Monday, 8 January 2018

AAA Extra: Mark Knopfler's Guest Appearances

You can buy 'Solid Rock - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of...Dire Straits' by clicking here!

The general view of Mark Knopfler in the wider world is that in many ways he's a 'lazy' creative, with increasingly lengthy gaps between Dire Straits albums that even his prolific solo years haven't prevented. However Mark spent an awful lot longer in the recording studios than many fans realise, becoming in demand as a producer and as a guest guitarist for a number of musicians known and unknown who either befriended him or asked for his help by name. It was also a useful 'procrastinating' device in the long gap between 'Brothers In Arms' and 'On Every Street' when Mark couldn't face trying to top his fame all over again. Mark started at the top too with his first guest appearance coming by request from none other than Bob Dylan when Mark was all of a year into his stardom. Since then he worked regularly with other artists all the way through the Dire Straits years to the mid-1990s. Sometimes you can't hear him, hidden behind a wall of production noise and other times Knopfler is so recognisable it's like a mini Dire Straits record (and let's face it, there aren't that many of them!) So to save you searching here's as complete a list as we could manage - no doubt we've missed a few odd appearances on some obscure album somewhere, so if you know something we've missed then why not write in?!
1) Slow Train Coming (Plays Guitar on Entire Album, Bob Dylan, 1979)
Mark was thrilled when he got a call from one of his idols asking him to add his distinctive guitarwork to a new album of retro 1950s songs he had coming out and even Knopfler's nerves didn't get in the way of him thinking 'I could do that!' Mark was thrilled when he discovered that Bob was in his born-again Christian phase and wanted to record a set of religious material that he didn't feel suited to at all. 9and nor did Jewish producer Jerry Wexler!) Bob for his part had been an early fan of the [2] 'Sultans Of Swing' single and wanted a similar feel, even travelling incognito to see a Dire Straits show at the Roxy club during the band's first American tour. Needing a drummer for the sessions, Mark nominated Pick Withers to join them too. The result is one of those albums that only a Dylan fan could love, but you can tell it's Mark's playing once you know, most famously on the acerbic 'Gotta Serve Somebody', parodied with much glee by a housebound John Lennon in 1979. The highlight though is the reggae-ish single 'Man Gave Names To All The Animals', the one song where Dylan almost hits the 'right' key!
2) Time Out Of Mind (Plays Guitar, Steely Dan, 'Gaucho', 1980)
Mark sounds much more at home on the rockabilly grooves of Steely Dan's seventh record, the jazz-rock fusion band's 'guest star' album which features another forty-odd big star names to go alongside Knopfler. Mark is better used than most though and almost turns this fantasy song about chasing dragons into an earthy rootsy Dire Straits song thanks to his Chet Atkins style guitar bursts.
3) King's Call (Plays Guitar, Phil Lynott, 'Solo In Soho', 1980)
Mark's less obvious on this song by the Think Lizzy vocalist, at least until a typical solo some two minutes into the song, but there is a very 1950s groove to this 'Notting Hillbillies' style groove and the similar style big wide open drums so common to period Sire Straits recordings. The lyrics are a little bit like [2] 'Sultans Of Swing' too, Lynott getting drunk to the sound of his hero's songs 'always true in the darkest of nights'. This song for Elvis may well have inspired the similar [46] 'Calling Elvis' with its haunting refrain that, day or night, 'you can always hear the King call'. Sadly Lynott himself will be dead in six years, his battle with heroin leading to septicaemia at the age of just thirty-six. Funnily enough, while Lynott's career is almost over by this point and Knopfler's is just beginning they are contemporaries born a mere eight days apart in August 1949 (Mark being the older).
4) Ode To Liberty (Plays Guitar, 'The Phil Lynott Album', 1982)
The pair's second and last collaboration sounds much more like you might expect, with Mark's finger-picking all over this breezy ballad with synth strings which sounds not unlike the songs he'll be writing himself by the time of the 'On Every Street' record. There's a hint of the just-released [22] 'Romeo and Juliet' around his playing on this song too, which would have been a nice track had Phil sung it rather than spoken it. 'This is no Shakespearian speech' indeed!
5) Love Over and Over (Plays Guitar, Anna and Kate McGarrigle, 'Love Over and Over', 1982)
For those who don't know Kate and Anna are the mum and aunt to Rufus Wainwright, although I've always reckoned his younger sister Martha to be the real talent in the family. They're both toddlers at this point in the folk singers' career who turn in one of their poppiest, simplest numbers here with a boogie-woogie bass riff and a honky tonk piano. Mark sounds a bit in the way on guitar, trying to fit his 1980s-1950s hybrid sound into what's a very 1960s track but you can certainly recognise his playing here.
6) Cleaning Windows and Aryan Mist (Plays Guitar, Van Morrison, 'Beautiful Vision', 1982)
Now this is an interesting one. Van Morrison came to fame in rock group 'Them' before carving out a niche as one of the early 1970s sensitive singer-songwriters. Mark Knopfler, by this point in his career, is best known for pure 'solid rock' and is only slowly beginning to develop his storytelling credentials. The two new friends getting together seemed to have a big impact on both of their future styles though with 'Beautiful Vision' the long lost Grandaddy of Mark's 'Golden Heart' LP from 1996 and many of the other solo albums to come. It's a Celtic music record for the most part, built on tin whistles and flageolets and though the two songs Mark plays on have a good-time rock groove you could easily see these songs as later Knopfler originals. Unusually Mark plays as rhythm guitarist on both tracks, with the bubbly poverty-stricken window-cleaning narrator of the first song the better of the two.
7) Infidels (Produced Entire Album, Bob Dylan, 1983)
Clearly a glutton for punishment, Knopfler returned to the studio to produce another Dylan LP after the songwriter reached out to him for help with the 'new-fangled equipment' he was trying to work with. Used to drilling the disciplined Dire Straits boys through multiple rehearsals, Mark found keeping up with Dylan challenging to say the least but had fun playing on a hand-made acoustic Greco guitar he was leant for the sessions from a local rental shop to get the 'feel' Bob wanted. Looking around for a keyboardist, Mark nominated his own player Alan Clark whose stylistic touches can be heard all over this varied set more than his own guitarwork. The slow-burning ballad 'Sweetheart Like You' was my favourite song from the album, a [22] 'Romeo and Juliet' style ballad but made for the piano with Mark's flamenco style flitting through the song. The album itself went under numerous re-mixes that changed the essence of what Mark was trying to do and he took his name off the album as a result.
8) Blanket Roll Blues (Plays Guitar, Scott Walker, 'The Climate Of The Hunter', 1983)
Mark does pick them doesn't he? His next moody rule-breaking songwriter was Scott Engel, formerly of The Walker Brothers, who was busy making his first LP after quite a long break (one so long you could even have slotted two Dire Straits albums in there!) and his first to be, well, not that normal. Mark is right at home on the song's Edith Piaf/Jacque Brel acoustic vibe though and this is one of his better and certainly more audible contributions on this list, Mark picking away at a song like he's in a Parisian nightclub. A lucky thing it wasn't Scott's next album 'Tilt' or Mark's contribution would have been slapping chunks of meat!
9) She Means Nothing To Me (Plays Guitar, 'Phil Everly', 1983)
Mark was an obvious choice for the one-half of the Everly Brothers' attempt to make a contemporary album that still retained elements of his favoured 1950s style. Phil sounds great, fellow guest Cliff Richard sounds awful and Mark? He's stuck to a boom-chicka-boom rhythm part somewhere down the bottom of a busy mix. Like many of the Everly's solo stuff you long for them to have cut this song together as it's crying out for harmonies!
10) Knife (Produced Entire Album, Aztec Camera, 1984)
One of the prettier albums Mark ever worked on, his personal touches are all over this 1980s prog rock album by one of the decade's finest bands. There's a lot of 'space' here on this record, which is unusual for Mark but can be heard on parts of 'Brothers In Arms' to come. The highlight is surely the pretty nine-minute title track which is less intense than [28] 'Telegraph Road' but is similarly epic and is structured in a similar way. The album is a 'big' one for Dire Straits fans as Mark found himself producing alongside session musician Guy Fletcher for the first time - the pair get on so well he'll be in Dire Straits himself in a couple of years.
11) Cosmic Square Dance (Plays Guitar, Chet Atkins, 'Stay Tuned', 1985)
The genesis for the Atkins-Knopfler duets album 'Neck and Neck' is this sweet little instrumental, taped for a popular EP that did rather well in the wake of 'Brothers In Arms'. Mark always loved Chet's style and never sounded better playing it here alongside the great man himself, darting around in the left-hand channel (with a very 1980sish Dire Straits sound) while Atkins dances in the right (with a very 1950s style). The pair sound great together on one of this article's must-have moments for any Knopfler fan.
12) Overnight Sensation  (Played Guitar and Produced 'Break Every Rule' Tina Turner, 1986)
This song too is one of the most 'important' in this list, given that it's a rare case of a Knopfler song written for an outside artist. Mark and Tina sound natural bedfellows here, with the raunchier side of Mark's writing and a reprise of his [30] 'Industrial Disease' riff a good match for Tina's larger-than-life personality. The postmodern lyrics refer to Mark's problems 'trying to make a song fit that never was mine', before turning into a song about never being denied and overcoming stage fright. This was something both Mark and Tina shared to some extent along with their delayed entry to fame which came later in life than it did for most (the title, surely, is ironic!) and suggests Mark have had a good ol' natter with Tina before sitting down to write (or perhaps re-shape?) this song to something they could both believe in. It's good fun and it would be nice to hear a Knopfler version of this track one day.
13) Miracle (Produced Entire Album, Willy De Ville, 1987)
One of the more obscure entries on this list, Willy De Ville came to sort-of fame with his 1980s pop band 'Mink Deville' and sounds not unlike a huskier, booze-swigging Knopfler. That might be why he approached Mark for help producing his first solo album (mark doesn't sing or play, as far as I can tell). It's a whole different kettle of fish to Dire Straits: noisy and production-heavy and will come as a shock to anyone who ever loved the 'inner space' of a Dire Straits record. It's a sound Mark never really returned to again, although some of his noisier film soundtrack albums headed in that direction.
14) Save The Last Dance For Me (Plays Guitar, Ben E King, 'Save The Last Dance For Me', 1987)
Ben E King prepared to celebrate his 50th birthday by re-recording some old favourites with some new friends. Once again Mark's retro sound came in useful on this very 1980s re-tread of one of this 'Stand By Me' writer's favourite songs and Mark turns in a nice stately performance, a notch slower and more disciplined than the bouncy dancing going on all around him.
15) Death Is Not The End (Produced 'Down In The Groove' Bob Dylan, 1988)
Mark's final Bob Dylan collaboration is easily the pair's best, a sad slow stark and sombre song about meeting your maker that's not unlike the recordings Johnny Cash was making by the end with producer Rick Rubin. It's a great song from a ghastly LP, with Mark and Bob's twin guitars really setting the scene, much more fitting than the other religious songs from the last album with the upbeat thought that, however lonely you are in life, you will have companions galore in death.
16) Land Of Dreams (Produced Entire Album and Plays Guitar, Randy Newman, 1988)
mark doesn't seem an obvious choive for one of Randy's most autobiographical albums, all about his upbringing in upstate New York. That must have been very different to Mark's Tyneside upbringing and yet the two have a sympathetic bond here, with producer Knopfler effectively turning this into a Dire Straits album but with the piano more upfront and the guitar lower down. Mark does play occasionally, such as on the album highlight, the self-hating 'I've-never-known-love-song 'I Want You To Hurt Like I Do'. To think, almost Randy's next career move was writing songs for the 'Toy Story' franchise?!?
17) Did I Make You Up? and The Shouting Stage (Plays Guitar, Joan Armatrading, 'The Shouting Stage', 1988)
Perhaps my favourite song from the whole list, Joan and Mark sound great together, her giving him soul and passion and him giving her discipline and focus. Mark's guitar sounds superb, dancing from note to note as he entwines himself round Joan's voice and nicely complementing her lyrics of shock at finding someone to love after decades of loneliness on the delightful 'Did I Make You Up?' and playing some bluesy [45] 'Brothers In Arms' style guitar on the title track break-up song. Though Mark keeps quiet and doesn't sing my instincts tell me their voices would go together well too, dark and husky as they both are - perhaps even more than Emmylou's on the one duet record Mark did make.
18) Foreign Affair (Plays Guitar On Entire Album, Tina Turner, 1989)
With their last collaboration being quite a hit Mark was lured back to play on the whole of Tina's next album this time around. Not that you'd know it, however, as Mark's contributions can only occasionally be heard beneath a bank of synthesisers and noisy drums. 'Look Me In The Heart' is the place where you can hear Mark best, although he's playing in quite a different style to usual, more choppy and less fluid than usual.
19) [1] Water Of Love (Plays Guitar and Sings, The Judds, 'River Of Time', 1989)
This country music sister duo were The Corrs of their day (and rather more talented too dare I say it!) Mark was so pleased with their demo when they asked to sing one of his earliest Dire Straits songs that he dropped in to play the characteristic steel guitar part as well as his own usual style. The result is one of the best Dire Straits covers out there, the song sped up ever so slightly and spaced out so that it sounds like a much more hopeful song than the 'marriage just broken up' way Mark sang his original. The result shows what the first Dire Straits record might have sounded like had it been done more in the production style of the later band albums - fabulous, in a word! Highly recommended, as is much of the LP actually. Note the lyric change to 'Once I had a man, but now he gone' for obvious reasons!
20) No Money At All (Plays Guitar, Brendan Croker, 'The 5 O'Clock Shadows', 1989)
Before the pair founded The Notting Hillbillies together, Mark got together with Brendan Croker to play some characteristic guitar flourishes to one of the latter's better songs. This is a sad song about poverty, albeit performed like an upbeat pop song, that would have fitted in well on 'Love Over Gold', Mark's most politically minded LP. It's a lot better than anything that made the Hillbillies record, performed with real passion and drive and Mark gets to join in with a terrific riff!
21) [38] Money For Nothing-Beverly Hillbillies (Vocal and Guitar, Weird Al Yankovic, 'UHF: The Original Motion Picture and Other Stuff', 1990)
One day there's going to be a 'Weird Al's Album Archives' even more surreal than this site! Till then there's a few of the comedian-singer's records featuring guest appearances by various AAA members including Mark Knopfler. The pair have fun desecrating a Dire Straits classic with the familiar noisy drum-battle opening (re-recorded) giving way to a new variation on Mark's familiar guitar part. The result is close enough to convince most casual fans maybe, but when the vocals come in it becomes a song about a guy called Jed eating food in Beverly Hills?!? Money for nothing perhaps, like many a parody, but all done in good fun.
22) Wonderful Land (Plays Guitar and Sings, Hank Marvin, 'Heartbeat', 1993)
Hank Marvin had a problem when trying to shepherd guitarists onto his Shadows soundalike solo album. They had to have distinctive styles that wouldn't clash with his while the album was all instrumental. Mark Knopfler was an obvious choice, then, humming on the right hand channel alongside Hank's characteristically shuddery guitar on the left. Only a very 1980s production (yes even in 1993!) gets in the way of this simple toe-tapper.
23) The Lily Of The West (Played Guitar and Sings, The Chieftans, 'The Long Black Veil', 1995)
A million miles away from the signature Dire Straits sound, but somewhere within the same postal code as the more Celtic solo albums to come, this is (along with the Cal soundtrack maybe) the world's first evidence of where Mark's musical heart really lay beneath all that stadium-arena rock. Mark sounds great singing his way through this traditional Irish folk song about his lovely girlfriend Molly, envied by all the other boys.
24) All Over Again (Sings and Plays Guitar, 'BB King and Friends' 1995)
Mark had fun guesting with all his heroes. BB King was another guitarist he had long admired and you can hear a lot of similarities with the signature Knopfler sound. That similarity is more noticeable than ever when the pair got together for one of the highlights of BB King's all-star set, grooving away in the left-hand channel. It's unusual to hear Mark play a 'real' blues (as opposed to the parody [33] 'Badges Posters Stickers T-Shirts') and on this evidence he should play them more often, as he has a real feel for the genre without going over the top. By contrast BB is having perhaps too much of a good time on his vocal here!
25) Nobody's Here Anymore (Plays Guitar, John Fogerty, 'Déjà Vu All Over Again', 2004)
Once again, Mark's guitar style goes well alongside the swampy blues of the former Credence Clearwater Revival lynchpin, but that growly voice is more of a struggle against his fluid guitar tones. Mark's double-tracked guitar part, which plays more or less throughout, is the closest he's yet come to returning to the one for [2] 'Sultans Of Swing', albeit slower and for a whole song as accompaniment rather than purely as a solo. As for the lyrics, this is a song about how all the greats have died off - which seems a bit rich given how many Mark still had in his address book by 2004! Proof that Mark could still play in his old style when he wanted to.
26) Not One Bad Thought (Plays Guitar, Tony Joe White, 'Uncovered', 2006)
Do you remember the early 1970s band Brook Brenton? Yeah, only hazily here too - their big hit was 'Polk Salad Annie' if that helps? Anyway Tony Joe is a good friend of Mark's whom he met when they were both working on the Tina Turner album Foreign Affair' in 1989. It seems odd, then, that the guitarists had never crossed paths before this and a shame given how well Knopfler's finger-picking goes alongside White's straight-line fuzz groove. The opening guitar peals are glorious - it's just a shame when the vocals kick in to be honest...
27) The Sailor's Revenge (Produced Entire Album, Bap Kennedy, 2012)
Finally, Mark's most recent collaboration is with Van Morrison's occasional writing partner (born Martin Christopher Kennedy) who was also in the band The Energy Orchard at the same time as launching his own career. 'The Sailor's Revenge' is Kennedy's sixth solo LP and not one of his best, a little one dimensional and folkie throughout. You can hear lots of pretty Knopfler touches along the way though and ther title track has the laidback grandeur of [45] 'Brothers In Arms' about it.

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