Here’s a factoid that will have you on the edge of your seat, just when you think you know everything there is to know about Dire Straits and its mysterious vocalist Mark Knopfler. Despite the fact that Dire Straits are often associated with rock and roll, Mark Knopfler once collaborated with a country music legend which resulted in not just an enduring relationship but also a guitar lick that was later stolen.
Mark Knopfler sat down with Guitar magazine in 1993 to share memories of his time recording the album “Neck And Neck” with legendary Chet Atkins. The project was undertaken by Knopfler, who was already well-known in the music business, purely out of a passion for music and the opportunity to collaborate with Atkins. Through their mutual love of the instrument, the two guitar masters developed a special friendship, with Knopfler expressing his respect for Atkins and his almost limitless repertoire of guitar licks.
In this interview, Knopfler revealed a fascinating incident that occurred when they were dating. He acknowledged that he had ‘stolen’ a specific guitar lick from Atkins and had incorporated it into a Dire Straits song named ‘When It Comes To You’ from the group’s 1991 album ‘On Every Street.’ However, how did this little-known fact come to light, and what inspired this ingenious heist?
When Knopfler acknowledged that he had stolen a Chet song’s guitar lick for the song “When It Comes To You,” he wasn’t just admitting to a little instance of musical theft. Instead, he emphasized the significant influence playing with Atkins had on his development as a musician. Being with Chet taught Mark the value of maintaining one’s individuality and allowed him to take in new concepts without compromising his own.
“As soon as you play with Chet [Atkins], you realize you might as well forget trying to do Chet’s thing, so I didn’t have to practice especially for it – I just tried to be myself. Playing with Chet was a tremendous privilege because you could steal things and make them your own.
There’s a little lick on ‘When It Comes To You’ that I stole from him – we were playing around in open tuning one day, and he played this great lick. He showed it to me, and I stuck it right into that song. One of the great things about Chet is he’s got piles of these little licks. If you’re recording with him, I would just wait around until he comes up with something and then learn it from him.”
Therefore, a borrowed lick that appeared in a Dire Straits song came from an apparently innocent jam session between two musicians. It’s hardly surprise that the rocker was anxious to pick Atkins’ brain because the country legend was one of Mark’s biggest sources of inspiration.
As this story draws to a close, it’s important to reflect on the influence that partnerships like the one between Mark Knopfler and Chet Atkins may have on an artist’s creative process. The concepts and playing styles shared by these two guitar legends not only improved their individual performances, but also had a profound impact on the music they produced.