The debut of the first Dire Straits album is indelibly etched in my memory as the “alternative to the alternative” that Autumn 1978. While the likes of the Sex Pistols, Ramones, and Elvis Costello stole the headlines away from rock’s Establishment then, thirty-ish college English professor Mark Knopler, living on rice and beans in Detford near the Thames River docks in London, was channeling American Dixieland and boogie woogie, distilled through his Uncle Kingsley, into a sound truly unique.
“It had to be electric, and it had to be red”, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Mark Knopfler tells Redbeard about his very first guitar in this week’s classic rock interview, focusing on the debut Dire Straits June 1978 release. Knopfler then proceeds to tell, in detail that betrays his English literature professor day job which he held before committing full time to his South London-based band of starving musicians, how as a boy he became enamored with New Orleans boogie woogie courtesy of his Uncle Kingsley. “Actually I first started on tennis racquets,” Knopfler sheepishly admits to mime-ing air guitar long before discovering American country blues after seeing Steve Phillips perform (they would later team up as the Notting Hillbillies when Knopfler retired the Dire Straits franchise). When the first Dire Straits album quietly came out in late 1978 containing “Down to the Waterline”,”Southbound Again”,”Water of Love”,”In the Gallery”, the subsequently oft-covered”Setting Me Up”, and the Cinderella story of that year,”Sultans of Swing”, the Knopfler compositions and the melancholy musical soundscapes contained within could not have been more in stark contrast to the brash, loud, and snotty London punk rock bands which had been grabbing all of the headlines. With his distinctive out-of-phase Stratocaster guitar sound, and Dylanesque lyrics delivered in a husky half-spoken half-sung baritone, Mark Knopfler, his brother David, bass player John Illsley, and original drummer Pick Withers first navigated Dire Straits into the rapids of worldwide fame with that left field international hit, “Sultans of Swing” forty-five seasons ago and, now, a berth at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As Mark Knopfler prepares to “mark” the forty-fifth anniversary, we are thrilled to have him as our guest here to share the story of how it all started in my classic rock interview. –Redbeard