Hello there! This week’s blog entry is Walk of Life. This is a lovely, bouncy rock ‘n roll song composed by Mark Knopfler. We will start with a brief review of the career of his group Dire Straits. We will next discuss covers of Walk of Life by Shooter Jennings and Brad Paisley.
Dire Straits and Walk of Life:
We reviewed Mark Knopfler and his band Dire Straits in our blog post on the song Sultans of Swing. So here we will provide a brief history of that band.
I was driving along a highway in 1979, listening to rock music on the radio. Suddenly I heard a new song, one that I did not recognize. The singer sounded vaguely like Bob Dylan; and the electric guitar solos were riveting – like nothing I had heard before.
The song, Sultans of Swing, was creative and catchy. Mixed into the guitar licks were awesome trills and arpeggios, combined with soaring high notes. Although a rock song, the guitar solos also incorporated classical and jazz elements.
I was so entranced that I pulled over to the side of the road to hear all 5:50 of the tune. This was my first introduction to the band Dire Straits, a quartet that emerged from Newcastle, England to become one of the great rock groups of that period.
Below is the lineup of Dire Straits circa 1981. From L: Alan Clark, John Illsley, Mark Knopfler, Terry Williams, and Hal Lindes.
Sultans of Swing placed Dire Straits on the rock ‘n roll map, and they rapidly developed a cult following. Mark Knopfler followed this up with a string of songs that featured his creative and imaginative guitar work.
In addition to solos on his Fender Stratocaster, Knopfler also uses a National Guitar to great effect. At left is the image of Knopfler’s beautiful National Guitar that appears on the cover of their Brothers In Arms album.
Following their initial break-out in 1979, Dire Straits continued to be successful until 1998. The group’s biggest album was the 1985 release Brothers in Arms, which by now has sold 30 million records and spawned a string of pop hits, particularly Money for Nothing.
That album won the group two Grammy Awards and is frequently included in “all-time greatest album” lists. It is the 4th-best selling album ever in the U.K.
One of the songs on Brothers In Arms was Walk of Life. Despite the fact that it had been issued as the “B” side of the single So Far Away, Walk of Life was (re-)released as a single in 1985.
The success of this tune is somewhat surprising, since producer Neil Dorfsman urged the group to drop it from the Brothers In Arms album. However, Dorfsman was out-voted by the band.
Walk Of Life eventually reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and #2 on the U.K. lists (making it the highest-charting Dire Straits single ever in the U.K.).
The song describes a rock and roll singer, Johnny, trying his best to gain some fame. Apparently he is currently singing oldies (Be-Bop-A Lula, What’d I Say, I Got A Woman, Mack The Knife, …) and talking blues, while busking in subway tunnels.
Here comes Johnny singing oldies, goldies
Be-Bop-A-Lula, Baby What I Say
Here comes Johnny singing I Got A Woman
Down in the tunnels trying to make it pay
He got the action, he got the motion
Yeah the boy can play
Turning all the night time into the day
He do the song about the sweet loving woman
He do the song about the knife
He do the walk, he do the walk of life
The song is presented in a rockabilly style. First, here is the “officlal music video” of Walk Of Life. It accompanied the single release in 1985.
Even though this is not really a live performance, I include it for two reasons. First, the vocals are much easier to understand in this video. Secondly, for some reason the producers decided to intersperse live video of Dire Straits performing with clips from American sporting events (baseball, basketball and football).
The first 3 minutes of the song present a “blooper reel” of flubs, failures and fumbles. But the final minute includes some amazing successful plays. All of this is backed up by the wonderful peppy “Walk Of Life” cadence.
And here is Mark Knopfler in a live performance of Walk of Life.
This is from a televised BBC appearance, A Night In London, from 1996. This concert consisted of a number of Dire Straits songs, together with tunes from Mark Knopfler’s first solo album, Golden Heart.
At the time of this concert, Dire Straits had disbanded. However, a number of Mark Knopfler’s bandmates from Dire Straits appear here, including John Illsley on bass and Guy Fletcher on keyboards.
I really love the upbeat “hook” of the song. It starts with a bouncy organ solo, and then shoots right into the tune. It’s not easy to extract the lyrics from this video, but the instrumental work is first-rate. The song ends with an impressive pedal steel guitar solo from Paul Franklin. What a great pick-me-up!
Mark Knopfler originally announced that Dire Straits was breaking up in Sept. 1988. However, the band re-formed in 1991, issued one final studio album, embarked on a tour, then disbanded for good in 1995.
Since that time, Mark Knopfler has issued a number of solo albums. He continues to tour occasionally, but has stated that he has no interest in re-forming Dire Straits. Apparently he is much more interested in his newer music than in playing the old favorites. In 2008 Mark turned down a request from his long-time bass player John Illsley to re-form the band.
It’s hard for me to understand why Dire Straits has not been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Dire Straits’ music was creative, and the group sold over 100 million records. They had a number of significant hits, and their work has proved durable. It irritates me every year when I see markedly inferior groups making it into the Hall. Grrrrr.
Mark Knopfler is a terrific, unique guitarist. I saw him once with Dire Straits (Zurich, 1983) and later on in his solo career. Back in the 80s he was a frequent collaborator with Eric Clapton at various benefit concerts.
Although he has been passed over by the Rock Hall of Fame, Mark Knopfler was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 1999. Long may you run, Mark.
Shooter Jennings and Walk of Life:
Shooter Jennings is a country singer-songwriter. He was born in 1979 and is the son of Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter. In fact, as a baby Shooter traveled around in a crib in his parents’ tour bus.
At the time, Waylon Jennings was essentially inventing the “outlaw country” genre with his mates Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson.
It can’t be easy when your pop is one of the great legends of country music. Shooter was playing drums at age 5, and took up guitar at age 14. On occasion, he would play percussion in his dad’s band.
In 2001, Shooter moved from Nashville to L.A., where he fronted a hard-rock band called Stargunn. The band featured Shooter as lead singer and pianist; at different points in time they were compared to Lynyrd Skynyrd, David Bowie and Guns ‘N Roses (apparently their musical style underwent several changes).
Although Stargunn developed quite a following, they never managed to score a record contract. So in 2003, Shooter disbanded the group and set off on a solo career. Below is a photo of Shooter Jennings in 2007.
Shooter assembled a backing band called The .357s. The group consisted of Leroy Powell on guitar, Bryan Keeling on drums, Ted Kamp on bass and Robby Turner on pedal steel guitar.
Like his father Waylon, Shooter’s music basically straddled the line between country and rock ‘n roll. In 2005 Shooter did sign a record contract with Universal South records. Later that year, Shooter Jennings and the .357s released their first album, Put the “O” Back in Country.
That album contained the single Fourth of July. It peaked at #22 on the Billboard Hot Country songs charts; this has been Shooter’s only song to make the top 40 in that playlist. However, by now Shooter Jennings has released six albums, plus some additional EPs.
Here is Shooter Jennings with the music video for his cover of Walk of Life. The premise is that Shooter and his band have set up in a convenience store. We are regaled with some hi-jinks (distracted and horny cashier, attractive women, shop-lifters, etc) while the boys are playing this song.
This song appeared on Shooter’s third album, the 2007 release The Wolf. It doesn’t take much to convert Walk of Life to a country tune; the original is pretty close to a country song, anyway. This cover is heavy on pedal steel guitar, while Shooter riffs through the vocals.
In 2009 Shooter left Universal Records, and changed the name of his backing band from The .357s to Hierophant (your word of the day: original meaning “a priest in ancient Greece,” nowadays “an expositor or advocate”).
Anyway, with backing from Hierophant Shooter’s musical style took a turn towards the hard-rock genre. Since then he has continued to issue albums and EPs. He is still playing mid-size clubs on the “outlaw country” circuit; he occasionally appears at a club, The Bluebird, in my hometown of Bloomington, IN.
In addition to his solo music career, Shooter Jennings has appeared in various movies. In particular, he played his dad in the 2005 Johnny Cash – June Carter biopic Walk The Line. Since 2005, Shooter has also hosted the satellite radio program “Shooter Jennings’ Electric Rodeo” on Sirius XM Outlaw Country channel.
It’s not easy to carve out a successful musical career. Being the son of a legendary musical figure has its advantages, but at the same time one will constantly be compared with the famous parent.
I like Shooter Jennings and wish him all the best. And I’ll try to catch his act next time he comes through Bloomington.
Brad Paisley and Walk of Life:
Brad Paisley is a country music superstar singer-songwriter. He was born in 1972 in Glen Dale, West Virginia. Brad’s inspirational figure was his grandfather, who gave Brad his first guitar when he was age 8.
At age 10 Brad was already performing at his church. When he was in junior high, Brad performed for a local Rotary Club. One of the members of the audience was a Wheeling, WV disc jockey, who invited Brad to participate on the Jamboree U.S.A. program.
This was a weekly live country radio concert broadcast over the 50,000-watt country-music station WWVA. After Grand Ole Opry, Jamboree was the oldest nationally-broadcast country program. After his first appearance, Brad was named to the weekly lineup, which gave him valuable exposure.
The photo below shows Brad Paisley performing at the 44th annual Country Music Association (CMA) show in Nov. 2010.
Although Brad’s early successes were mainly as a songwriter, pretty soon he began to score his own country hits. In 2001, Paisley received the CMA Horizon Award, and was named “best new male vocalist” by the Academy of Country Music.
That same year, Brad Paisley was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry. This was a clear indication that he had reached superstar status. At the time, at 28 years of age Paisley was the youngest person ever inducted into the Opry.
One does not get chosen for the Opry without being a first-rate musician. As we will see, in addition to being an accomplished songwriter and one of the biggest country tour headliners as a performer, Brad Paisley is also an excellent guitarist.
Here is Brad Paisley in a live performance of Walk Of Life. This took place during Paisley’s 2006 Rolling Thunder tour.
As we said earlier, Mark Knopfler’s original version of this song was performed in rockabilly style, so it easily translates to a country song. Here Brad replaces the keyboards in the Dire Straits version with an electric violin.
I have to apologize for the truly crap audio and video here; it was obviously shot on someone’s cell phone, but was the best I could obtain. Paisley shows off some impressive riffs on his signature Fender Telecaster guitar, and there is also an enjoyable bit where Paisley and the fiddle player trade licks.
This song was apparently an encore at Paisley’s concert. At the finish, Brad makes his exit while the rest of the band finishes off the set. To add insult to injury, the video abruptly breaks off right in the middle of a rollicking steel guitar solo by Randle Currie.
Brad Paisley’s career has been basically one long story of success and achievement. Every one of his albums has been certified “Gold” or higher. In addition,
He has scored 32 top 10 singles on the US Billboard Country Airplay chart, 19 of which have reached number 1 … Paisley has sold over 12 million albums and won three Grammy Awards, 14 Academy of Country Music Awards, 14 Country Music Association Awards, and two American Music Awards.
Brad Paisley shows every sign of continuing his remarkable success in country music, and remaining at the top of his game. At one point, he had ten consecutive single records hit #1 on the country music singles charts. Quite an impressive career, Brad.