Chris Isaak

Chris Isaak is a singer-songwriter and actor with several gold records and notable appearances in films by David Lynch, Jonathan Demme and John Waters.


Christopher Isaak was born on June 26, 1956, in Stockton, California. As a boy, he listened to records by Elvis and Roy Orbison, which were major influences. Isaak's third album, Heart Shaped World became a hit when director David Lynch used Isaak's song "Wicked Game" in the film Wild at Heart. Herb Ritts' video for the song helped make Isaak a star and sex symbol. He continues to record and act.

Early Life

Singer, songwriter and actor Christopher Joseph Isaak was born on June 26, 1956, in Stockton, California. He grew up in the blue-collar town of Stockton as the son of a forklift operator. Borrowing his brother's guitar, Isaak taught himself how to play and started writing songs as a teenager. He found early inspiration in country musicians, such as Hank Williams, who his father liked to listen to on the radio.

Frequenting second-hand stores with his mother, Isaak continued his musical education by buying used records and discovering first-hand the power of early rock 'n' roll—especially Elvis Presley's recordings for Sun Records. This life-changing experience helped to shape Isaak's enduring sound.

Isaak attended college at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. Outside of his academic studies, he spent much of his time training at a boxing gym and fighting as a light heavyweight. Isaak later spent some time in Japan as an exchange student, and it was there that he first considered a career in music. Graduating in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in English and communications, Isaak moved to San Francisco.

Big Break

He started out as a solo act, but in the early 1980s Isaak formed a rockabilly-influenced group called Silvertone. The early days were challenging as Isaak and the band played every Bay Area bar and club trying to make their name. Isaak's luck turned around when he caught the attention of producer Erik Jacobsen, best known for his work in the '60s with Lovin' Spoonful, Tim Hardin and Norman Greenbaum. With Jacobsen's help, Isaak scored a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records.

In 1985, Isaak released his debut album, Silvertone. The record received considerable critical praise, earned raves from other artists such as John Fogerty, and became a major commercial hit in a number of international markets. Backed by his bandmates—including drummer Kenney Dale Johnson and bassist Rowland Salley, who continue to play with him to this day—Isaak established a reputation as a crowdpleasing live performer wherever he went.

The singer's sophomore effort, the self-titled album Chris Isaak (1987), was certified gold in the United States and became a substantial hit overseas once again. Meanwhile, Isaak's live shows continued to help make him a star around the world.

Around this time, Isaak got a chance to meet one of his greatest influences: the legendary Roy Orbison. Isaak was honored when Orbison asked the young musician to serve as the opening act for Orbison's tour. After one particular performance, Isaak said to Orbison "I don't know if I write hits or not." Orbison told him, "You write hits, you just don't know it." As Isaak would later explain, the supportive words of the musical icon were "exactly what I needed to hear at the time." He referred to Orbison as "one of the nicest people I ever met."

Branching Out

In 1988, while continuing to record, Isaak branched out into acting. He had a small part in Jonathan Demme's organized crime comedy, Married to the Mob. In the film, which starred Michelle Pfeiffer and Matthew Modine, Isaak played a clown—not a huge stretch for the famously witty and entertaining performer. Offers for more substantial film roles would soon follow for the singer.

Isaak's third album, Heart Shaped World (1989) proved to be a breakthrough effort for the singer, when famed director David Lynch used an instrumental version of Isaak's song "Wicked Game" for the film Wild at Heart (1991). A disc jockey in Atlanta took notice of the haunting track and started playing Isaak's album version—complete with vocals—on his station. The song soon caught on with listeners, and the album started to climb the charts in America as well as around the world. Reaching as high as number six on the Billboard pop charts in 1991, "Wicked Game" gave Isaak's career a tremendous boost.

Soon, Herb Ritts' unforgettable video of the song helped make Isaak a multi-media star and sex symbol. In the video, Isaak famously nuzzled model Helena Christensen on the beach. Not surprisingly, the steamy clip proved to be wildly popular with both sexes. Another track from the album, "Don't Make Me Dream About You," would also earn significant airplay, turning Heart Shaped World into a multi-platinum album in the U.S. and a smash-hit internationally.

Just as his music career was taking off, Isaak was also offered numerous film opportunities. He played small roles in Jonathan Demme's Silence of the Lambs (1991) and David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992). Then, in Bernardo Bertolucci's Little Buddha (1993), Isaak took on a co-starring role as the father of a boy who may be the reincarnation of a Buddhist teacher.

Later Albums

That same year, Isaak released his fourth album, San Francisco Days (1993). The mellow ballad, "Can't Do a Thing (To Stop Me)," was the album's breakout single. Two years later, Isaak released the acclaimed Forever Blue (1995), which contained the hit "Somebody's Crying." Both the song and the album were nominated for Grammy Awards. Another track from the platinum-selling album caught on later: Isaak's intense and bluesy "Baby Did a Bad Bad Thing," featured prominently in Stanley Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut (1999) starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

In 1996, Isaak followed up Forever Blue with his largely acoustic album, Baja Sessions. The album went gold, and found the singer recording some of his past classics in addition to some of his favorite songs, such as Roy Orbison's "Only The Lonely." For his next album, Speak of the Devil (1998), Isaak took a more electric, hard-rock turn on a collection of songs. The record included a collaboration between Isaak and famed songwriter Diane Warren called "Breaking Apart," as well as the standout track, "Please."

Acting Career

Starting in 2001, Chris Isaak became the lead in a sitcom for the Showtime network that was loosely based on the performer's life. Essentially playing himself in The Chris Isaak Show, the blue-eyed singer and actor charmed audiences with a humorous, offbeat take on a rock star's life. During the series' three-year run that featured musical guest appearances by everyone from Michael Buble to the band Green Day, Isaak also managed to release another strong studio album, Always Got Tonight (2002), which featured the hit single "Let Me Down Easy."

Continuing to pursue his acting career, Isaak appeared in the John Waters film A Dirty Shame (2004) with Tracy Ullman and Johnny Knoxville. Music, however, remains Isaak's first love. In 2004, he also found time between acting gigs to record a warmly received collection of seasonal music called, simply, Chris Isaak Christmas. After releasing a well-received greatest hits collection, Best of Chris Isaak (2006), the performer maintains a vigorous touring schedule, thanks to the dedicated fans around the world who continue to attend his shows.

The year 2009 was arguably one of the biggest yet in regards to Isaak's career. He appeared in the film, The Informers, a drama based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis. The movie also featureed a star-studded cast which included Billy Bob Thornton, Kim Basinger, Mickey Rourke and Winona Ryder. His music-themed interview show, The Chris Isaak Hour, also debuted on the BIO Channel in February, and his album, Mr. Lucky, was released the same week as his series. Two years later, Isaak released the album Beyond the Sun.

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