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Dire Straits: Mark Knopfler’s Fascination with Elvis Presley

In a 1979 interview in “Guitar Player” magazine, Dire Straits frontman Mark Knopfler summarized his self-taught guitar style to Joel A. Siegel. “I took the basics from people like the Shadows, the Everly Brothers, Duane Eddy, Rick Nelson and Elvis…I loved playing American music.” Elvis Presley influenced many young musicians in the 1960s, even across the Atlantic in England, and the King of Rock and Roll’s work and persona continue to fascinate Knopfler in the 21st century.

Knopfler’s first brush with the King came when Phil Lynott (of Thin Lizzy fame) wrote a tune about Elvis’ death for his 1980 solo album Solo in Soho. “King’s Call” features the same guitar playing style as the first two Dire Straits albums. Knopfler is strong in the song’s music video, wearing leather pants and crying over his famous red Fender Strat. In a 2001 interview with Vintage Guitar Magazine, Willie G. Moseley called the song “one of the best Elvis tribute songs ever recorded,” to which Knopfler replied, “I really enjoyed hanging out with Phil. [His death] it was such a shame; he was a sweet guy.” Even in 2006, the Austin Chronicle (an alternative Texas newspaper) praised the “neon licks” heard on the field.

In 1991, Dire Straits’ last album, On Every Street, opened with a rocker, Calling Elvis. The song was also used to open all the concerts of the 91-92 tour. There are many references to song titles in the lyrics, such as:

Oh, love me tenderly

Baby don’t be cruel

Back to the sender

Treat me like a fool

Ironically, the song itself wasn’t inspired by Presley, but a strange twist from a family member. In a radio interview with BBC 1, Knopfler explained: “My brother-in-law happened to say one day that it was like he was trying to call his sister. And that was it. That was it.”

In 2004, Knopfler continued the tribute with the quiet song “Back to Tupelo”. Perhaps more about Elvis’s infamous manager, Colonel Tom Parker, it tells the story of Elvis’ crossroads. In a promotional interview that year, Knopfler said, “I think I gradually realized at a young age that Elvis wanted to be a Hollywood star as well as a singer. I didn’t know how badly. I was surprised to learn that there are music managers today who admire his manager , Colonel Parker. And today thousands of young people want to be famous, often just for the sake of being famous, probably more than at any time in the past.”

There may be more song vouchers and tributes to come as the years go by. Elvis may have left the building, but he certainly hasn’t left the creative mind of Mark Knopfler.

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