In a 1979 interview in “Guitar Player” magazine, Dire Straits front man Mark Knopfler summed up his self-taught guitar style to Joel A. Siegel. “I picked up the basics from people like the Shadows, the Everly Brothers, Duane Eddy, Rick Nelson, and Elvis…. I was into playing American music.” Elvis Presley influenced many young musicians coming of age in the 1960s, even those across the Atlantic in England, and the King of Rock and Roll’s work and persona continue to fascinate Knopfler into the 21st century.
Knopfler’s first brush with the King occurred when Phil Lynott (of Thin Lizzy fame) penned a tune about Elvis’ death for his 1980 solo album “Solo in Soho.” The song, entitled “King’s Call,” featured the same style of guitar playing found on the first two Dire Straits album. Knopfler is heavily featured in the music video for the song, clad in leather pants and wailing away on his famous red Fender Strat. In a 2001 interview for 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] was such a shame; he was a sweet guy.” Even as recently as 2006, the Austin Chronicle (an alternative Texas newspaper) was praising the “neon licks” heard on the track.
In 1991, Dire Straits’ last album “On Every Street” opened with a rocker of a tune, “Calling Elvis.” The song was also used to open each concert during that particular 91-92 tour. Numerous references to song titles such flow through the lyrics, such as:
Oh love me tender
Baby don’t be cruel
Return to sender
Treat me like a fool
Ironically enough, the song itself wasn’t inspired by Presley, but actually an odd turn of phrase by a family member. During a radio interview on BBC 1, Knopfler explained, “My brother-in-law happened to say one day that trying to call your sister was like trying to call Elvis. And that was it. That’s all it was.”
In 2004, Knopfler continued to play tribute with a quiet song called “Back to Tupelo.” Perhaps more about Elvis’s infamous manager, Colonel Tom Parker, it tells the story of Elvis at a crossroads. In a promotional interview that year, Knopfler explains, “I suppose I realized gradually as a kid that Elvis wanted to be a Hollywood star as well as a singer. I didn’t realize quite how badly. It surprised me to learn that there are music managers today who admire his manager, Colonel Parker. And thousands of youngsters today want to be famous, often just to be famous, probably more than at any time in the past.”
There may be more song references and tributes in store as the years progress. Elvis may have left the building, but he certainly hasn’t left the creative mind of Mark Knopfler.