Nov. 03--In 1984, after struggling as an artist in New York for a decade, guitarist Jack Sonni was ready to give up on his dream of playing in a famous rock band. "I said, 'I'm done with it' ... I got accepted to Fordham University to study literature," he said.
Then Sonni got a phone call from his friend, guitarist Mark Knopfler, who invited him to record an album and tour with his band, Dire Straits. The next day, Sonni flew to Montserrat, a Caribbean island with a recording studio, and then embarked on a world tour with Dire Straits that culminated with Live Aid and a global TV audience of 400 million.
Eighteen months later, the band broke up, catapulting Sonni back to obscurity.
These days, he rarely talks about his glory days. But fans who know Sonni as "the other guitarist" in Dire Straits can catch him at Diavola Supper Club, a pop-up dinner and dance held four times a year in Geyserville.
They also may be able to view his latest project, a web series called "Jack Sonni -- Virtually Real Friends" that will bring together his passion for food, music and people, while also highlighting Healdsburg.
Sonni, 59, connected face-to-face with a handful of his Facebook fans last summer on a cross-country trek from West Hartford, Conn., to Healdsburg.
Now, he wants to turn that experiment into a series.
"The premiere episode will be an introduction to Healdsburg chefs," he said. "Then I'll play with musicians from the Bay Area that I know but have never met."
Born just outside Pittsburgh, Sonni bounced around as a teen, moving with his family from Pennsylvania to New Jersey to Connecticut to follow his dad's insurance career.
He started out playing piano and trumpet, then picked up the guitar at 14.
Although he was accepted into Bard College to study literature, he decided to attend the Hartford Conservatory of Music instead.
"It was a rich time for music and rock 'n' roll," Sonni said. "Music meant something it doesn't anymore. It shaped the tribe you ended up in."
He moved to New York in 1976 and formed his own band, The Leisure Class. Meanwhile, he got a day job at a music shop, where he met Mark Knopfler.
Sonni's 15 minutes of rock 'n' roll fame with Dire Straits spanned a year-long tour of
23 countries and 256 shows. Then, in 1988, it came to a crashing halt.
"Mark had accomplished what he set out to do, so he took six years off," Sonni said.
"And I got to do what I set out to do ... play with all my guitar heroes: Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Bob Dylan and Keith Richards."
Still, the abrupt end of his rock-star status left Sonni confused and angry, leading him on a journey of self-exploration.
He launched a second career in marketing in 1988, then circled back to his first love, books.
For the past six years, he has been working on a memoir called "Rock N Rolled: Living the Dream, Surviving Reality."
"I've worked with a shrink for many years," he said. "To be blessed with becoming a rock star ... what makes people do that? Their chances of success are so slim."
After his twin daughters were born in 1988, Sonni rolled up his sleeves and went to work in marketing.
"I found I had a passion for it," he said. "And I don't regret the time raising my daughters."
While working at a high-tech music company called Line 6, he befriended Doug Provisor, a fellow musician.
"His experience in music and artistic expression was a natural lead-in to marketing," Provisor said. "In that way, it's no different than music-making."
After Provisor and his wife bought a house in Healdsburg in 1999, Sonni and his daughters starting spending weekends in Wine Country. Then, in 2006, Sonni's dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, his sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and a close friend died of lung cancer.
Shaken up by this perfect storm of mortality, Sonni quit the corporate world and moved to San Jose del Cabo in Mexico to write.
Since 2007, he has lived in Healdsburg, where he plays music for fun, cooks with chef friends like Ari Rosen of Scopa and continues to write and create.
"I want to get people together and find ways to really enjoy the moment," he said. "If that was my legacy, I'd be pretty happy with it."
You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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