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Songwriter Chris Isaak clearly loves the reverb-laden rockabilly and country of Sun Studios. In particular, he transfers the sweeping melancholy of Roy Orbison's classic Monument singles ("Crying," "Oh, Pretty Woman," "In Dreams") to the more stripped-down, rootsy sound of Sun, resulting in a stylized take on '50s and '60s rock & roll that made him into a star in the early '90s, propelled to a great degree by the hit single "Wicked Game."
Isaak began performing after he graduated from college, forming the rockabilly band Silvertone. The group, which featured guitarist James Calvin Wilsey, bassist Rowland Salley, and drummer Kenney Dale Johnson, would become the singer/guitarist's permanent supporting band. Isaak released his first album, Silvertone, on Warner Bros. in 1985. It was critically well received yet failed to sell well. Two years later, he released the self-titled Chris Isaak, which managed to scrape into the Top 200 album charts. After its release, the singer began an acting career with a bit part in Jonathan Demme's 1988 film Married to the Mob; he would later have parts in Wild at Heart, The Silence of the Lambs, and A Dirty Shame, as well as starring in his own situation comedy series for the Showtime cable network.
Released in 1989, Heart Shaped World initially sold more than Chris Isaak, yet it didn't manage to break big until late 1990, when the single "Wicked Game" was featured in David Lynch's Wild at Heart. Soon, the single became a Top Ten hit; the album also made it into the Top Ten and sold over a million copies. Both 1993's San Francisco Days and 1995's Forever Blue mined essentially the same vein as Heart Shaped World, yet both went gold and spawned a handful of hits. In 1996, Isaak released The Baja Sessions; Speak of the Devil followed two years later. Isaak's busy touring schedule and growing visibility as an actor kept him out of the recording studio until 2002, when he released Always Got Tonight, though in 2004 he did find time to cut his first seasonal album, Chris Isaak Christmas, which featured five new Yuletide tunes along with a batch of holiday favorites. The musician once again flexed his TV muscles in 2009 with The Chris Isaak Hour, whose debut on The Biography Channel was promoted in part by Mr. Lucky, his first album of original material in seven years. A year later he released the concert album Live at the Fillmore. In 2011, Isaak paid tribute to the classic '50s rockabilly and country music produced by the legendary Sam Phillips at Memphis' Sun Records with his album Beyond the Sun. Recorded at Sun Studios, Isaak delivered cuts originally recorded by such artists as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and others.
Christopher Joseph "Chris" Isaak (born June 26, 1956) is an American rock musician and occasional actor.biography.com Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 480–481. ISBN 1-84195-017-3.
Isaak was born in Stockton, California, at St. Joseph's Medical Center, the son of Dorothy (née Vignolo), a potato chip factory worker, and Joe Isaak (1929–2012), a forklift driver of Jewish heritage. Despite his last name his family is German and Russian Catholic—also known as Black Sea German—from North Dakota. Isaak's mother is Italian American, from Genoa. Isaak attended Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in north Stockton, graduating in 1974. He was class president all three years, culminating with his election as Student Body President in his senior year, along with being the 1974 graduating class valedictorian and head of the all-male cheer squad. He subsequently attended a local college, San Joaquin Delta Community College, before transferring to the University of the Pacific, graduating with a bachelor's degree in communications in 1981.Cite error: The named reference The_Great_Rock_Discography was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Isaak to receive Stockton award". Recordnet. September 29, 2011. Geocities.com
ContentsCareer1.1 Music1.1.1 Guitars1.2 Acting and other work
Isaak signed a contract to Warner Bros. Records in 1984 for his first album, Silvertone. One track from the album "Dancin" was Isaak's first music video featured on MTV and two tracks from this album, "Gone Ridin'" and "Livin' for Your Lover" featured in David Lynch's cult classic Blue Velvet. Isaak's second self-titled album, Chris Isaak, was photographed by fashion photographer Bruce Weber. Isaak's contract was renewed in 1988 when Warner Bros. moved him to their Reprise Records label. "Suspicion of Love" appears in the 1988 hit movie Married to the Mob starring Matthew Modine, Michele Pfeifer and Dean Stockwell.
Isaak's best known song is "Wicked Game". Though released on the 1989 album Heart Shaped World, an instrumental version of the song was later featured in the 1990 David Lynch film Wild at Heart. Lee Chesnut, an Atlanta radio station music director who was obsessed with Lynch films, played the vocal version and it became the station's most-requested song. Chesnut spread the word to other radio stations and the single became a national Top 10 hit in February 1991. The music video for the song was directed by Herb Ritts and was a MTV and VH1 hit; shot in black and white, it featured Isaak and supermodel Helena Christensen in a sensual encounter on the beach, caressing each other and whispering erotically in each other's ears. Another less-seen version of "Wicked Game" is directed by David Lynch and comprises scenes from the film Wild at Heart. "Wicked Game" featured as the backing music in the 2001 TV advertisement for the Jaguar X-Type in the UK. In 1995, Isaak split with longtime guitarist James Calvin Wilsey. That year's Forever Blue album and the accompanying tour featured Hershel Yatovitz on guitar.
In 1999, Isaak's "Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing" was featured in Stanley Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut. The song is on his 1995 Forever Blue album. The music video for the song is directed by Herb Ritts, it was shot in color and featured Isaak and French supermodel Laetitia Casta in a motel room. This was Isaak's second collaboration with Ritts.
Isaak composed a theme song for U.S. late-night television variety/talk show, The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn. In 2001, Isaak starred in his own television show, The Chris Isaak Show. It aired from March 2001 to March 2004 in the United States on the cable television network Showtime. This adult comedy show featured Isaak and his band playing themselves and the episode plots were based on fictional accounts of the backstage world of Isaak—the rock star next door. In 2004, his track "Life Will Go On" was featured on Chasing Liberty's soundtrack, which starred Mandy Moore and Matthew Goode. His track "Two Hearts" was featured in the closing credits of the 1993 film True Romance, directed by Tony Scott, written by Quentin Tarantino, and starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette.
Isaak's producer, Erik Jacobsen, was instrumental in his sound for 15 years. Jacobsen is known for his production work with The Lovin' Spoonful, and solo albums from Spoonful's John Sebastian and Jerry Yester. Isaak ceased working with Jacobsen on his 2002 album, Always Got Tonight. In 2007 Isaak opened for Stevie Nicks on her Crystal Visions Tour during the first leg of the tour.
In 2006, he was guested by Johnny Hallyday to cover Fats Domino's hit Blueberry Hill. The duet was recorded and issued on Johnny Hallyday's live album La Cigale (2007, Warner Music). At the end of this record you can hear Isaak thanking the French Rock'n'Roll star as "The King".
Isaak collaborated with John Shanks for his 2009 album Mr. Lucky.
He contributed a cover of Buddy Holly's "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" for a tribute album, Listen to Me: Buddy Holly, released in September 2011.
Isaak released an album called Beyond the Sun, which was recorded in Memphis, Tennessee at the Sun Records studio.
Isaak revealed in a 2002 interview with Acoustic Guitar that he uses a one-of-a-kind Gibson:
For my electric, I've got a one-off Gibson version of a Gretsch 6120, a sort of Chet Atkins thing. They made one of these things and gave it to me to see if I liked it, and I liked it so much I've been playing it ever since. People told me they thought it was a White Falcon, but it's not. It's just a white Gibson. I don't think they ever manufactured any of the things. They strung up this one prototype, scratched their heads, and said, 'Huh. Give it to Isaak.'
Isaak also plays a Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar, which he uses for songwriting.
Acting and other work
Isaak has appeared in numerous films, mostly playing cameo roles. He starred, however, with Keanu Reeves and Bridget Fonda in the 1993 Bernardo Bertolucci-directed Little Buddha, and played a major role in David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). Other motion pictures include Married to the Mob (1988), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), That Thing You Do! (1996), A Dirty Shame (2004), and The Informers (2008).
Isaak starred in The Chris Isaak Show (2001–2004) playing himself and featuring actual members of his band along with actors and celebrity guests.
He guest-starred on the "The One After the Superbowl, Part One", the Super Bowl XXX edition of the television sitcom Friends; and on the HBO miniseries, From the Earth to the Moon, as astronaut Ed White, the first American astronaut to leave the confines of his spacecraft, who later died in the 1967 Apollo 1 fire.
The Biography Channel aired The Chris Isaak Hour, a one-hour music interview and performance show in 2009. The series premiere featured Trisha Yearwood, and included the first ever performance of "Breaking Apart", a duet from Isaak's new album, Mr. Lucky. Additional guests included Stevie Nicks, Smashing Pumpkins, Chicago, Glen Campbell, Michael Bublé, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), and Jewel.
In April 2010, Isaak was the special guest during Conan O'Brien's The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour performance at the Nob Hill Masonic Center in San Francisco, California.
On September 29, 2011, Isaak received the Stockton Arts Commission STAR Award in his hometown of Stockton, California.
In 2014, he voiced the character of "Enoch," the apparent ruler of the town of Pottsfield, in the second episode of Over the Garden Wall, "Hard Times at the Huskin' Bee."Cite error: The named reference The_Great_Rock_Discography was invoked but never defined (see the help page). "Acoustic Guitar Central". What They Play: Chris Isaak. Retrieved April 26, 2007. Dave on (August 6, 2008). "Chris Isaak and His Gibson Guitars". Fretbase. Retrieved September 24, 2010. "The Biography Channel's ''The Chris Isaak Hour'' website". Biography.com. February 18, 2009. Retrieved September 24, 2010. "Isaak to receive Stockton award". Recordnet. September 29, 2011.