Mark Freuder Knopfler, OBE (born 12 August 1949) is a British songwriter, film score composer, guitarist, and record producer. He is best known as the lead guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter for the rock band Dire Straits, which he co-founded with his brother, David Knopfler, in 1977.
Since Dire Straits disbanded in 1995, Knopfler has recorded and produced seven solo albums, and, as with his previous band, produced many hit songs. He has composed and produced film scores for eight films, including Local Hero (1983), Cal (1984), The Princess Bride (1987), and Wag the Dog (1997).
In addition to his work with Dire Straits and as a solo artist and composer, Knopfler has recorded and performed with many prominent musicians, including Chet Atkins, Chris Botti, The Chieftains, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Bryan Ferry, Emmylou Harris, Jools Holland, Sonny Landreth, Van Morrison, Steely Dan, Sting, and James Taylor, sometimes working as a session musician. He has produced albums for Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, and Randy Newman.
Knopfler is a fingerstyle guitarist and was ranked 27th on Rolling Stone magazine's list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Knopfler and Dire Straits have sold in excess of 120 million albums to date. A four-time Grammy Award winner, Knopfler is the recipient of the Edison Award, the Steiger Award and the Ivor Novello Award, as well as holding three honorary doctorate degrees in music from universities in the United Kingdom.
Early Life (1949–1976)
Mark Freuder Knopfler was born on 12 August 1949 in Glasgow, Scotland, to an English mother, Louisa Mary, and a Jewish-Hungarian father, Erwin Knopfler. His mother was a teacher. His father was an architect and a chess player, whose anti-fascist sympathies and Jewish parentage forced him to flee from his native Hungary in 1939; Knopfler later described his father as a Marxist Agnostic.
The Knopflers originally lived in the Glasgow area and Mark Knopfler's younger brother David was also born there, on 27 December 1952. The family re-settled in Knopfler's mother's home town of Blyth, Northumberland, in North East England when he was seven years old. Mark had attended Bearsden Primary school in Scotland for two years, but both brothers attended Gosforth Grammar School.
Inspired by his uncle Kingsley's harmonica and boogie-woogie piano playing, Mark wanted to buy an expensive Fiesta Red Fender Stratocaster just like Hank Marvin's, but had to settle for a £50 twin-pick-up Höfner Super Solid.
During the 1960s, he formed and joined schoolboy bands and listened to singers like Elvis Presley and guitarists Chet Atkins, Scotty Moore, B.B King, Django Reinhardt, Hank Marvin, and James Burton. At 16, he made a local television appearance as part of a harmony duo, with his classmate Sue Hercombe.
In 1968, after studying journalism for a year at Harlow College, Knopfler was hired as a junior reporter in Leeds for the Yorkshire Evening Post. Two years later, he decided to further his studies, and went on to graduate with a degree in English at the University of Leeds. In April 1970, while living in Leeds, Knopfler recorded a demo disk of an original song he had written, Summer's Coming My Way. The recording included Knopfler (guitar and vocals), Steve Phillips (second guitar), Dave Johnson (bass), and Paul Granger (percussion). Johnson, Granger, and vocalist Mick Dewhirst played with Knopfler in a band called Silverheels.
On graduation in 1973, Knopfler moved to London and joined a High Wycombe-based band called Brewers Droop, appearing on the album The Booze Brothers. One night, while spending time with friends, the only guitar available was an old acoustic with a badly warped neck that had been strung with extra-light strings to make it playable. Even so, he found it impossible to play unless he finger-picked it. He said in a later interview, "That was where I found my 'voice' on guitar." After a brief stint with Brewers Droop, Knopfler took a job as a lecturer at Loughton College in Essex—a position he held for three years. Throughout this time, he continued performing with local pub bands, including the Café Racers. He also formed a duo with long-time associate bluesman Steve Phillips called The Duolian String Pickers.
By the mid-1970s, Knopfler devoted much of his musical energies to his group, the Café Racers. His brother David moved to London, where he shared a flat with John Illsley; a guitarist who changed over to playing bass guitar. In April 1977, Mark gave up his flat in Buckhurst Hill and moved in with David and John. The three began playing music together, and soon Mark invited John to join the Café Racers.
Dire Straits (1977–1995)
Dire Straits' first demos were done in three sessions during 1977, with Pick Withers as drummer, David Knopfler as rhythm guitarist, and John Illsley on bass guitar. On 27 July 1977 they recorded the now famous demo tapes of five songs: Wild West End, Sultans of Swing, Down to the Waterline, Sacred Loving (a David Knopfler song), and Water of Love. They later recorded Southbound Again, In The Gallery and Six Blade Knife for BBC Radio London—and, finally, on 9 November, made demo tapes of Setting Me Up, Eastbound Train, and Real Girl. Many of these songs reflect Mark's experiences in Newcastle, Leeds, and London, and were featured on their first album, the self-titled Dire Straits, which was released in the following year: Down To The Waterline recalled images of life in Newcastle; In The Gallery is a tribute to a Leeds sculptor and artist named Harry Phillips, (father of Steve Phillips); and Lions, Wild West End and Eastbound Train were all drawn from Mark's early days in the capital. On its initial release, Dire Straits received little fanfare in the UK, but when Sultans of Swing was released as a single, it became a chart hit in The Netherlands and album sales took off—first across Europe, and then in the United States and Canada, and finally the UK. The group's second album, Communiqué, produced by Jerry Wexler and Barry Beckett, followed in 1979, reaching number one in France while the first album was still at number three.
There were frequent personnel changes within Dire Straits after the release of their third album, Making Movies, with Mark Knopfler remaining a constant member. Released in 1980, Making Movies moved towards more complex arrangements and production, which continued for the remainder of the group's career. The album included many of Mark Knopfler's most personal compositions, most notably Romeo and Juliet and Tunnel of Love.
The studio album which followed was Love Over Gold, released in 1982. This featured the tracks Private Investigations, Telegraph Road, Industrial Disease, It Never Rains, and the title track to the same album.
With Love Over Gold still in the albums charts, the band released a four-song EP titled ExtendedancEPlay in early 1983. Featuring the hit single Twisting By the Pool, this was the first output by the band that featured new drummer Terry Williams, (formerly of Rockpile), who had replaced Pick Withers in November 1982. An eight month long world tour followed, which finished in July 1983 with two sold out concerts at London's Hammersmith Odeon, and in March 1984 the double album Alchemy Live was released, which documented the recordings of these final two live shows. It was also released in VHS video and reached number three in the UK Albums Chart.
During 1983 and 1984, Knopfler was involved with other projects as well, including writing and producing the music score to the film Local Hero, which was a great success, and it was followed in 1984 by his scores for the films Cal and Comfort and Joy. Also during this time Knopfler produced Bob Dylan's Infidels album, as well as Knife by Aztec Camera. He also wrote the song Private Dancer for Tina Turner's comeback album of the same name.
Dire Straits' biggest studio album by far was their fifth, Brothers in Arms, recorded at Air Studios Montserrat and released in May 1985. It became an international blockbuster that has now sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, and is the fourth best selling album in UK chart history. Brothers in Arms spawned several chart singles including the US # 1 hit Money for Nothing, which was the first video played on MTV in Britain. It was also the first compact disc to sell a million copies and is largely credited for launching the CD format as it was also one of the first DDD CDs ever released. Other successful singles were So Far Away, Walk of Life, and the album's title track. The band's 1985–86 world tour of over 230 shows was immensely successful.
After the Brothers in Arms tour Dire Straits ceased to work together for some time, Knopfler concentrating mainly on film soundtracks. Knopfler joined the charity ensemble Ferry Aid on "Let It Be" in the wake of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster. The song reached No. 1 on the UK singles chart in March 1987. Knopfler wrote the music score for the film The Princess Bride, released at the end of 1987.
Mark Knopfler also took part in a comedy skit (featured on the French and Saunders Show) titled The Easy Guitar Book Sketch with comedian Rowland Rivron and fellow British musicians David Gilmour, Lemmy from Motorhead, Mark King from Level 42, and Gary Moore. Phil Taylor explained in an interview that Knopfler used Gilmour's guitar rig and managed to sound like himself when performing in the skit.
Dire Straits regrouped for 11 June 1988 Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute concert at Wembley Stadium, in which they were the headline act, and were accompanied by Elton John and Eric Clapton, who by this time had developed a strong friendship with Knopfler. Shortly after this, drummer Terry Williams left the band. In September 1988 Mark Knopfler announced the official dissolution of Dire Straits, saying that he "needed a rest". In October 1988, a compilation album, Money for Nothing, was released and reached number one in the United Kingdom.
In 1989, Knopfler formed The Notting Hillbillies, a band at the other end of the commercial spectrum. It leaned heavily towards American roots music – folk, blues and country music. The band members included keyboardist Guy Fletcher, with Brendan Croker and Steve Phillips. For both the album and the tour Paul Franklin was added to the line-up on pedal steel. The Notting Hillbillies sole studio album, Missing...Presumed Having a Good Time was released in 1990, and Knopfler then toured with the Notting Hillbillies for the remainder of that year. He further emphasised his country music influences with his 1990s collaboration with Chet Atkins, Neck and Neck, which won three Grammy awards. The Hillbillies toured the UK in early 1990 with a limited number of shows. In this low-key tour the band packed out smaller venues such as Newcastle University.
In 1990, Knopfler, John Illsley, and Alan Clark performed as Dire Straits at Knebworth, joined by Eric Clapton, Ray Cooper, and guitarist Phil Palmer (who was at that time part of Eric Clapton's touring band), and in January the following year, Knopfler, John Illsley and manager Ed Bicknell decided to reform Dire Straits. Knopfler, Illsley, Alan Clark, and Guy Fletcher set about recording what turned out to be their final studio album accompanied by several part-time sidemen, including Phil Palmer, pedal steel guitarist Paul Franklin, percussionist Danny Cummings and Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro.
The follow-up to Brothers in Arms was finally released in September 1991. On Every Street was nowhere near as popular as its predecessor, and met with a mixed critical reaction, with some reviewers regarding the album as an underwhelming comeback after a six-year break. Nonetheless, the album sold well and reached No. 1 in the UK. A gruelling world tour to accompany the album followed, which lasted until the end of 1992. This was to be Dire Straits' final world tour; it was not as well received as the previous Brothers in Arms tour, and by this time Mark Knopfler had had enough of such huge operations. This drove the band into the ground, and ultimately led to the group's final dissolution in 1995.
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, both live albums. On the Night, released in May 1993, documented Dire Straits' final world tour. In 1995, following the release of Live at the BBC (a contractual release to Vertigo Records), Mark Knopfler quietly dissolved Dire Straits and launched his career as a solo artist.
Since the break-up of Dire Straits, Knopfler has shown no interest in reforming the group. However, keyboardist Guy Fletcher has been associated with almost every piece of Knopfler's solo material to date, while Danny Cummings has also contributed frequently, playing on three of Knopfler's most recent solo album releases All the Roadrunning (with Emmylou Harris), Kill to Get Crimson, and Get Lucky. In October 2008 Knopfler declined a suggestion by John Illsley that the band should reform. Illsley said that a reunion would be "entirely up to Mark"; however, he also observed that Knopfler was enjoying his success as a solo artist. When asked about a possible reunion, Knopfler responded, "Oh, I don't know whether to start getting all that stuff back together again", and that the global fame Dire Straits achieved in the 1980s "just got too big".
Solo Career (since 1996)
Mark Knopfler's first solo album, Golden Heart, featuring the UK single Darling Pretty, was released in March 1996. During the recording sessions for the album the main line-up of Knopfler's backing band, also known as The 96ers, formed, featuring Knopfler's old bandmate Guy Fletcher on keyboards, and has lasted much longer than any Dire Straits line-up. Also in 1996, Mark Knopfler recorded guitar for Ted Christopher's Dunblane massacre tribute cover of Knocking on Heaven's Door.
In 1997, Knopfler recorded the soundtrack for the movie Wag the Dog. During that same year Rolling Stone magazine listed Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, which included Sultans of Swing, Dire Straits' first hit. 2000 saw the release of Knopfler's next solo album, Sailing to Philadelphia. This has been his most successful to date, possibly helped by the number of collaborators to the album like Van Morrison. On 15 September 1997, Knopfler appeared at the Music for Montserrat concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, performing alongside artists such as Sting, Phil Collins, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney.
In 2002, Knopfler gave four charity concerts with former Dire Straits members John Illsley, Chris White, Danny Cummings and Guy Fletcher, playing old material from the Dire Straits years. The concerts also featured The Notting Hillbillies with Brendan Croker and Steve Phillips. At these four concerts (three of the four were at the Shepherd's Bush, the fourth at Beaulieu on the south coast) they were joined by Jimmy Nail, who provided backing vocals for Knopfler's 2002 composition Why Aye Man.
Also in 2002, Knopfler released his third solo album, The Ragpicker's Dream. However, in March 2003 he was involved in a motorbike crash in Grosvenor Road, Belgravia and suffered a broken collarbone, broken shoulder blade and seven broken ribs. The planned Ragpicker's Dream tour was subsequently cancelled, but Knopfler recovered and returned to the stage in 2004 for his fourth album, Shangri-La.
Shangri-La was recorded at the Shangri-La Studio in Malibu, California, in 2004, where The Band made recordings years before for their documentary/movie, The Last Waltz. In the promo for Shangri-La on his official website, he said his current line-up of Glenn Worf (bass), Guy Fletcher (keyboards), Chad Cromwell (drums), Richard Bennett (guitar), and Matt Rollings (piano) "...play Dire Straits songs better than Dire Straits did." The Shangri-La tour took Knopfler to countries such as India and the United Arab Emirates for the first time. In India, his concerts at Mumbai and Bangalore were well received, with over 20,000 fans at each concert.
In November 2005 a compilation, Private Investigations: The Best of Dire Straits & Mark Knopfler was released, consisting of material from most of Dire Straits' studio albums and Knopfler's solo and soundtrack material. The album was released in two editions, as a single CD (with a grey cover) and as a double CD (with the cover in blue), and was well received. The only previously unreleased track on the album is All the Roadrunning, a duet with country music singer Emmylou Harris, which was followed in 2006 by an album of duets of the same name.
Released in April 2006, All the Roadrunning reached No. 1 in Denmark and Switzerland, No. 2 in Norway and Sweden, No. 3 in Germany, Holland and Italy, No. 8 in Austria and UK, No. 9 in Spain, No. 17 in the United States (Billboard Top 200 Chart), No. 25 in Ireland, and No. 41 in Australia. All the Roadrunning was nominated for "Best Folk Rock/Americana Album" at the 49th Grammy Awards (11 February 2007) but lost out to Bob Dylan's nomination for Modern Times.
Joined by Emmylou Harris, Knopfler supported All the Roadrunning with a limited—15 concerts in Europe, 1 in Canada, and 8 in the United States—but highly successful tour of Europe and North America. Selections from the duo's performance of 28 June at the Gibson Amphitheatre, Universal City, California, were released as a DVD entitled Real Live Roadrunning on 14 November 2006. In addition to several of the compositions that Harris and Knopfler recorded together in the studio, Real Live Roadrunning features solo hits from both members of the duo, as well as three tracks from Knopfler's days with Dire Straits.
A charity event in 2007 went wrong: a Fender Stratocaster guitar signed by Knopfler, Clapton, Brian May, and Jimmy Page, which was to be auctioned for £20,000 to raise the money for a children's hospice, was lost when being shipped. It "...vanished after being posted from London to Leicestershire, England." Parcelforce, the company responsible, agreed to pay US$30,000 for its loss.
Knopfler released his fifth solo studio-album Kill to Get Crimson on 14 September 2007 in Germany, 17 September in the UK and 18 September in the United States. During the autumn of 2007 he played a series of intimate 'showcases' in various European cities to promote the album. A tour of Europe and North America followed in 2008. Many older songs from the early solo days, such as Cannibals (from Golden Heart), were brought back to life. Cannibals opened up shows throughout Europe. Cannibals was received extremely well particularly in Ireland as it was released by an Irish Country Artist David Maguire in 2007. The new version of Cannibals that David Maguire and his Band released was the 7th most requested song on Irish radio that year.
Continuing a pattern of high productivity through his solo career, Knopfler began work on his next studio album, entitled Get Lucky, in September 2008 with long-time band mate Guy Fletcher, who again compiled a pictorial diary of the making of the album on his website. The album was released on 14 September the following year and Knopfler subsequently undertook an extensive tour across Europe and America. The album met with moderate success on the charts (much of it in Europe) reaching No. 1 only in Norway but peaking in the Top 5 in most major European countries (Germany, Italy, Holland). The album peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard European Album chart and at No. 5 on the Billboard Rock Album chart.
Knopfler's solo live performances can be characterised as relaxed—almost workmanlike. He uses very little stage production, other than some lighting effects to enhance the music's dynamics. He has been known to sip tea on stage during live performances. Richard Bennett, who has been playing with him on tour since 1996, has also joined in drinking tea with him on stage. On 31 July 2005, at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver, BC, the tea was replaced with whisky as a "last show of tour" sort of joke.
In February 2009, Knopfler gave an intimate solo concert at the Garrick Club in London. Knopfler had recently become a member of the exclusive gentlemen's club for men of letters.
In 2010, Knopfler appeared on the newest Thomas Dolby release, the EP Amerikana. Knopfler performed on the track 17 Hills.
In February 2011, Knopfler began work on his next solo album, Privateering, once again working with Guy Fletcher.
In July 2011, it was announced that Knopfler would take time out from recording his new album to take part in a European tour with Bob Dylan during October and November. The next year Knopfler covered a Bob Dylan song, Restless Farewell, for an Amnesty International 50th Anniversary celebration record.
On 3 September 2012, Knopfler's seventh solo album, Privateering, was released. This was Knopfler's first double album solo release and contained 20 new songs. After a further tour with Bob Dylan in the US during October and November, the Privateering tour of Europe followed in Spring/Summer 2013. A short run of five shows were played in the US that Autumn.
Knopfler began work on another studio album in September 2013, again at his British Grove Studios in London with Guy Fletcher co-producing. On 16 September 2014, it was announced that this new album would be entitled Tracker, and that it would see a release in early 2015. European tour dates were also announced for Spring/Summer 2015.
In addition to his work in Dire Straits and solo, Mark Knopfler has made several contributions to country music. In 1988 he formed country-focused band The Notting Hillbillies, with Guy Fletcher, Brendan Croker and Steve Phillips. The Notting Hillbillies sole studio album, Missing...Presumed Having a Good Time was released in 1990 and featured the minor hit single Your Own Sweet Way. Knopfler further emphasised his country music influences with his collaboration with Chet Atkins, Neck and Neck, which was also released in 1990. Poor Boy Blues, taken from that collaboration, peaked at No. 92.
Knopfler's other contributions include writing and playing guitar on John Anderson's 1992 single When It Comes to You (from his album Seminole Wind). In 1993 Mary Chapin Carpenter also released a cover of the Dire Straits song The Bug. Randy Travis released another of Knopfler's songs, "Are We in Trouble Now", in 1996. In that same year, Knopfler's solo single "Darling Pretty" reached a peak of No. 87.
Knopfler collaborated with George Jones on the 1994 The Bradley Barn Sessions album, performing guitar duties on the classic J.P. Richardson composition White Lightnin'.
Knopfler is featured on Kris Kristofferson's album "The Austin Sessions", (on the track "Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends") released in 1999 by Atlantic Records.
In 2006, Knopfler and Emmylou Harris made a country album together titled All the Roadrunning, followed by a live CD-DVD titled Real Live Roadrunning. Knopfler also charted two singles on the Canadian country music singles chart.
Again in 2006, Knopfler contributed the song Whoop De Doo to Jimmy Buffett's Gulf and Western style album Take the Weather with You: in 2013, he wrote and played guitar on the song Oldest Surfer on the Beach to Buffett's album Songs From St. Somewhere.
Mark Knopfler has been married three times, first to Kathy White, his long-time girlfriend from school days. They separated before Knopfler moved to London to join Brewers Droop in 1973. In November 1983, Knopfler married Lourdes Salomone. Their marriage produced twin sons, Benji and Joseph (born 1987), both of whom are talented aspiring musicians, according to Knopfler. His marriage to Salomone ended in 1993. On Valentine's Day 1997 in Barbados, Knopfler married British actress and writer Kitty Aldridge, whom he had known for three years. Their marriage has produced two daughters.
Knopfler has a collection of classic cars which he races and exhibits at shows, including a Maserati 300S and an Austin-Healey 100S.