Jack Sonni played guitar in Dire Straits during the Brothers in arms period, both on the record and on the stage during the band’s world tour in 1985-86. In this interview, dated Descember 2010, Jack speaks to the Norwegian Fanclub for Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits about his early years, his life as a musician and his thoughts on the success, and also his upcoming book «Rock’n Rolled».
Today, most people know you as one of the guitarists in Dire Straits, but can you tell us a bit about your early years? When did you first pick up the guitar?
- Music has been part of my life as long as I can remember. My parents loved music. My mother played piano. My dad was always listening to Sinatra, Big Bands, Country & early rock n roll. My first instrument was piano at age 8, then I played trumpet for 3 years before finally getting my first guitar when I was 14. Once I picked it up, I never put it down. I started playing in front of people straight away – in church then coffeehouses & then in bands playing school dances. I left college after one year to attend music school. After graduating I played in a local band doing 6 nights a week on a club circuit performing everything from jazz standards to Top 40 hits.
I began studying in NYC w/Elliott Randall, incredible guitarist best known for his work w/Steely Dan. Moving to NYC in 1977, I pursued session work & played club gigs for the next ten years..
You joined Mark and the band in the mid-eighties. Can you tell us how you got that chance?
- I was working in a small but really great guitar shop in Manhattan for a few years & Mark walked in one day. He was in town starting to record “Making Movies” & was looking for a new guitar. We became fast friends and spent quite a lot of time together over the next four years. The subject of me playing with his band was never discussed. It wasn’t until Dec of 1985 that he asked me to come to Monserrat, finish the album & go out on tour with him.
Brothers in arms is without doubt one of the most successful albums of all time. How is it to be a part of such success?
- I’m extremely proud of being part of that album. Besides being a commercial success, it is a fantastic artistic achievement. The tour supporting that album was really the band at it’s finest. Of course, I would have enjoyed being part of the financial rewards of that success but that was not to be.
What is your best memories from the making of the Brothers in arms album and the following world tour?
- You’ll have to wait for the book for those as there are way too many!! Meeting & playing with Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton & Bob Dylan certainly have to rank as highlights!!
The tour ended in the Spring of 86. Can you give us an insight in what happened with you after the last show in Sidney?
- I stood on the steps of the hotel and waved good-bye to the entire band as they left for the airport to fly back to the UK. I stayed in Australia and went surfing! Of course, I had no idea that was the last time I would see the band.
Mark Knopfler is often described as a person who knows what he wants from the musicians he is working with. How will you describe his personality, and what kind of relationship do you have with him today?
- In an MTV interview, I once described MK as a “benevolent dictator.” He allowed the musicians to contribute ideas and help shape the arrangements. Keyboardist, Alan Clarke had a significant impact on the sound and direction of Dire Straits over the years. I was given a lot of freedom to add parts and play – especially on “Wild West End,” “Ride Across The River” & “Two Young Lovers”. I haven’t spoken to Mark in something like 15 years. Again, you’ll have to wait for the book for details on all that!
This autumn you joined some of the old band members to play a gig with Dire Straits tunes in Rome. How was the spirit on stage compared to earlier? Was the magic still there? And do you ever hope for a real Dire Straits reunion?
- It was a great time. There’s a piece I wrote about it on my website which sums up a lot of what I was feeling. In many ways, although it was only 4 of us, as if no time had past at all & there was plenty of magic once the rust got knocked off!
A reunion? Can’t see it but stranger things happen. I do have plans to play more with Alan Clark, Chris White & Phil Palmer in the very near future…who knows what will come out of that!!
As we mentioned earlier, most people connect you with Dire Straits, but through the years you have worked with other artists as well. Can you tell us a bit about that?
- It’s funny but while I played & jammed with many incredible musicians over the years, the list of those I ‘worked” with is short. I realized after a few years of chasing session work in NYC that what I really wanted to do was be in a band. Just as I did when first saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. So I spent much more of my career fronting and playing with my own band. Which is why I was working in the guitar shop – to support myself while trying to get my own record deal.
You have been in the music business for many years, and you have felt the taste of being famous. What kind of advice would you give to young artists/bands today?
- Do it for the love of playing and not for fame or wealth. Very few get lucky to experience what I did let alone reach the success & riches of a Mark Knopfler. So have fun above all. If you’re going to pursue a career in this business, learn your history. The lessons are all there. Endless tales of how newfound success & fame have ruined many careers and lives. How artists get ripped off by record companies & managers. Pay attention. It’s a business, first and foremost. Treat it like one and you’ll do fine.
And songwriting is where the money is so get cracking on those hits!!
Being long time fans of Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits, it is great to listen to the audio download from the first chapters of your upcoming book “Rock n Rolled”, getting the stories told from the inside. What was your motivation for writing this book, and when will it be released?
- Writing was, and is, my first love. Long before touching an instrument of any kind, I read non-stop & when asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, the answer was always, “Sit around a palm tree and write books.” Which is exactly what I did when I wrote this one. I lived on the beach in Baja Mexico and wrote under a palm tree. I am very grateful to have seen several of my dreams come true.
Finally, Jack, since we represent the Norwegian fanclub for Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits, do you have any memories from your visit(s) in Norway?
- Oh this is a tough one & a bit embarrassing! We toured Norway – and most of Scandinavia – in the winter and we did mostly one night in each town. I remember it being dark and then kind of gray. I rarely saw anything other than the hotel, the dressing rooms and the stage. Night after night. So I cannot honestly tell you much about my time in Norway – although some of the bus rides from city to city passed through some beautiful countryside. BUT, I do remember meeting some stunningly gorgeous women while I was there & would LOVE to return sometime soon!!
Thank you very much, Jack, it means a lot to us…