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Chris Isaak

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Chris Isaak
Isaak in 2014
Isaak in 2014
Background information
Birth nameChristopher Joseph Isaak
Born (1956-06-26) June 26, 1956 (age 68)
Stockton, California, U.S.
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • guitarist
  • actor
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • bass
Years active1978–present

Christopher Joseph Isaak (born June 26, 1956)[2][3] is an American singer, songwriter, guitarist and occasional actor. Noted for his reverb-laden rockabilly revivalist style and wide vocal range, he is popularly known for his breakthrough hit and signature song "Wicked Game"; as well as international hits such as "Blue Hotel", "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing", and "Somebody's Crying".

With a career spanning four decades, Isaak has released a total of 13 studio albums, toured extensively with his band Silvertone, and received numerous award nominations. His sound and image are often compared to those of Roy Orbison, Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, and Duane Eddy.[4]

Isaak is closely associated with film director David Lynch, who has used his music in numerous films. As an actor, he played supporting roles and bit parts in films such as Married to the Mob, The Silence of the Lambs, Little Buddha, That Thing You Do! and Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, and starred in two television series: the sitcom The Chris Isaak Show and the talk show The Chris Isaak Hour.

Early life and education[edit]

Isaak was born in Stockton, California,[3] to Dorothy (née Vignolo; 1931-2021), and Joseph "Joe" Isaak (1929-2012), a forklift driver[5] - respectively of Italian and German ancestry.[6]

Attending Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in Stockton, Isaak was class president all three years, student body president of his senior class, head of the all-male cheer squad, and the class of 1974 valedictorian.[citation needed]

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 also participated in a Japanese exchange program.[8]

After graduating from college, Isaak put together his first band, Silvertone, a rockabilly group with James Calvin Wilsey (guitar), Jamie Ayres (bass), and John Silvers (drums). Ayres and Silvers were later replaced by Rowland Salley (bass), and Kenney Dale Johnson (drums). The name was borrowed from the guitar brand popularized in the 1950s. The group 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] Despite being named after his band, Silvertone was mostly recorded with session musicians. 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 1987 and reached 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. Three tracks from the album -- "You Owe Me Some Kind of Love", "Blue Hotel", and "Lie to Me" –- were used in Episode 5 of the 1987 TV series "Private Eye".

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]

Isaak onstage in San Francisco, 1988

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] It was first released on the 1989 album Heart Shaped World, and 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, peaking at number 6.[12] It also reached No. 10 in the UK Singles Chart.[13] 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 he released 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.

Isaak performing in 2006

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, one 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.

Isaak performed at the 2015 AFL Grand Final, along with English singer Ellie Goulding and Canadian musician Bryan Adams.[14]

In 2016, Isaak did the "First Comes the Night Tour".[15]


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.'[16]

Isaak also plays a Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar, which he uses for songwriting.[17]

Acting and other work[edit]

In addition to his music, Isaak has acted in film and television — as a main character or more often in smaller roles. A few of his larger film roles included 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. Other motion pictures roles included 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,[18] 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.[19] 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.[20]

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.[21]

On September 29, 2011, Isaak received the Stockton Arts Commission STAR Award in his hometown of Stockton, California.[22]

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.[23] He joined James Blunt and returning judges Guy Sebastian and Dannii Minogue.[24]

Personal life[edit]

Isaak is close friends with Stevie Nicks[5] and film director David Lynch.[25]

Isaak is a lifelong bachelor.[26] Regarding his bachelor status, Isaak stated, "The longest relationship I've been in is with my band. My personal relationships have never lasted because my work was always number one. It's not that I never thought about marriage and kids, but I was either busy writing and recording music, acting, or on the road. Kids are like sail boats: they look good on a sunny day and in the distance, but require a lot of maintenance."[5]

Isaak enjoys drawing and exploring salvage shops and secondhand stores.[27]





Music video[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Awards Work Category Result
1985 MTV Video Music Awards "Dancin'" Most Experimental Video Nominated[29]
Best Direction in a Video Nominated[29]
1991 "Wicked Game" Video of the Year Nominated[30]
Best Direction in a Video Nominated[30]
Viewer's Choice Nominated[30]
Best Editing in a Video Nominated[30]
Best Male Video Won[31]
Best Cinematography in a Video Won[31]
Best Video from a Film Won[31]
Pollstar Concert Industry Awards Tour Small Hall Tour of the Year Nominated[citation needed]
1992 ASCAP Pop Music Awards "Wicked Game" Most Performed Song Won[32]
Brit Awards Himself Best International Breakthrough Nominated[citation needed]
1995 Music Television Awards Best Male Nominated[citation needed]
Razzie Awards Little Buddha Worst New Star Nominated[33]
MTV Video Music Awards "Somebody's Crying" Best Male Video Nominated[34]
1996 Grammy Awards Best Male Rock Vocal Performance Nominated[35]
Forever Blue Best Rock Album Nominated[35]
California Music Awards Outstanding Album Won[36]
Himself Outstanding Male Vocalist Won[36]
Bay Area Musician of the Year Won[36]
Himself & Silvertone Outstanding Group Won[36]
1999 Himself Outstanding Male Vocalist Nominated[37]
MVPA Awards "Please" Best Adult Contemporary Video Nominated[citation needed]
2000 Online Film & Television Association Awards "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing" Best Adapted Song Nominated[citation needed]
2001 Television Critics' Association Awards The Chris Isaak Show Individual Achievement in Comedy Nominated[38]
2003 MVPA Awards "Wicked Game" MVPA Hall of Fame Won[39]
2004 ASCAP Film & TV Awards Most Performed Theme Won[40]
2022 Americana Music Honors & Awards Himself Lifetime Achievement Award for Performance Won[41]


  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. rollingstone.com. Retrieved November 16, 2015.
  2. ^ "Biography : Chris Isaak". Biography.com. 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. ^ a b c Rocca, Jane (November 30, 2017). "Chris Isaak: The longest relationship I've been in is with my band". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved March 30, 2023.
  6. ^ Vivinetto, Gina (November 9, 1999). "Chris Isaak's wicked games". St. Petersburg Times (Florida). p. 1D. ProQuest 263394598.
  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". oldies.com. June 26, 1956. Retrieved March 12, 2016.
  9. ^ "Chris Isaak bio". Biography.com. 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. ^ "The Hot 100". Billboard. January 2, 2013.
  13. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 271. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  14. ^ Twomey, Callum (September 7, 2015). "Adams, Goulding, Isaak headline GF show". afl.com.au. Australian Football League. Retrieved September 7, 2015.
  15. ^ "Chris Isaak on First Comes the Night Tour". Retrieved July 22, 2016.
  16. ^ "Acoustic Guitar Central". What They Play: Chris Isaak. Archived from the original on September 26, 2007. Retrieved April 26, 2007.
  17. ^ "Chris Isaak and His Gibson Guitars". Fretbase. August 6, 2008. Archived from the original on September 5, 2012. Retrieved September 24, 2010.
  18. ^ "Chris Isaak Does "Friends"". MTV. Archived from the original on December 15, 2017. Retrieved October 9, 2019.
  19. ^ "The Biography Channel's The Chris Isaak Hour website". Biography.com. February 18, 2009. Archived from the original on September 14, 2010. Retrieved September 24, 2010.
  20. ^ "Chris Isaak Hour Episode List". IMDb.
  21. ^ Sauro, Tony (May 19, 2010). "Dallas Braden isn't alone in Stockton's hall of fame". The Stockton Record. Archived from the original on April 18, 2024. Retrieved April 18, 2024.
  22. ^ "Isaak to receive Stockton award". Recordnet. September 29, 2011. Archived from the original on September 11, 2018. Retrieved April 30, 2012.
  23. ^ "Chris Isaak on 'First Comes the Night' & How Stevie Nicks Convinced Him to Record in Nashville". Billboard. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
  24. ^ Moran, Jonathon (May 3, 2015). "Chris Isaak and James Blunt: Meet the new X Factor guys". The Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved May 3, 2015.
  25. ^ Greiving, Tim (January 12, 2022). "Twisted Nostalgia: Chris Isaak in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved March 30, 2023.
  26. ^ Daly, Sean (September 2, 2006). "Chris Isaak, the luckiest guy in rock". Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved April 1, 2023.
  27. ^ Quine, Katie (September 28, 2013). "Exclusive Interview with Chris Isaak". Nashville Lifestyles. Retrieved April 1, 2023.
  28. ^ Spignesi, Stephen; Lewis, Michael (2019). Elton John: Fifty Years On: The Complete Guide to the Musical Genius of Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Post Hill Press. ISBN 978-1-64293-327-7. Retrieved February 16, 2022.
  29. ^ a b "Nominations for Second Annual Awards MTV Salutes Behind-The-Scenes Talent". Billboard. Vol. 97. New York: Nielsen Business Media, Inc. August 24, 1985. p. 34. ISSN 0006-2510. Archived from the original on October 11, 2020. Retrieved October 12, 2020.
  30. ^ a b c d "MTV video award winners to be named on Sept. 5". Press and Sun-Bulletin (New York). July 19, 1991. p. 35.
  31. ^ a b c "MTV Video Music Awards Winners". The San Bernardino County Sun (California). September 6, 1991. p. 2.
  32. ^ Rosen, Craig (May 30, 1992). "ASCAP Honors Top Pop Performers". Billboard. Vol. 104, no. 22. p. 18. ISSN 0006-2510.
  33. ^ "O.J. among contenders for Razzie". The Pantagraph (Bloomington, Illinois). February 14, 1995. p. 13.
  34. ^ "Who's in the running". The Sacramento Bee (California). September 7, 1995. p. 55.
  35. ^ a b "List of Grammy nominees - Jan. 4, 1996". CNN. January 4, 1996. Retrieved May 8, 2022.
  36. ^ a b c d "Chris Isaak, Inka Inka big winners at Bammies". The San Francisco Examiner. March 10, 1996. p. 19.
  37. ^ "Bammie nominees named". The San Francisco Examiner. November 22, 1996. p. 57.
  38. ^ "HBO, CBS lead pack for TV critics' award nominations". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 2, 2001. Archived from the original on October 23, 2012. Retrieved June 17, 2013.
  39. ^ Molineaux, Sam (June 1, 2003). "MVPA Awards". Below the Line. Retrieved May 8, 2022.
  40. ^ Whitmire, Margo (May 1, 2004). "2004 ASCAP Film/TV Award winners". Billboard. Vol. 116, no. 18.
  41. ^ "Americana Honors: Indigo Girls, Don Williams, more to receive Lifetime Achievement Awards".

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