Mark Knopfler gearMiscMiscMK guitar style and licks

Mark Knopfler on Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming

In May 1979 Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits drummer Pick Withers were invited to play on Bob Dylan’s new album, Slow Train Coming. This was not the first session Mark Knopfler was asked to play on (he already played on the   Steely Dan song Time out of Mind and with Mavis Staple before), but it was the first session for a complete album.

The idea came from Barry Becket and Jerry Wexler, the producers of Dire Straits’ second album Communique, which was recorded in December 1978. Becket and Wexler were als the producers of Slow Tran Coming and suggested the Dire Straits lead guitarist and drummer to join the band for that session (Becket himself played the  keyboards, and Tim Drummond was on bass). Dylan saw Dire Straits first on their first US tour in the Roxy, Los Angeles, in March ’79. He was deeply impressed and agreed.

Slow Train Coming was Dylan’s first album after his conversion to Christianity (he was Jewish before), so “all songs were about God” (quote Mark Knopfler, who seemed to be puzzled a bit by this circumstance). The sound and the arrangements of almost the whole album are not too far away from Dire Straits’ first two albums. The 9 songs feature some superb guitar playing by Knopfler, and Pick Withers creative drumming adds a lot of colour and underlines his importance for the Dire Straits sound of that time.

The album was recorded at the famous Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama.

Guitars on Slow Train Coming

Knopfler took the following guitars to the session:

1) A red Fender Stratocaster (my source does not mention which of his two, but since his maple neck Strat (# 80470) was much more used around this time, I would vote for this one)

2) his sunburst Telecaster Custom (the same that is today used for high G-tuning , picture courtesy of Guy Fletcher))

3) a National (he had two at this time, the Style-O of Brothers in Arms fame, and a Tricone from the late 20ies, both are possible)

4) three Ovations ( a 6 & 12 string Adamas – see picture, from the Love over Gold recording session in 1982, and a Custom legend)

5) He also played a Gibson 335 on at least the title track, which was suggested by Barry Becket for a different sound and was borrowed from someone down there)

There is no information on effects and amps available. Knopfler used the Music Man HD 130 212 on stage at this time, from what the ears can tell us, the Music Man might be used on Slow Train Coming, if not then a Fender seems likely.

The songs

1. Gotta serve somebody

A rather simple tune with just the chords Am, Dm, and Em. Knopfler plays a subtle rhythm riff with the neck pick-up of possibly the sunburst Telecaster (the red Strat should sound fatter due to the DiMarzio FS-1 it had in the neck position around that time). This guitar part features bits of Knopfler’s typical staccato picking on two or three strings and is worth a listen.

2. Precious Angel

This song in the key of Eb (chords are Eb, Ab, Bb, and Cm) features two acoustic rhythm guitars, both strummed with a pick. I guess Knopfler played both, or one is played by Dylan (he is credited for guitar as well in the cover notes).

There is a wonderful two-string riff that opens the song and appears between the single verses. It makes use of the Memphis Scale. It is one of my all-time favourite guitar sounds. For a long time I thought it to be the red Strat with the neck pick-up, but meanwhile I tend to believe it is the Telecaster Custom (same argument as for Gotta serve somebody, also a friend once came up with a beautiful 1967 Telecaster in Candy Apple red which had exactly the same sound). Besides the riff and Knopfler’s typical licks between Dylan’s vocal lines, there is a great solo before the last verse, and another one in the outro.

3. I believe in You

Again a strummed acoustic rhythm guitar – I guess it is Mark Knopfler, the timing is close to perfection so it must be him ;). Just like in Precious Angel a lead guitar with the neck pick-up position plays fills and a few wonderful solos. To me it seems to be the same guitar and amp as on the song before. Obviously a volume pedal is used on both songs.

4. Slow Train Coming

The lead guitar is a Gibson 335. The sound is a typical blues sound a la Albert King, but there is just a bit of subtle distortion. The song is in the key of Am and has the chords Am, Dm, Am F, Dm, Am (you will hear when the changes are, it is a really simple song). The rhythm guitar on the left channel is surely Knopfler, here it seems to be the red Strat.

5. Change your way of Thinking

This song build on Mark Knopfler’s three-string riff (over the chords Am, Dm, Em, however, all are played without thirds, see this article about the no-thirds business). Possibly this guitar is the same as on Slow Train Coming (the Es 335), however, a Telecaster with some distortion seems possible as well. The lead guitar has a similar sound, it might be the same guitar as well. Much great lead guitar, many blues and rock licks.

6. Do Right to me Baby

This is a rather hidden diamond on this album. Knopfler’s picking on the National is superb, listen to the way it blends with Pick Wither’s tasteful drums. Chords are B, E, D. The National might be open G with a capo at the 4th fret.

7. When you Gonna Wake up

Not too much guitar in this song with – again – the chords Am, Dm, and Em. The refrain-like part has a few nice D, C, G, F chords thrown in. Knopfler plays the rhythm guitar – I vote for the red Strat – on the left channel, that nicely counteracts with Becket’s keyboards on the right channel.

8. Man gave Names to all the Animals

This one sounds like a children song with a nice reggae groove. Knopfler plays a strummed acoustic reggare rhythm on the left channel.

9. When he Returns

Just piano and vocals here.

Just for the record: Three more songs were recorded on this session and made it to a single b-side or to some bootlegs. These were Ye shall be changed, Trouble in Mind, and Ain’t No Man righteous.

The CD Slow Train Coming has been available in the CBS Nice Price series for a long time, and still does not cost much. If you like early Knopfler guitar work and don’t have it, it is an absolute must have. You won’t regret it. You can follow these links to buy it directly at Amazon.

Amazon.com  . . . . . Amazon.co.uk . . . . .  Amazon.de

15 thoughts on “Mark Knopfler on Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming

  1. Hello Ingo Raven’s ^ ^
    I am a vistante of your wonderful blog.
    Like you, I am in love with a Knopfleriana work, especially anything that involves the early days of Dire Straits! (first training, but because these are the real Dire Straits for me)

    I love this stuff on the Slow Train Coming!
    This album is for me a kind of continuation of a legacy melodic existing in both the first ábuns Dire Straits, very necessary, because the guitars that Mark Knopfler used in the recordings.
    It is a very important album for me, I heard it is to have the pleasure of enjoying a perfect chemistry, Mark Knopfler + his red Fender Stratocaster + Pick Winters + Bob Dylan = Perfect Chemistry! =)

    I would like to congratulate him on his excellent work, providing rich information on your blog

    I would like to invite you to make a visit on my blog, Dire Straits Universe>> http://dsbootlegs.blogspot.com/

    Here I am making my contribution to all fans, posting Bootlegs, Videos and very few details.

    I Colecinador of material related to the DS and MK, today I have a library with more than 180 DVDs related to the DS and MK.

    I am Brazilian, I am sorry my English, I do not write very well, I hope you understand! =)

    Anything, tell me.

    A hug

    Brunno Nunes.

  2. Hello Ingo Raven’s ^ ^
    I am a vistante of your wonderful blog.
    Like you, I am in love with a Knopfleriana work, especially anything that involves the early days of Dire Straits! (first training, but because these are the real Dire Straits for me)

    I love this stuff on the Slow Train Coming!
    This album is for me a kind of continuation of a legacy melodic existing in both the first ábuns Dire Straits, very necessary, because the guitars that Mark Knopfler used in the recordings.
    It is a very important album for me, I heard it is to have the pleasure of enjoying a perfect chemistry, Mark Knopfler + his red Fender Stratocaster + Pick Winters + Bob Dylan = Perfect Chemistry! =)

    I would like to congratulate him on his excellent work, providing rich information on your blog

    I would like to invite you to make a visit on my blog, Dire Straits Universe>> dsbootlegs blogspot com

    Here I am making my contribution to all fans, posting Bootlegs, Videos and very few details.

    I Colecinador of material related to the DS and MK, today I have a library with more than 180 DVDs related to the DS and MK.

    I am Brazilian, I am sorry my English, I do not write very well, I hope you understand! =)

    Anything, tell me.

    A hug

    Brunno Nunes.

  3. Brunno Nunes, your English is excellent, I believe Ingo can understand you fully. Ingo, I want more video of your playing!!!! And the early Straits’ pictures are priceless for me, thanks very much! I’m keeping on advertising your blog here and there. Hope more fans will pay attention here.

    Wishes
    Allen

  4. Slow Train Coming is a solid Dylan album, much thanks to Knopfler. His work on the title song, Change My Way of Thinking and Precious Angel is priceless. It’s a shame most of the rest rather low-paced.

  5. Another great article, Ingo! Tanks.

    How do you know what guitars Mk brougt with him to the session? I think I read somwere, not too long ago, in a quite resent interview with MK, I think, that MK played one or some of Bob’s Strats on the Slow Train Coming album. Am I fantasizeing? Any comments?

    About the national on Do Right To Me Baby: I’ve tried both normal tuning and open G tuning, but I feel that open E makes more sense.

  6. Hi Morten, the info is from an interview with Mark in International Musician, 1980. I have never heard about using one of Dylan’s Strats, but you can never know.

  7. at Allen: thanks for promoting my blog, watch out, there will be more videos and more rare pics of early DS (I still have dozens it seems 🙂

  8. I don’t think the National was ever tuned to anything but open G, all these licks work great with a capo at 4th fret

  9. I play it open G, capo 4th, as said, thumb alternates between g and d strings, left hand frets the b and high e strings on the 7th fret, sometimes the high e string 9th fret comes in, sometimes you slide from b string 7th to b string 5th, followed by g string 7th, g string 4th (=open)

  10. I tried and you are of course right, Ingo. Open G capo 4. For me I think it worked best with 78900X as the main chord. Sounds right when I play along with the record. Fun to play!

  11. Rolling Stone, Aug. 2008: As it happened, after Dire Straits’ first hits in the U.S., one of Knopfler’s early supporters, the legendary producer Jerry Wexler, invited Knopfler to play on Dylan’s 1979 record Slow Train Coming. “I was staying in L.A. and driving over to Santa Monica every day to run down songs with Bob at his place,” Knopfler says. “There was always just the pair of us. He’d play piano, and I’d play one of his Fenders. For a guy from the north of England with one record out, it felt pretty special.”

    But of course, when time came for the recording sessions, he probably brought all the guitars you mentioned, Ingo. 🙂

  12. Great review and info Ingo. It is a terrific album, with MKs style all over it, same with Infidels. Another MK gem is of course the acoustic work on Blind Willie McTell – a legendary song.

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