of Brothers in Arms, Dire Straits went on a 12-month tour across the world. In 1986, they were nominated for eight Grammy Awards and received two: Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Engineered Recording (Non-Classical). They garnered two more awards for "Money for Nothing" at the third annual MTV Video Music Awards, for Best Group Video and Best Video. They also secured honors for Best British Group and Best British Album at the BRIT Awards. The following year, they were awarded yet another Grammy in the category of Best Music Video, Long-Form, for Dire Straits Brothers in Arms.
With the enormous success of Brothers in Arms, the members of Dire Straits were under a significant amount of stress. In September 1988, Mark Knopfler officially announced the break-up of the band. "A lot of press reports were saying we were the biggest band in the world," Knopfler told Rob Tannenbaum in Rolling Stone. "There's not an accent then on the music, there's an accent on popularity. I needed a rest." The dissolution of the band was followed up with a greatest hits compilation called Money for Nothing.
In addition to his guest appearances, production, and film work, Knopfler formed another band called the Notting Hillbillies. In 1990 the group released the album Missing... Presumed Having a Good Time. After the recording's release, Knopfler, lllsley, and manager Ed Bicknell decided to resurrect Dire Straits. In August of 1991, the reformed band began a two-year, 300-show tour and played in front of some 7.1 million ticket buying fans. This time, Dire Straits included original members Knopfler and lllsley, along with keyboardists Guy Fletcher and Alan Clark, saxophonist Chris White, drummer Chris Whitten, and percussionist Danny Cummings. The following month, the group released the album On Every Street, which included the singles "Calling Elvis," "Heavy Fuel," and "My Parties." As the first Dire Straits album in six years, it moved up the charts to number one in Great Britain and number 12 in the United States.
The extensive tour proved to be too much for Dire Straits members and led to the band's second demise. Bill Flanagan described the sequence of events in Gentleman's Quarterly: "The subsequent world tour lasted nearly two years, made mountains of money and drove Dire Straits into the ground. When the tour was over, both Knopfler's marriage and his band were gone."
Following the tour, Knopfler took some time off from the music business. In 1993, he received an honorary music doctorate from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Two more Dire Straits albums were released: the live album On the Night in 1993 and Live at the BBC, featuring the band's early live recordings, in 1995. Knopfler returned to the limelight in 1996 with his solo album Golden Heart, which included the single "Darling Pretty." This song also appeared on the soundtrack for the film Twister. Knopfler discussed his career's resolution with Flanagan in Gentleman's Quarterly: "I am in show business," Knopfler explained. "It's the most embarrassing game in the world. It would be much better if you could just send your paintings to the dealer and disappear.... I am also in love with music ... so you have to find a way." Despite the end of Dire Straits, Knopfler has carried on the band's signature guitar and vocal styles.
Dire Straits, Warner Bros., 1978.
Communique, Warner Bros., 1979.
Making Movies, Warner Bros., 1980.
Love Over Gold, Warner Bros., 1982.
Alchemyire Straits Live, Warner Bros., 1984.
Brothers in Arms, Warner Bros., 1985.
Money for Nothing, Warner Bros., 1988.
On Every Street, Warner Bros., 1991.
On the Night, Warner Bros., 1993.
Live at the BBC, Windsong Records, 1995.
Rees, Dafydd and Luke Crampton, editors, Encyclopedia of Rock Stars, DK Publishing, 1996.
Billboard, March 17, 1979; June 2, 1984; June 14, 1986; September 20, 1986; October 29, 1988.
Gentleman's Quarterly, June 1996.
Guitar Player, June 1992.
Newsweek, November 4, 1985.
People Weekly, September 2, 1985.
Rolling Stone, April 5,1979; February 5, 1981; February 18, 1982; January 20, 1983; November 21, 1985; April 24, 1986; April 5, 1990; April 30, 1992.
Teen, July 1986.