Mark Knopfler, of Dire Straits fame, and Nashville seem to have a reciprocal relationship going on. As a child, Mark idolized the late guitar genius Chet Akins (one of Nashville’s most prolific musicians and producers), and in the mid-1980s they even became friends and recording partners. Their album “Neck and Neck” was a quiet hit on the country charts and they remained close until Atkins death in June 2001.
Through this friendship grew many others. Award-winning pedal steel guitarist Paul Franklin and country superstar Vince Gill recorded the last Dire Straits CD with Knopfler, 1991’s “On Every Street,” and Franklin actually toured with the band during that final concert tour in 1991 and 1992.
From there, Knopfler began his solo career in 1996, performing with Nashville session players such as guitarist Richard Bennett (perhaps best known for co-writing the Neil Diamond hit “Forever in Blue Jeans”), bassist Glenn Worf, pianist Jim Cox and drummer Chad Cromwell. These men became the core of the 96ers, Knopfler’s recording and touring band, and they helped record all four of Knopfler’s albums: “Golden Heart,” “Sailing to Philadelphia,” “The Ragpicker’s Dream” and “Shangri-La.” Matt Rollins, former keyboardist with Lyle Lovett and His Large Band, joined Knopfler on tour in 2005.
In 2006, Knopfler released a long-anticipated duets album with famed country artist Emmylou Harris, called “All the Roadrunning.” Recorded over a period of seven years, the tracks feature two written by Harris and the rest by Knopfler. A tour followed in May and June of 2006 which included many of the musicians mentioned above as well as Stuart Duncan, known on Music Row for his amazing fiddling skills.
Several of Knopfler’s songs have been covered by country artists. John Anderson’s version of the never-recorded Dire Straits tune “I Think I Love You Too Much” is just one example. Randy Travis’ “Are We In Trouble Now,” from Knopfler’s “Golden Heart” album is another. Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “The Bug,” The Judds’ “Water of Love,” and Highway 101’s “Setting Me Up” are all penned by Knopfler and originally recorded with Dire Straits. Even Johnny Cash was known to have sung “The Next Time I’m Around,” the final track from the Chet Atkins duet album, live in concert.
There’s no sign that the love affair between Mark Knopfler and Nashville will stop any time soon.