The video in today’s post demonstrates an important aspect of Mark Knopfler’s unique guitar style: the blend of rhythm and lead guitar playing.
I remember the day I first saw Mark Knopfler on TV in the late 70ies. I knew their stuff from the records, and I heard his lead guitar playing on these. What was striking when seeing him play was that his hands were apparently doing something all the time, he did not pause between all those lead licks on e.g. Sultans of Swing, he was constantly playing something – although you mainly heard the lead licks.
In this respect his playing is like an ice-berg: what you see is only the top of it, while the biggest part is under water. Just like the part under water, there is a constant rhythm, sometimes only scratching or clicking sounds. Something that is there although you are not always aware of it. This is one reason why it sounds so groovy and why the lead licks sound so effortless, and why often it sounds different when less advanced players cover the song with their bands.
In later years he emphasized the lead lines with the volume pedal a bit – bringing things in or out, but it works without as well – in the early days of Dire Straits he often left the pedal fully up for parts of the song. Simply make sure to play the rhythm carefully, not as loud as you would do when playing rhythm only.
I guess this approach resulted from playing alone (e.g. all the finger picking stuff Knopfler used to practice endlessly when not having a band) and from playing with a trio (his band before Dire Straits – the Cafe Racers – had only one guitar, bass, drums, and a singer). When David Knopfler came in with his rhythm guitar, he doubled the rhythm or kept it up when Mark played lead. This way both guitars could be panned to different sides of the stereo panorama without any sound holes. Also these partly percussive elements blend nicely with the drums. A great CD on which this can be studied is Live from the BBC – a radio concert from July 1978 that was officially released many years later.
I remember an interview with John Suhr – the luthier who built his famous Pensa-Suhr guitars – who said that Mark Knopfler sounds like a band when playing alone.
Here is the video in the standard video quality version. You can watch a high-resolution version directly at youtube (click here).