Chris Isaak

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Chris Isaak
Chris Isaak
Chris Isaak
Background information
Birth nameChristopher Joseph Isaak
Born (1956-06-26) June 26, 1956 (age 65)
Stockton, California, U.S.
  • Singer-songwriter
  • musician
  • actor
  • talk show host
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • bass
Years active1978–present

Christopher Joseph Isaak (born June 26, 1956)[2][3] is an American musician and occasional actor. He is widely known for his hit "Wicked Game", as well as the songs "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing", and "Somebody's Crying". He is known for his signature 1950s rock & roll style and crooner sound, as well as his falsetto and reverb-laden music. He is closely associated with film director David Lynch, who has used his music in numerous films and gave him a role in the film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. His songs generally focus on the themes of love, loss, and heartbreak. With a career spanning four decades, he has released a total of 12 studio albums, toured, and received numerous award nominations. He has been called the Roy Orbison of the 1990s and is often also compared to Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, and Duane Eddy.[4]

Early life[edit]


Isaak was born in Stockton, California,[3] at St. Joseph's Medical Center,[5] to Dorothy (née Vignolo) (1931-2021), and Joseph "Joe" Isaak (1929–2012), a forklift driver. His father's family is Catholic Black Sea German from North Dakota. Isaak's mother is Italian American, from Genoa.[6]


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 English and communications arts in 1981.[7] He was also in an exchange program that allowed him to study in Japan.[8] After graduating from college, Isaak put together his first band, Silvertone. This rockabilly outfit consisted of James Calvin Wilsey (guitar), Rowland Salley (bass), and Kenney Dale Johnson (drums), who remained with Isaak as his permanent backing band.[8]


Music career[edit]

In 1985, Isaak signed a contract with Warner Bros. Records and released his first album, Silvertone,[3] to critical acclaim, including from John Fogerty.[9] The name was taken from the band he formed after graduating college; a reference to the Silvertone guitar brand popularized during the 1950s. The album's sound was raw and diverse, mingling country blues with conventional folk ballads.[8] Although the album was a critical success, it failed to sell respectably.[10] Two tracks from the album, "Gone Ridin'" and "Livin' for Your Lover," featured in David Lynch's 1986 film Blue Velvet.

Isaak's self-titled follow-up album was released in 1986 and managed to scrape into the Billboard 200.[10] The album saw Isaak hone his style to sophisticated R&B.[8] The artwork for Chris Isaak was photographed by fashion photographer Bruce Weber.

Warner Bros. moved Isaak to their Reprise Records label in 1988. That same year, "Suspicion of Love" by Isaak appeared in Married to the Mob, a hit movie starring Matthew Modine, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Dean Stockwell.[citation needed]

Chris Isaak onstage in Berkeley, California – 1986

Isaak's best known song is "Wicked Game".[3] In an interview with Mark Needham, an engineer who worked with Isaak on "Wicked Game," Needham claimed that it took several years to put the track together.[11] First released on the 1989 album Heart Shaped World, an instrumental version of the song was subsequently featured in the 1990 David Lynch film Wild at Heart.[3] 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. It also reached No. 10 in the UK Singles Chart.[12] The music video for the song was directed by Herb Ritts and was an 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 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.

"Two Hearts" from Isaak's fourth album San Francisco Days was featured in the closing credits of True Romance, a 1993 film directed by Tony Scott, written by Quentin Tarantino, and starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette.

In 1995, Isaak split with longtime guitarist James Calvin Wilsey. That year's Forever Blue, Isaak's fifth album, and the accompanying tour featured Hershel Yatovitz on guitar. The album was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Album, and the single Somebody's Crying was nominated for a Grammy for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance. On March 15, 1996, the album was certified Platinum by the RIAA. "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" was featured in Stanley Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut, in 1999. The music video for the song was directed by Herb Ritts (his second collaboration with Isaak); it was shot in color and featured Isaak and French supermodel Laetitia Casta in a motel room.

Isaak composed a theme song for U.S. late-night television variety/talk show The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn.

The record producer Erik Jacobsen was instrumental in Isaak's sound for 15 years. Jacobsen is known for his production work with The Lovin' Spoonful, as well as on solo albums by Spoonful's John Sebastian and Jerry Yester. Isaak ceased working with Jacobsen on his 2002 album Always Got Tonight. "Life Will Go On" from this album was featured in Chasing Liberty, a 2004 film starring Mandy Moore and Matthew Goode.

In 2007, a live performance of Isaak singing Fats Domino's hit "Blueberry Hill" with Johnny Hallyday at La Cigale was released on Hallyday's live album La Cigale : 12-17 Décembre 2006. At the end of this recording, you can hear Isaak thanking the French rock-’n’-roll star, referring to him as "The King". Also in 2007, Isaak opened for Stevie Nicks on the first leg of her Crystal Visions Tour.[citation needed]

For his 2009 album Mr. Lucky, Isaak collaborated with producer John Shanks.

Isaak contributed a cover of Buddy Holly's "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" for a tribute album, Listen to Me: Buddy Holly, released in September 2011.[citation needed] The next month, he released Beyond the Sun, an album of cover songs (except for one original) that was recorded in Memphis, Tennessee at the Sun Records studio.

On September 7, 2015, it was announced that Isaak would be performing at the 2015 AFL Grand Final, along with English singer Ellie Goulding and Canadian musician Bryan Adams.[13]

In 2016, Isaak did the "First Comes the Night Tour."[14]


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.'[15]

Isaak also plays a Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar, which he uses for songwriting.[16] In 2018 a remix version of "Wicked Game" was used in an Alfa Romeo TV commercial for the Stelvio/Giulia models with the vehicles performing a sort of ice ballet.

Acting and other work[edit]

In addition to his work as a musician, Isaak has also appeared in numerous feature films and television shows as an actor, sometimes as a main character, but mostly playing smaller roles. A few of his larger parts in films were in David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me in 1992 and in the 1993 Bernardo Bertolucci-directed Little Buddha, in which he starred alongside Bridget Fonda and Keanu Reeves. Some other motion pictures featuring Isaak 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).[citation needed]

Isaak guest-starred in the special Super Bowl XXX edition of the television sitcom Friends ("The One After the Superbowl, Part One") in 1996,[17] and in 1998 he co-starred in the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon as astronaut Ed White, who was the first American astronaut to do a spacewalk and who died in the 1967 Apollo 1 fire.

From March 2001 to March 2004, Isaak starred in his own television show, The Chris Isaak Show. It aired in the United States on the cable television network Showtime. This adult sitcom 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 2009, The Biography Channel aired The Chris Isaak Hour, a one-hour music interview and performance show hosted by Isaak.[18] The series premiere featured Trisha Yearwood and included their first-ever performance of "Breaking Apart," a song from Isaak's 1998 album Speak of the Devil that the two recorded as a duet for his 2009 album Mr. Lucky. The guests on the remaining seven episodes of the series were: Stevie Nicks, Glen Campbell, Michael Bublé, Chicago, The Smashing Pumpkins, Yusuf Islam, and Jewel.[19]

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.[20]

In 2014, Isaak voiced the character of Enoch, the apparent ruler of the town of Pottsfield, in the second episode of the animated television miniseries Over the Garden Wall.

On May 3, 2015, Isaak was confirmed to be replacing Natalie Bassingthwaighte as a judge on the seventh season of The X Factor Australia.[21] He joined James Blunt and returning judges Guy Sebastian and Dannii Minogue.[22]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Awards Work Category Result
1985 MTV Video Music Awards "Dancin'" Most Experimental Video Nominated
Best Direction in a Video Nominated
1991 "Wicked Game" Video of the Year Nominated
Best Direction in a Video Nominated
Viewer's Choice Nominated
Best Editing in a Video Nominated
Best Male Video Won
Best Cinematography in a Video Won
Best Video from a Film Won
Pollstar Concert Industry Awards Tour Small Hall Tour of the Year Nominated
1992 ASCAP Pop Music Awards "Wicked Game" Most Performed Song[23] Won
Brit Awards Himself Best International Breakthrough Nominated
1995 Music Television Awards Best Male Nominated
Razzie Awards Little Buddha Worst New Star Nominated
MTV Video Music Awards "Somebody's Crying" Best Male Video Nominated
1996 Grammy Awards Best Male Rock Vocal Performance Nominated
Forever Blue Best Rock Album Nominated
California Music Awards Outstanding Album Won
Himself Outstanding Male Vocalist Won
Bay Area Musician of the Year Won
Himself & Silvertone Outstanding Group Won
1999 Himself Outstanding Male Vocalist Nominated
MVPA Awards "Please" Best Adult Contemporary Video Nominated
2000 Online Film & Television Association Awards "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" Best Adapted Song Nominated
2001 Television Critics' Association Awards The Chris Isaak Show Individual Achievement in Comedy Nominated
2003 MVPA Awards "Wicked Game" MVPA Hall of Fame Won
2004 ASCAP Film & TV Awards Most Performed Theme Won





  1. ^ Hermes, Will (November 13, 2015). "First Comes the Night by Chris Isaak, Vanguard -- Rockabilly's greatest modern ambassador goofs off, with mostly fun results". Rolling Stone. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  2. ^ "Biography : Chris Isaak". Archived from the original on April 4, 2019. Retrieved May 4, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 480–481. ISBN 1-84195-017-3.
  4. ^ Goldberg, Michael (April 18, 1991). "Interview: Chris Isaak". Rolling Stone. Retrieved January 24, 2019.
  5. ^ "Isaak to receive Stockton award". Recordnet. September 29, 2011.
  6. ^ "Mild At Heart". Archived from the original on October 26, 2009. Retrieved 2015-05-04.[better source needed]
  7. ^ Goldberg, Michael (April 18, 1991). "Interview: Chris Isaak". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on October 5, 2015. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  8. ^ a b c d "Chris Isaak Biography". June 26, 1956. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  9. ^ "Chris Isaak bio". Archived from the original on April 4, 2019. Retrieved November 4, 2016.
  10. ^ a b Stephen Thomas Erlewine (June 26, 1956). "Chris Isaak | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  11. ^ Droney, Maureen (May 2002). "Classic Tracks: Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game"". ProQuest. Retrieved February 12, 2016.
  12. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 271. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  13. ^ Twomey, Callum. "Adams, Goulding, Isaak headline GF show". Australian Football League. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  14. ^ "Chris Isaak on First Comes the Night Tour". Retrieved July 22, 2016.
  15. ^ "Acoustic Guitar Central". What They Play: Chris Isaak. Archived from the original on September 26, 2007. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  16. ^ "Chris Isaak and His Gibson Guitars". Fretbase. August 6, 2008. Archived from the original on September 5, 2012. Retrieved September 24, 2010.
  17. ^ "Chris Isaak Does "Friends"". MTV. Retrieved October 9, 2019.
  18. ^ "The Biography Channel's The Chris Isaak Hour website". February 18, 2009. Archived from the original on September 14, 2010. Retrieved September 24, 2010.
  19. ^ "Chris Isaak Hour Episode List". IMDb.
  20. ^ "Isaak to receive Stockton award". Recordnet. September 29, 2011.
  21. ^ "Chris Isaak on 'First Comes the Night' & How Stevie Nicks Convinced Him to Record in Nashville". Billboard. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
  22. ^ Moran, Jonathon (May 3, 2015). "Chris Isaak and James Blunt: Meet the new X Factor guys". The Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved May 3, 2015.
  23. ^ Rosen, Craig (May 30, 1992). "ASCAP Honors Top Pop Performers". Billboard. Vol. 104 no. 22. p. 18. ISSN 0006-2510.

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