Local Music

Published on August 31st, 2023 | by TLV News


Taylor, Mississippi Guitarist Jack Sonni, Formerly of Dire Straits, Passes Away at 68

Jack Sonni & The Leisure Class live at City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi, June 18, 2022. Photograph by Newt Rayburn.

Very sad news today. Former Dire Straits guitarist Jack Sonni has died at the age of 68. Sonni was an internationally acclaimed musician who relocated to Taylor, Mississippi in 2018 and became a local fixture in the pandemic-era Mississippi music scene.

The musician’s passing was announced in a moving post by the band posted online, reading: ‘#JackSonni Rest In Peace #DireStraits.’

Sonni was known as “the other guitarist” during the group’s Brothers in Arms era, named after their fifth album, released in 1985.

His cause of death has not been revealed, but it is believed he was suffering from an sudden illness.

On Tuesday, Dire Straits Legacy, an official group of musicians who toured with the band, announced Jack had been suffering from ill health in a social media post.

The post read: “Dear fans, unfortunately, Jack Sonni will not be able to participate in our next gigs because of health problems. Jack get better soon, we are waiting for you! With love, the DSL family.”

Two days later on August 31, 2023, DSL announced that Sonni had passed away. “Our beloved Jack has left a void in our heart and soul… we will miss you so much, you are forever with us 💔”

Born in Indiana, Pennsylvania and drawn to music at an early age, Sonni first learned piano, then trumpet, before switching to guitar at 14. His love of the instrument led him to leave the University of Connecticut, where he was studying literature, to attend the Hartford Conservatory of Music. Sonni had been working at the famous New York City guitar shop Rudy’s Music Stop in the 1970s when he first met Dire Straits’ co-founders David and Mark Knopfler.

Sonni visited the Knopflers in London, and after David left the band, Sonni was asked to join the band for the 1984 recording sessions for Brothers in Arms and the subsequent tour. Jack accepted, and played guitar synthesizer on “The Man’s Too Strong.”

He played alongside the band at the iconic 1985 Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium that raised money for the famine that hit Ethiopia

After his collaboration with Dire Straits, Sonni contributed to other musicians’ works but ended his professional musical career when his twin daughters were born in 1988. He began a second career as a marketing executive, first at Seymour Duncan, then Rivera Guitar Amplifiers followed by several years as director of marketing communications at Line 6, a manufacturer of digital technology products for musicians. He was instrumental in the development and launch of POD – which he named and gave the product its legendary shape. In 2001, he became vice president of marketing communication for Guitar Center, a position he left in 2006.

In the summer of 2006, Sonni moved to San Jose del Cabo in 2007, then to Healdsburg, California, until January 2012, when he relocated to Brooklyn for a short time. Sonni was writer-in-residence and House Manager at the Noepe Center for Literary Arts on Martha’s Vineyard until its closing in 2017.

Jack moved to Water Valley, Mississippi and later to Taylor, in 2018, and returned to playing music on a regular basis with his band, The Leisure Class, this time featuring some of the top players in the area, including Jesse Pinion, Bradley Gordon, Eric Carlton, Mark Yacavone, Casey Lipe, and others. Sonnie also appeared regularly with other former members of Dire Straits in the DSL, Dire Straits Legacy project.

Jack Sonni was working on a book at the time of his passing. He had secured an agent and was searching for a publisher. On June 2, 2023, Sonni’s last social media post read, “Well chilluns, the last social media post for the foreseeable future as I dive into getting my novel in shape for my agent’s publisher hunt. Play nice & be kind to one another! And hug them while you can.”

Following the news of Jack’s death, many fans took to social media to pay tribute, including many messages on his Facebook page.

One posted: ‘OMG… so sorry to hear this terrible news. RIP hero!’ while another added: ‘Sending love and condolences to Nadine and family. RIP Jack.’

A third shared: ‘Sincerest condolences to Jack’s family and loved ones,’ while one user shared: ‘Thank you for your wonderful vibe. Rest In Peace.’

Oxford Sound Engineer Jeffrey Reed posted, “I’d like to offer Godspeed to one of the nicest celebrities I’ve ever met. Jack Sonni has left this mortal coil. Guitarist for Dire Straits through yeah, the big years. He was a friend and a gent. He’s even been a guest band leader on Thacker Mountain Radio! I surely know he enjoyed his time here in Mississippi. I wouldn’t wish what happened to him on my worst enemy. I think the last time I spoke to him was at LAX. Just ran into each other while boarding different flights. He played regular free gigs with his local band The Leisure Class…..I’m just spent. Damn. I don’t know Robin Scott, but hug your friends.”

Oxford guitarist Jesse Pinion was Jack’s go-to guy for Mississippi shows. “Words can’t express what we’re all feeling. Thank you for coming into our lives and letting us share in the fun. I know I don’t smile much on stage, but I was having the time of my life. Rock on brother, Raise a Ruckus!!”

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About the Author

The Local Voice is a bimonthly entertainment guide and newspaper based in Oxford, Mississippi, covering and distributed in North Central Mississippi, including Oxford, Ole Miss, Taylor, Abbeville, Water Valley, Lafayette County, Yalobusha County, and parts of Panola County, Marshall County, and Tupelo . The Local Voice is distributed free to over 255 locations in North Mississippi and also available as a full color PDF download worldwide on the internet.

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