A sultry love song, a steamy video, a vocal range that lured even the hardened listener — Chris Isaak captured hearts with his legendary “Wicked Game,” which rapidly climbed the charts in 1991. His mesmerizing voice led him down a path of fame and fortune in the entertainment business, from recording studios and concert stages to the big screen, where he took on a variety of acting roles, but his success never got the best of him. Taking pride in his blue-collar upbringing, he keeps a cool and congenial attitude about life and the fans who love him. In support of his latest album, Beyond the Sun, Isaak will be rocking the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza this Friday.
VCReporter:How old were you when you discovered your vocal range and your passion to sing? Did you envision your future in the entertainment business when you were young?
Isaak: I don’t think I know what my vocal range is. I remember once I told Roy Orbison that I loved when he hit those crazy high notes. He just laughed and told me, “I really don’t sing that high, I just start low!” I think I always have loved singing, and I have always been moved by music. I was about 13 and I saved my money up and bought a cassette recorder. My friends thought I was nuts not to buy a football, but I thought, “Now I can write songs!” and I wrote a bunch of really bad ones and had a ball doing it. I still have a drawer full of those songs and I still have that cassette player. But as much as I loved trying to write songs, it didn’t really occur to me to even dream that I would ever be on stage or make movies. My dad was driving a forklift at a box factory and my mom was working the line at Tillie Lewis Potato Chips. We didn’t know anybody in show business, but I just sang night and day anyway. I love singing.
What was it like for you when “Wicked Game” hit No. 6 on the Billboard charts?
I don’t think I ever noticed the chart position. I do remember walking down the hall of a hotel in Europe on tour and hearing “Wicked Game” coming out of every room. That made me smile!
How did life change?
It let a lot of people know what I sounded like. It was a great introduction, and the bigger crowds meant we moved up from touring in a van where we drove ourselves and stayed up half the night finding our way to the next show. We finally got a bus after “Wicked” hit. You have no idea how proud of that beat-up bus I was. It had a bunk bed and a microwave. I wanted to move in!
Who is your favorite musician? Your mentor?
Too many to name! I grew up listening to Elvis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis. I would never have dreamt that when I grew up I would meet and work with most of my heroes. I think Roy Orbison was a mentor to me; he was just such a nice man. You would have liked him if he never sang a note. I remember he told me that even in his saddest songs he always tried to leave a ray of hope. I think in a way that’s kind of a good lesson for singing or for living.
What’s next for you? Another album? A new movie?
I never know. I just finished my new album, Beyond the Sun, and we have been playing a lot of the songs live. We bring out the stand-up bass and the upright piano, and when we kick into Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” the crowd loves it! When we play “Great Balls of Fire” the piano bursts into flames and smoke billows out! Sometimes so much I can hardly find the piano player. If you are looking for sophisticated highbrow refined entertainers, keep looking! But if you have trouble in your life, maybe a bad love affair, or you’re driving an unregistered automobile with stolen plates and something leaking from the trunk, well, brother and sister, we are just what the doctor ordered. I guarantee you will forget your worldly troubles and smile for a couple of hours — and then somebody will want to take a look in that trunk of yours.
Chris Isaak will be playing on Friday, Nov. 25, at 9 p.m. at the Fred Kavli Theatre in the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. Tickets start at $46 and are available for sale at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza box office, through Ticketmaster oronline at www.toaks.org