MK guitar style and licks

Dire Straits Eastbound Train – Rhythm riff, licks and solo explained

Eastbound Train was one of Dire Straits’ first songs. It was recorded as a demo before the first album was recorded, and it is the song of the earliest Dire Straits live recording that exists (from the Hope & Anchor, London, December 1977). This live version was released as the b-side of the single Sultans of Swing in 1978, but with exception of the demo (that has a totally different groove) it was never recorded in the studio. Eastbound Train was an encore in most Dire Straits concerts between 1977 and 1979, but it was never played again later.

It is a simple boogie groove in the key of E major, and features not only a cool rhythm guitar riff played by Mark Knopfler, but also a superb solo. The chords are all E in the verses (only in the first verse it changes to D for four bars), and a chorus-like part over four bars A and four bars B.

The solo is over a standard 12-bars blues scheme (E E E E A A E E B B E E), repeated three times.

The following video explains basically all different parts and shows some variations for the solo. The way I play it is rather a mix of different live versions, a few details are possibly my own creations. There are enough videos on youtube showing Dire Straits playing the song if you are not familiar with it.

Since I still experience sound artefacts (a strange wobbling bass sound) in videos at high resolution on youtube (before I upload them they sound alright), I put in the standard video quality version. You can watch a high-resolution version directly at youtube (click here).

There are two more articles about Eastbound Train in this blog (see the list of related articles below) that analyze the opening chord and the ‘train chord’ in the solo.

12 thoughts on “Dire Straits Eastbound Train – Rhythm riff, licks and solo explained

  1. Hi!

    Another good video, lesson and playing! A pair of questions please: Are you playing through the vintage Dan Armstrong Orange Squeezer compressor and a Fender Deluxe Reverb Blackface? The sounds you get on your videos from the rosewood red Fender Strat and this Squier are really close to the MK sounds on the two first albums and live gigs from 1978 to 1980.

    Which delay are you using? It sounds really warm. I used to play through a EH Deluxe Memory Man and now I am playing through the new Maxon AD999 but this one is really nice!



  2. No Orange Squeezer here, the compression comes only from the digicam (they all compress the sound to keep the level constant).
    I played through the Morley volume pedal into the green MXR analog delay, into a Fender Pro Reverb. The MXR is hard to get but there is a new one out (the 169 carbon copy), not really a reissue. I haven’t tried it, maybe it comes near, can’t tell. Fact is that the MXR sounds different than all others I have heard so far.

  3. nice lesson but since im kinda of a beginner, i have problems doing the boogie sound, you think you can write down a small tab and perhaps post it here on the site?

  4. some licks of the solo in Eastbound are reproduced in the solo of Badges, stickers etc…and in the Real Roadrunning version of Sonny Liston.
    A particular lick which sounds jazzy-honkytonk-rag-boogie, you know what I mean 😉

  5. I prefer the studio version of Eastbound train (maybe because it’s the first version I’ve heard, the 2nd one was Barbarella’s)
    It’s always interesting how a song can change so quickly : the demo version is recorded on 9/11/77 (according to TK) and just one month after (Hope & Anchor, 9/12/77) they’ve already decided to play it differently.

    Same for Setting me up : there’s no so much time between the demo (I guess played on the LP special) and the Talking Heads tour in january 78, where the version was quite similar to the album one (the only we know is Leeds 30/1, but we can guess it was played this way all the month)

    in Oldfield book, the author talks about “Wild West end with Mark on national steel”, so the 77 gigs featured this song with Mark playing the acoustic part which was later reproduced on the ablum (left channel), although the july demo version is more like usual 78-79 live versions, with lead licks on strat.

    And last but not least : evolution of Sultans between july 77 to one year later. (I know this article is about Eastbound, but I don’t know here to post this):

    july 77 :
    – “chorus” pattern : the licks are inverted compared to later versions,
    – first solo: the lick on the F chord is the same as on the album version (you know, this lick that imitate the pedal steel, which Ingo explained in the bending strings article)
    – end solo : shorter as on the album version (less few bars before arpeggios)

    Leeds 01/78
    – “chorus” pattern: the licks in the same order compared to later versions, so change compared to earlier version
    – first solo : no change, the lick on the F chord is the same as on the album version
    – end solo : many bars added, but no the ones we usually know, he seems to search things

    Chester 19/04/78 :
    version quite similar to the album version (both first and end solos)

    Pathways studios 20/04/1978 (single) :
    – first solo : no change, always the same “pedal steel lick” on the F chord
    – end solo : first time he introduce the few bars just after the “descending scale” and just before the arpeggios. He will keep this bars until nowadays. So they appeared on this single version, because they didn’t exist the day before ! (the date of recording the single came from diary on neck & I guess)

    Barbarella’s 4/07/78
    and then finally the “fast” lick on the F chord of the first solo ! first time I know he did it, because I don’t have boots between april and july 78, but maybe he did it before ?
    I guess Ingo can tell us 🙂

  6. Stupid me !

    of course he did this fast lick before july : on 15/05 at the Old Grey Whistle test

    So he changed the first solo between end of april and begin of may 1978.

    And so what ? yes nothing, only the kinf od détail that I’m interesting in…. 😉

  7. hallo,
    Nice playing! I like Dire Straits since i was a kid and i really like this rythm. I play guitar for a year now and only understand tabs, so can you please mail me the tabs if you got them??
    I really want to cover this song with the band,

    thank you

    gr danny

  8. Sorry, I don’t have tabs, never use them since they are mostly wrong anyway. It is better to rely on your own ears and eyes. This becomes much easier with some practice.

  9. wel this sounds very good, i would like to know, if you’re guitar go’s clean in to the amp..
    i see a lot of people wou can create a real similar sound to MK.
    myself i play a Fender USA Stratocaster, over a Fame T64RS amp (hybrid) but i never seem to get just the right tone…


  10. I’d like to check my ending chords with yours (the train sound). I have been learning the solo from Paris 1978..awesome…..he doesn’t even play like that anymore…where’d he get the inspiration to figure it out and understand the patterns of the guitar so well..darn!

  11. You’re so awesome! I don’t think I have read a single thing like this before.

    So good to discover another person with a few genuine thoughts on this issue.
    Seriously.. thank you for starting this up. This website is one thing that is required on the
    internet, someone with a bit of originality!

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