The Unexpected Career Jack Sonni Pursued After Dire Straits Broke Up In 1988

When Dire Straits hit the radio and UK tour scene in 1977, they sounded as distinctive and fresh as they do now. Led by the unique, virtuosic finger-picked stylings of guitarist and singer Mark Knopfler, the band exploded into the stratosphere of success with barely a pause, going from newly formed to selling "eight million [records] within nine months" in 1978, less than a year after their creation, according to their booking agent at the time, Ed Bicknell (via Louder Sound). Singles like "Sultans of Swing" segued to "Romeo and Juliet," "Brothers in Arms," "Money for Nothing," and more, and the band wound up selling nearly 80 million albums across only six studio releases, per Bestselling Albums.

Dire Straits was two-thirds family at the time of their creation. Mark was the reluctant songwriting frontman, while his brother and guitarist Dave and bassist John Illsey "pretty much dragged him to the altar all the way," per Louder Sound. Only a few years after skyrocketing to success, however, Dave had already had enough. As he says on Ultimate Guitar, "We were all burnt out, too many gigs, too much work, too much stress, not enough downtime." 

Guitarist Jack Sonni subbed in for Dave the year Dave left in 1980, and stayed through till 1988. After that, per Deadline, Sonni left the band and took a surprising career turn into marketing, but stayed connected to music through Line 6, an instrument and audio equipment manufacturer, and as a vice-president at Guitar Center.

From performer to marketer

Jack Sonni stayed with Dire Straits through the '80s, and within the band's catalog, featured most prominently on 1985's "Brothers in Arms," joining the band in the studio to record parts such as the guitar synthesizer for tracks like "The Man's Too Strong." He also joined the band for live performances like 1985's now legendary Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium, and was generally regarded as the "other guitar player in Dire Straits," as Deadline puts it. As a person who grew up with a love of music, however, and who fell into his role with the Dire Straits through a separate band, The Leisure Class, Sonni by all accounts seemed completely happy just to keep music in his orbit.

Billboard says that Sonni veered away from live performances in 1988 following the birth of his twin daughters. Instead, he turned to the business side of music and by 2001 became Vice President of Marketing Communications at Guitar Center, where he oversaw "advertising, promotions, public relations, and corporate branding strategies," amongst other duties, as an archived page at Creative Mag recounts. While not as flashy as jamming with a world-class rock band, judging by Sonni's public presence on sites like Facebook, he certainly looked like he was making the most of things. He even got back on stage with multiple bands.

From marketer to writer to performer again

Jack Sonni didn't only work as a marketer at some prominent music-related businesses like Guitar Center, however. As says, he was "writer-in-residence and house manager" at the Noepe Center for Literary Arts in Massachusetts. In addition to all this, he got back to performing with his original, pre-Dire Straits band, The Leisure Class, as videos on YouTube show. He also joined and performed with Dire Straits Legacy, a band composed of musicians who worked with the band over its 15-year lifespan. 

On top of all this, Sonni maintained a personal website that contains some of his writing and links to his music, and also offered guitar lessons with titles like, "A Mindful Approach to Mindless Performance — Zen Art of Rhythm Guitar." His website's bio says that Sonni "... has taken to heart the reality in the hard-learned lesson that Life is Short. He has embraced a philosophy to Live Well and Live Now in pursuit of creating memorable moments with friends and family. And he is one who knows the supreme importance of hugging them while you can ... because Tomorrow Never Knows."

Apropos of these words, Sonni died on August 31, 2023, for reasons undisclosed. The official Dire Straits Twitter account posted a simple message about Sonni's death and accompanying black-and-white photo, while on Facebook, Dire Straits Legacy posted a tribute and goodbye message as well: "Our beloved Jack has left a void in our heart and soul... we will miss you so much, you are forever with us."