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Q&A: Chris Isaak

With that haunting voice, fierce guitar playing, swaggerific outfits and a few dance steps, Chris Isaak promises a concert party and a few bad, bad things.

Donna Leahey
August 29, 2017

Chris Isaak is the gifted artist, singer-songwriter and band leader behind such hits as “Wicked Game” and “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing.” His black hair, his swagger, and his crooning vocals remind you of Elvis, while his trademark falsetto brings to mind Roy Orbison. His voice can go from dark and gravelly to high and sweet in a moment.

With 12 studio albums, an occasional acting career, and a 2015 judging spot on The X Factor in Australia, Isaak shows no sign of slowing down.

Q: What can fans expect from this tour?

A: We always try to put on a good show. It’s the same band I’ve had for 30-something years. We’re playing well and singing well. You can either have fun with it or don’t, and we’re having a lot of fun with it. When you first go out and play, for the first six months you say, “Oh, we’re getting tighter.” Then after two years, you think “Oh, we’re really tight.” Then after 10 years, you think, “Now we know it all.” I know you never know it all. You’re always learning new stuff. 

Q: With such a long career, how do you choose a playlist?

A: I think about what the audience wants to hear. It always bothers me if I go to a show and I feel like the artist plays only what he or she wants. It’s like you got to mix it. I’m going to play “Wicked Game,” “Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing,” “Somebody’s Crying,” and “Blue Hotel.” I play the songs people know, and I love playing those songs. I mean, I wish I had 20 “Wicked Games.” Then I’d be Paul McCartney. But sometimes I go see artists and I like this B-side song that they did, or this quiet little ballad that they did, but I don’t think they’ll ever play that live. I like to be able to throw songs in that people are surprised I played. I like to mix it up. 

Q: What do you call your musical style?

Isaak has been called the Roy Orbison of the 1990s, and is often also compared to Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson and Duane Eddy.
‍Isaak has been called the Roy Orbison of the 1990s, and is often also compared to Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson and Duane Eddy.

A: We’re rock ‘n’ roll, but whenever someone asks me that question, I always remember Roy Orbison. I was working with him and we were trying to write a song and I said, “I don’t know what I call my style.” He said, “You know what you are, Chris? You’re a romantic balladeer.” And I always thought, “If he says so, I am a romantic balladeer.” 

Q: You were a judge on The X Factor in Australia. How was that experience?

A: I’m a sarcastic, jaded musician who’s been around for 30 years in the business. So, going to do a television show with a bunch of youngsters, I thought it was going to be horrible. I can’t imagine my idols like Elvis or John Lennon being discovered by such a show. Man, was I wrong. By the middle of the show I’m thinking I’m damn lucky that I have a career because these people are all better than me. I got to the point that I just fell in love with some of them.

Q: What do you love about Nashville?

A: We should make a game show. We’d let two people off in Nashville and they couldn’t use a cellphone or anything but in three blocks they have to put a band together. And I swear, you could do it. Because my taxi driver was a drummer, the guy selling me a shirt was a steel-guitar player, the guy at the restaurant was a songwriter. The town has so many musicians because it’s easy for people to get their foot in the door there. 

Q: Is it true that you're also a dog lover?

A: I’m a bona fide dog lover. I don’t have a dog that’s my own because I travel all the time, but my manager has a little dog, a Maltese. You know you love a dog when the dog is gone and I’m looking up Maltese and reading about them. I constantly walk by people with their dog, and I’ll ask about them. I think every time you see a dog, it makes your day 20 percent better. We’re trying to put a T-shirt together and instead of a picture of us performing, it will be a picture of everybody’s dog. We’ll sell the shirt and give the money to animal charities to help dogs. 

Q: And as for Tulsa, what should people expect of your show?

A: If you come out and see us, you’re going to have a good time. We put on a show and I’m proud of it. We can hardly dance, but we do dance steps. We love to talk to the audience, get out into the crowd, and even get people up on the stage. We make it a party. The guys dress up and look like they came out of James Brown’s band and I look like I raided Liberace’s closet. I hate it when musicians show up late, wear Levi’s and a T-shirt, smoke a cigarette and kind of mumble through the set. That’s not me. I’ll be there on time and I’ll put on a show.

Chris Isaak
Paradise Cove | River Spirit Casino Resort
8330 Riverside Pkwy. | Tulsa
Sept. 29: 8 p.m.
Must be 21 or older to attend