1. Please take 30 seconds to register your free account to remove most ads, post topics, make friends, earn reward points at our store, and more!  

John Illsley (Dire Straits)

Discussion in 'Bassists [BG]' started by EdwardofHuncote, Jun 10, 2014.


  1. EdwardofHuncote

    EdwardofHuncote I Still Dream of Jeannie Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    Southwest Virginia
    One of the groups I'm playing in recently started covering a couple Dire Straits classics... being a child of the 70's & 80's the songs' basslines were familiar, but I'd never known who played them. (hat-tip Wikipedia)

    A name search on TalkBass netted a dozen or more "underrated bassist" threads where he was mentioned, but very little else.

    Per the TB mods request, I won't post videos here, but this guy is highly recommended study if you're looking for an influence that's a rock-solid, no-flash, holding-time type of bassist.
     
    TuneIn likes this.
  2. Alex J

    Alex J

    Jul 5, 2011
    UK
    Great player, with some really interesting lines. And gorgeous tone (flats on a jazz bass, I believe).
     
  3. John Illsley is (and has been, since 1978) one of my favorite bassists. His interplay with Mark Knopfler (my favorite guitarist), Pick Withers (one of my favorite drummers), and David Knopfler/Hal Lindes is nothing short of "perfect". Just like Ringo Starr and other musicians, he is highly underrated for his feel and playing "in the pocket". Technical playing skills are fine, but the ability to "groove" in a band setting is sometimes overlooked. When Dire Straits first album came out in 1978 it was unlike anything else that was out there.
     
    Eikari, kjones and Linnin like this.
  4. I agree totally. A "group" effort.
     
  5. garp

    garp

    Feb 7, 2009
    Connecticut USA
    Much of his stuff was indeed recorded with a Jazz, but also check out his tone on the live Alchemy double album, which is all Wal.
     
  6. Alex J

    Alex J

    Jul 5, 2011
    UK
    No Kidding? Must...get...Wal....
     
  7. MartinG1957

    MartinG1957 You can never have too many bones....

    Aug 5, 2011
    Dublin, Ireland
    John Illsley is and was a superb bassist - never flashy just always "right" for the song.
    One of my favourites and in fact was just listening to "Brothers In Arms" with Mrs G the other night and commenting on just how superbly well Illsley crafts the bass parts to be such an integral part of the songs.
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2014
    EdwardofHuncote likes this.
  8. Rune Bivrin

    Rune Bivrin Supporting Member

    Oct 2, 2006
    Huddinge, Sweden
    Preach it, brother!

    John Illsley's playing on the first Dire Straits album was definitely what made me think: "Bass! Hmmm...", even if it it took many years until I finally became a pass player myself.

    He, Paul McCartney, John Deacon of Queen, Rutger Gunnarson of ABBA and Bruce Thomas of "Elvis Costello and the Attractions" have shaped my playing more than any other.

    The cool thing about Mark Knopfler's songs is how they completely resist over-playing on the bass, and John Illsley was definitely THE bassist for them.
     
  9. EdwardofHuncote

    EdwardofHuncote I Still Dream of Jeannie Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    Southwest Virginia
    That's exactly what I was thinking when I posted this the other day. Illsley is my favorite kind of bassist... just doing your job. :cool:

    Wonder what he's up to these days?
     
  10. MartinG1957

    MartinG1957 You can never have too many bones....

    Aug 5, 2011
    Dublin, Ireland
    sub-commandante likes this.
  11. Honch

    Honch Guest

    Sep 7, 2006
    I am glad to see different and opposing views, from mine. I saw them live in their heydays, with "original" line up with brother Dave Knopfler on rhythm guitar. I found him - John Illsley- relentlessly boring LIVE at least. Not that he did his job badly, and played not one note too much or too little. Such kind of music, may require the workhorse ethic of "K.I.S.S." on the bass but I have have seen and heard others of the same kind of music that pulls it off much better.

    Not that it had to swing, or make it lively, but I regard him the same as a special Jeffrey Hammond-Hammond of Jethro Tull. If he happened to play one note that wasn't rehearsed he wouldn't find his way back. It wasn't really his thing. I feel the same of Bill Wyman of the Stones. It should just be that way. I've always felt Illsley's playing on the wrong side of "hearing the struggle" a bit too much. I e that when he played, always, it sounded like he had to fight it, even years into his playing. It always sounded - to my ears - like it didn't come easy/naturally to him, no matter how simple his playing. After Dave left, Mr Knopfler ran his band like it was supposed to be from the start on, a solo act. Maybe it turned out as a solo act anyway, like it should've been in the first place. He kept Illsley for the "2 members must be original then it's the same band" principle.

    Of course, it is always this "square" or "almost-muff" playing that can make up a whole bands identity/integrity and make it charming in the end.

    Finally, I am glad to see others view him differently.
     
  12. EdwardofHuncote

    EdwardofHuncote I Still Dream of Jeannie Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    Southwest Virginia
    Outstanding - Glad to see that!

    I'm working on a cover of "Romeo & Juliet" this evening, and been dissecting what he did on bass... again, not the most technically difficult lines, but very precise. "Heavy Fuel" is fun too... a couple cool fills in it.
     
  13. SanDiegoHarry

    SanDiegoHarry Banned Supporting Member

    Aug 11, 2008
    San Diego, CA
    I *never* liked his tone, per se, but he plays pretty much exactly the right bits to fit the song - so who cares about tone! It also helps that the drummer is top-notch.
     
  14. EdwardofHuncote

    EdwardofHuncote I Still Dream of Jeannie Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    Southwest Virginia
    Just realized the bass line Illsley is playing in the breakdown part of "Sultans of Swing" is uncannily similar to McVie's famous line from the chorus of "Go Your Own Way". Even in the same key... (well not really, one is in D min. and the other is in F but the changes are the same)

    "Go Your Own Way" was released in January 1977, while "Sultans of Swing" came out in May 1978... but I wonder which was written first, or if either influenced the other. I gotta think Illsley & McVie were at least aware of each other... especially being the good Englishmen they are.

    Judge for yourself:



     
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2014
    thunderstation likes this.
  15. capcom

    capcom

    Mar 23, 2005
    I definitely recommend listening to "Your Latest Trick" and "Ride Across the River" songs form "Brothers in Arms" album. For me it's most tasty and mature kind of playing.



     
  16. blue4

    blue4

    Feb 3, 2013
    St. Louis area
    With the exception of "All the Roadrunning", I always thought Mark's best era was with Dire Straits. I, maybe mistakenly, attributed that to playing with an actual band instead of solo. IME, when someone goes solo it usually gets worse. DG and RW from Pink Floyd, Sting from the Police, etc.
     
  17. lokikallas

    lokikallas Supporting Member

    Aug 15, 2010
    los angeles
    I learned "the waterline" recently for a band and now I really enjoy playing that song. Very fluid, swift and graceful bass line. It comes out great on my fretless.
     
    EdwardofHuncote likes this.
  18. EdwardofHuncote

    EdwardofHuncote I Still Dream of Jeannie Supporting Member

    Aug 21, 2013
    Southwest Virginia
    ^ darn good example of why Illsley's playing style appeals to me... so smooth, unforced.
     
  19. drumsnbass

    drumsnbass Bassic User

    Dec 13, 2004
    Phoenix AZ area
    Got that song stuck in my head right now! Found some tab, but wondering if you have "notes" version to reference?
     
  20. lokikallas

    lokikallas Supporting Member

    Aug 15, 2010
    los angeles
    I might have a hand written "chart" that I used when transcribing the song, but I might have just learned that one and commit it to memory. The only tricky part is the last phrase of every verse. I took a while with Jamup to figure that part out mostly accurately. I fudge it a bit I'm sure, as I don't sweat the exact versions of every little note. When it's just one of many songs in a set to learn, I kind of just learn it "good enough" then move on. The bridge is a little tricky as it kind of dips into the riff from "sultans".
     

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.