Dire Straits Artist Profile

Mark Knopfler and John Illsley of Dire Straits perform onstage circa 1980. Bob King/Redferns/Getty Images


1977 in London, England

Core '80s Band Members:

  • Mark Knopfler (born Mark Freuder Knopfler on August 12, 1949 in Glasgow, Scotland) - Lead and rhythm guitars, lead vocals, primary songwriter
  • John Illsley (born June 24, 1949 in Leicester, England) - Bass guitar, vocals
  • Pick Withers (born David Withers on April 4, 1948 in Leicester, England) - Drums
  • Alan Clark (born March 5, 1952, in Great Lumley, Durham, England) - Keyboards
  • Guy Fletcher (born May 24, 1960 in Maidstone, Kent, England) - Keyboards, synthesizer, guitar, backing vocals

Other Key Members:

  • David Knopfler (born December 27, 1952 in Glasgow, Scotland) - Rhythm guitar, vocals (1977-1979)

Early Years:

Emerging during the late-'70s punk rock explosion, throwback folk rock/blues rock band Dire Straits fit neither the mold of bombastic arena rock nor the rebellious, sneering attitude of punk rock. Even so, the band's stripped-down, often musically subtle work found great success immediately in the album rock and classic rock markets, starting with an eponymous debut in 1978 that produced one of mainstream rock's most ubiquitous if ultimately overrated tunes in "Sultans of Swing." Still, frontman Knopfler had begun to forge the band's unique sound, framed by his story songs and gruff vocals.

Building a Stand-Alone Resume:

Having resisted becoming tied to the late '70s, Dire Straits carried over its spirit of independence into the new decade, laying down a quick follow-up by the second half of 1979 in . Though not markedly different from the band's initial record, songs like "Lady Writer" and "Portobello Belle" skillfully set Knopfler up as a Dylan-esque troubadour for the new decade as well as a jazzy rock guitar virtuoso. Success continued consistently with the fall 1980 release of Making Movies, Dire Straits' early masterpiece and perhaps the group's best album of its career.

Experimentation Once Again Defies the Era:

Tracks like "Tunnel of Love," "Skateaway," and "Romeo and Juliet" from Making Movies broadened the signature sound of Dire Straits and seemed to launch a further evolution that delved into more complex compositions that sometimes verged on progressive rock. Knopfler and Co. seemed to be moving away from pop and mainstream rock on their 1982 album, , challenging radio with lengthy songs and a sort of maverick disregard for trends. At this point, the band seemed anywhere but on the brink of pop superstardom, but even when such fame arrived, it came on Knopfler's own terms.

Dire Straits Embraces & Simultaneously Mocks MTV:

During a nearly three-year hiatus, pop audiences had to have forgotten nearly anything they might have remembered about Dire Straits. That worked out just fine for when the band reemerged in 1985 with a glossy, accessibly eclectic album, . Knopfler struck gold with ingenious songwriting on the album's three monster hits, moving from the easygoing country-folk shuffle of "So Far Away" and "Walk of Life" to guitar hero riffing on the immensely popular "Money for Nothing." Along the way, Knopfler was so cool that no one batted an eye as the song's music video skewered MTV even while retaining maximum airplay on the channel.

Knopfler Stays Busy, Dire Straits Becomes Side Project:

Following the Brothers in Arms world tour, Knopfler became ever more involved in film scores and various musical explorations, something for which he had already shown a strong affinity. He then put the band on another long-term hiatus that halted its superstardom for good, as the return of a slightly different lineup of Dire Straits found few takers by 1991's . In essence, Knopfler had always taken his own path, working with a fierce independence that continues to announce itself in the artist's persistent and successful solo career.