Knopfler, Mark (Contemporary Musicians)
Singer, songwriter, guitarist
At a time when much of rock and roll lacks the stamp of individuality, Mark Knopf 1er, producer, lead guitarist, singer, and songwriter long associated with the group Dire Straits, has crafted a guitar-based rock sound that reflects his respect for rock's roots while still displaying his own originality and inventiveness. No one disputes that the success of Knopfler and Dire Straits comes from his highly defined musical aesthetic. Yet it is important to emphasize that although Dire Straits has gone through a number of personnel changes since its founding in 1977nly Knopf 1er and bassist John lllsley remain from the original fournopfler has always viewed the group as a rock and roll band and not a superstar vehicle. For him, playing rock music is a way of life, a total commitment.
Knopfler and Dire Straits have consistently received high praise from the usually cynical rock pressith only a few dissenters. Their debut album, Dire Straits, was released in 1978 at the height of New Wave popularity. "It's almost as if they were aware that their forte has nothing to do with what's currently happening in the industry, but couldn't care less," wrote Ken Tucker in Rolling Stone. Stereo Review announced, "they're so good, it's scary," and later added, "The first Dire Straits disc was, frankly, almost too good to be true: a complete fully rounded stylistic statement from a young band that sounded as if it had been woodshedding for years, down beat agreed, calling Knopf 1er "the most distinctive guitar voice to come along since Jimi Hendrix." Gene Lyons, writing in Newsweek, judged Knopf 1er to be "perhaps the most influential guitar stylist since Chuck Berry."
Mark Knopfler was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on August 12, 1949, the son of an English mother and a Hungarian Jewish father, whose Communist sympathies forced him to flee his native land. His father was an architect and his mother a schoolteacher, but Knopf ler grew up poor in a family that could not afford a car or television. The Knopflers relocated in Newcastle, England, when Mark was nine and, as a child, he took music lessonsiano and violinrom his father. "I would just play by ear, and as soon as it got difficult, I was in trouble," Knopf 1er told Rolling Stone. Like so many innovative rock musicians, Knopfler does not read music. "I go by my ears. I can't relate music to those dots. I heard my uncle Kingsley play boogiewoogie when was about eight years old. That was one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard. Those three chords, the logic of it. So I just used to slam out boogie-woogie on the piano, drive everybody nuts."
Knopf 1er left home at 17 to attend journalism school and then worked for two years as a cub reporter with the Yorkshire Evening Post and even reviewed local bands. "I liked the music but hated the writing wasn't cut out to be a rock-and-roll critic," he told Ken Tucker of the Knight-Ridder News Service, quoted in the Springfield News-Sun. The last story he wrote was Jimi Hendrix's obituary. "I was stunned. I don't recall what I wrote. I said some stuff, left the paper and got drunk." The newspaper experience gave Knopfler a perspective that has served him well, especially in writing socially powerful lyrics. "You learn the way society works, the way business works. You come across life and death," he said in People.
Knopfler returned to school and earned a degree in English from the University of Leeds in 1973. "The day I finished university, I went to London and joined a bandand promptly ended up completely destitute, divorced [from his first wife] and selling guitars to stay alive." He joined Brewer's Droop, an "obscene" R&B Cajun outfit. "After that, I just starved to death, basically. It got pretty tough until I got hold of this teaching job that saved my life," he recounted for Rolling Stone. The job was at Loughton College and Knopfler taught English and guitar privately. "I was pretty good at it but felt uncomfortable acting as the sort of role model a teacher is supposed to be. After all, what I liked best was playing in bars with my friends," he said to Tucker. At that time he was with the group Cafe Racers, who played in neighborhood pubs around Loughton College.
In 1977 Knopf 1er decided to become a full-time musician. He settled in London and shared an apartment with his younger brother, David, and John lllsley. With Knopfler on lead guitar, David on rhythm, lllsley on bass, and session drummer Pick Withers, Dire Straitshe band's name came from its members' economic predicamentas born. They invested $180 earned from pub engagements and cut a five-track demo tape that was sent to most major American record companies with no success. The fortunes of Dire Straits changed, however, when BBC disc jockey Charlie Gillett played "Sultans of Swing," a Knopfler song about jazz musicians who play for love and not money, on his "Honky Tonkin" show. Public response was immediate and enthusiastic.
By Christmas 1977, Dire Straits had a record contract with Warner Bros., which soon translated into a Top Ten hit and a platinum LP. Success for Knopf 1er came at 28, old for the rock world but not for Knopfler, considering the tendency of rock musicians to self-destruct if fame comes too young and too easy. "We'd probably be dead by now, or definitely on the casualty list. We couldn't have handled it," he told Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone. One casualty of Dire Straits' sudden success was David Knopf 1er. The younger Knopf 1er left the band to pursue a solo career after Dire Straits' second album was recorded. The unhappy breakup was obviously painful and difficult for Mark Knopfler to discuss. "One of the problems was having this huge, great specter of a big brother writin' tunes and tellin' everybody what to do with them. It's probably much better that I should leave him to grow up in his own way. I certainly wouldn't want to tell him how to do that," Knopfler explained to Rolling Stone in 1983. "I'm not sure how much he would be prepared to go through all the things that I was... . Dave was never into guitar as much as I was. Dave plays only keyboards now." Dire Straits has gone through a number of personnel changes (drummer Pick Withers, the other original member, left the band in 198*2), reflecting, in part, Knopfler's demanding standards.
But to conclude that Knopfler is insensitive to the desires of other musicians is unfair. Part of Dire Straits' lore is how guitarist Jack Sonni came to join the band. Sonni, who worked at Rudy's Music Stop, a guitar store on 48th Street in Manhattan, first saw Dire Straits when the group played the Bottom Line club in 1979. Sonni became a friend of the Knopfler brothers when they started visiting Rudy's regularly, even being invited to visit them in England. Then in December 1984 Mark Knopf ler approached Sonni about joining the band on its world tour, replacing Hal Lindes, who had been fired. The transition from working in a guitar store to playing in a world-class rock and roll band is, on one level, incomprehensible, and on another, typical of the confidence Knopfler has in himself to back up his musical risks and personnel decisions. "It's nice to play Father Christmas," Musician reported Knopf 1er telling his manager. "I said to [Sonni], 'Just one condition. Whatever I do, man, try your damnedest not to let it affect our friendship." Sonni and Dire Straits gelled. "He was born to it. Born to boogie, born to rock; pick your cliche, they all fit Sonni," said Knopfler.
In 1985 rock's social consciousnessersonified by Bob Geldof's Live Aid, Willie Nelson's Farm Aid, the Lionel Richie-Michael Jackson anthem, "We Are the World," for USA for Africa, and Bruce Springsteen's gritty working-class personaaptured international attention, propelling the phenomenon of rock and roll beyond its immediate audience and into the daily lives of millions worldwide. But 1985 was also the year that Dire Straits received the kind of attention in the United States that it had garnered in the rest of the world since its founding in 1977. Dire Straits' fifth studio album, Brothers in Arms, earned Knopfler and the band eight Grammy nominations, the most for any single individual or group, winning for best rock performance by a group for the song "Money for Nothing" and for best engineered album. Knopf ler also made the cover of Rolling Stone and Musician.
Knopfler's musical activities have not been limited to Dire Straits. He is in great demand as a session guitariste has played on Van Morrison's Beautiful Vision, Steely Dan's Gaucho, and Bryan Ferry's Boys and Girls, to name a fewnd covets the opportunity to play with rock icons like Bob Dylan and Phil Everly. Dire Straits played the Knopfler composition "Private Dancer" on Tina Turner's comeback album, with Jeff Beck filling in the guitar solo for the absent Knopfler. As a record producer for other artists, Knopfler brought his talent to Dylan's Infidels and Aztec Camera's Knife. He also wrote the scores for the movies Cal, Local Hero, and Comfort and Joy, which testifies to his musical versatility.
Knopf ler is married to Lourdes Salamone, the daughter of a Hilton Hotels executive. They divide their life between two residences, in New York's Greenwich Village and London's West End. On the future of Dire Straits, Knopfler told Tucker he has no definite plans: "I don't know what Dire Straits will do after this. Who knows? We might come back a year from now with a choir and a couple of trombone players, but it'll still be Dire Straits." Whatever the future, Knopfler already has envisioned his last days: "I think it's England. I'd like to die with my boots on. I don't see myself dying in some place where they play dominoes. It'll probably be in a little club. I'll be playing guitar, an old walking stick hung up over me amp."
With group Dire Straits; released by Warner Bros.
Dire Straits (includes "Sultans of Swing," "Down to the Water-line," "In the Gallery," "Water of Love," "Setting Me Up," "Six Blade Knife," "Southbound Again," and "Wild West End"), 1978.
Communique (includes "Communique," "Once Upon a Time in the West," "News," "Where Do You Think You're Going?," "Lady Writer," "Angel of Mercy," and "Portobello Belle"), 1979.
Making Movies (includes "Tunnel of Love," "Romeo and Juliet," "Hand in Hand," "Les Boys," "Skateaway," "Expresso Love," and "Solid Rock"), 1980.
Love Over Gold (includes "Love Over Gold," "Telegraph Road," "Private Investigations," "Industrial Disease," and "It Never Rains"), 1982.
Twisting by the Pool (includes "Twisting by the Pool," "Badges," "Posters," "Stickers," "T-Shirts," "Two Young Lovers," and "If I Had You"), 1983.
Alchemy (live album; includes "Once Upon a Time in the West," "Romeo and Juliet," "Expresso Love," "Private Investigations," "Sultans of Swing," "Going Home," "Two Young Lovers," "Solid Rock," "Tunnel of Love," and "Telegraph Road"), 1984.
Brothers in Arms (includes "Brothers in Arms," "The Man's Too Strong," "Money for Nothing," "So Far Away," "One World," "Your Latest Trick," "Ride Across the River," "Walk of Life," and "Why Worry?"), 1985.
Slow Train Coming (with Bob Dylan), Columbia, 1979.
Solo In Soho (with Phil Lynott), Warner Bros., 1980.
Gaucho (with Steely Dan), MCA, 1980.
Beautiful Vision (with Van Morrison), Mercury, 1982.
Infidels (with Dylan; also producer), Columbia, 1983.
Boys and Girls (with Bryan Ferry), Warner Bros., 1985.
Missing... Presumed Having a Good Time (with the Notting Hillbillies), Warner Bros., 1990.
Composer of song "Private Dancer," recorded by Tina Turner; producer of album Knife, recorded by Aztec Camera.
Also composer and performer of soundtrack for British television documentary, "In Private and Public: The Prince and Princess of Wales," 1986.
Motion picture soundtracks
Local Hero, 1983.
Music from the Film "Cal," Mercury, 1984.
Comfort and Joy, Phonogram, 1985.
Dayton Daily News, February 26, 1986.
Detroit Free Press, September 8, 1986.
down beat, June 1983; July 1984.
Guitar Player, December 1982; June 1984; September 1984.
High Fidelity, December 1982; January 1984.
Musician, September 1985.
Newsweek, November 4, 1985.
New York Times, November 14, 1980; November 13, 1983; August 24,1984; August 26,1984; March 3,1985; September 4, 1985.
People, November 22, 1982; February 25, 1985; September 2, 1985; September 30, 1985; September 22, 1986.
Playboy, July 1985.
Rolling Stone, January 25,1979; February 5, 1981; January 20, 1983; May 26,1983; May 24,1984; March 14,1985; November 21, 1985.
Saturday Review, October 1985.
Springfield News-Sun (Springfield, Ohio), February 24, 1986.
Stereo Review, May 1979; August 1979; February 1981; February 1983; September 1983; August 1984; September 1985; November 1985.