Chris Isaak Biography

Christopher Joseph Isaak, 26 June 1956, Stockton, California, USA. Isaak is a crooner in the Roy Orbison mould who had been active on the music scene a long time before he broke through in the late 80s. The son of a forklift truck driver, Isaak spent time participating in an exchange programme at university which led him to study in Japan. He also worked as a tour guide for a film studio and held teenage boxing ambitions, ultimately leading to his distinctive flattened nose. After graduating with a degree in English and Communication Arts, he put together his first band, Silvertone. This rockabilly outfit, comprising James Calvin Wilsey (guitar), Rowland Salley (bass) and Kenney Dale Johnson (drums), remained with Isaak as his permanent backing band. After acquiring a contract with Warner Brothers Records in 1985, Isaak and the band moved through three years and two albums with little success, apart from ‘Blue Hotel’ which was a hit in France. The debut Silvertone was raw and diverse, with country blues mingling with conventional folk ballads. The self-titled follow-up saw him hone his style to sophisticated R&B. Throughout he was backed by the excellent moody guitar of Wilsey, whose mimicry of 50s styles is impeccable. After working with David Lynch on the movie Wild At Heart, he finally had a major hit in December 1990 with ‘Wicked Game’ (US number 6/UK number 10), while a re-released ‘Blue Hotel’ also charted at UK number 17 in February 1991. Another superb single, 1993’s ‘Can’t Do A Thing (To Stop Me)’, failed to recreate the success of his earlier hits, although both San Francisco Days (1993) and Forever Blue (1995) racked up respectable sales.

In a music scene frequently dominated by synthesized, frantic pop, Isaak’s simple approach has proved refreshing: ‘I just respond to music where the singer and melody are right up in the mix, whereas in most modern stuff the drum is usually the loudest thing’. This viewpoint makes Isaak strangely out of time. His music is too well-recorded to be regarded as a recreation of the Sun Records sound, yet the influences are too apparent to make him wholly contemporary. His acting career has ploughed a parallel path to his singing career with cameo roles in Married To The Mob (1988) and The Silence Of The Lambs (1991), and a headlining role in Little Buddha (1993). Isaak also starred in his own US cable television series The Chris Isaak Show, which launched in March 2001 and ran until 2004 on the cable network Showtime.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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