Jack Thomas Sonni (65) is an American musician, writer, and former best known as “the other guitarist” in Dire Straits, during the band’s Brothers in Arms era and tour. He was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania, USA.
During his early life and education, Jack learned piano, and trumpet, and later to play on guitar. In the fall of 1977, Jack went to work in Manhattan. Later in 1978, he started working at the newly opened Rudy’s Music, owned by Rudy Pensa, where he met members of Dire Straits. First, he met with David Knopfler and then with Mark Knopfler.
In 1984 Jack was a part of the recording session for Brothers in Arms album, as well as he played guitar synthesizer on “The Man’s Too Strong.” Sonni was also on the stage during the Dire Straits’ world tour BiA in 1985-86.
In addition, today we would like to share an interesting interview from Jack Sonni dated December 2010, about his life as a musician and his thoughts on success. This interview was done by the Norwegian Fan Club for Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits and their early years.
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, and my dad was always listening to Sinatra, country, and early rock n roll. My first instrument was piano at age 8. Then I played trumpet for three 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 and then in bands playing school dances. After one year I left college 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/Elliot Randall, an incredible guitarist best known for his work w/Steely Dan. Moving to NYC in 1977, I pursued session work and played club gigs for the next ten years.”
You joined Mark Knopfler and the band in the mid-eighties. Can you tell us how you got that chance?
“I was working in a small but real guitar shop in Manhattan for a few years and Mark walked in one day. He was in town starting to record “Making Movies” and 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 my playing with his band was never discussed. It wasn’t until December of 1985 that he asked me to come to Monserrat, finish the album, and 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 its finest. Of course, I would have enjoyed being part of the financial rewards of that success but that was not to be.”
What are 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 and playing with Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, and Bob Dylan certainly have to rank as highlights!”
The tour ended in the Spring of 1986. Can you give us an into what happened with you after the last show in Sydney, Australia?
“I stood on the steps of the hotel and waved goodbye 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 Mark as a “benevolent dictator.” He allowed the musicians to contribute ideas and help shape the arrangements. Keyboardist, Alan Clark 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,” and “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.”
In the Autumn of 2010, you joined some of the old band members to play a gig with Dire Straits tunes in Rome, Italy. How was the spirit on stage compared to earlier? And do you ever hope for a real Dire Straits reunion?
“It was a great time, and 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, Christ White, and Phil Palmer in the very near future, who knows what will come out of that.”
You have been in the music for many years, and you have felt the taste of being famous. What kind of advice would you give to young artists, and 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 and 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 and fame have ruined many careers and lives. How artists get ripped off by record companies and 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 longtime 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 and 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, thank you very much Jack it means a lot to us. Last question, do you have any memories from your visit(s) in Norway?
“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 and would love to return sometime soon.”