Here’s a reason Stockton native Chris Isaak’s songs have been featured in moody and atmospheric cinematic classics such as David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” and Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut.” Issak’s lonesome sound — country-tinged rockabilly that clearly owes a debt to Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison — remains both timeless and evocative, the perfect soundtrack for concealed desires, curdled relationships and volatile hope. The Bee recently exchanged emails with Isaak, who was making his way up the Golden State (with a quick visit to Arizona), on his way to the Sacramento area, where he’ll play tonight at Thunder Valley in Lincoln.
You’ve talked often about buying lots of records when you were young, thanks to your parents. Do any of those stand out in your memory as being especially influential?
The funny thing is I still have all of those records. The Isaaks never throw anything away! I always thought it was funny that kids hate their parents’ music, but in my case I loved it. My dad was playing Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison … and I remember they were all with the same little logo on the record, Sun Records with a yellow sun. Those records stuck with me. Years later when I was first going to San Francisco from Stockton, I remember writing down all the lyrics to all those Sun Records songs just in case somebody asked me to sing with their band. (I think I had seen that happen in some old movie — the singer gets asked to sing and gets discovered … ha!). Nobody ever asked me to sing, but I’m glad I learned all those songs, because last year I finally went to Sun Studio in Memphis and recorded an album of those same songs.
Your longtime bandmate Kenney Dale Johnson has been fighting cancer and isn’t touring with you. You must miss him.
Kenney has been my drummer and harmony singer for 30 years, and I miss him like crazy. He is also the funniest guy in the band and he makes the road miles go easy with his wisecracks. He got cancer, but it’s a happy ending to this story, because he has really done great. He’s beating cancer and he looks great and is going to come back soon. I must have written five different sentences here and I keep erasing them …words can’t say how much we miss, need, love Kenney. I have spent more time with Kenney than any other person in my life. We traveled the world playing and doing promotions and generally just raising hell. It’s going to be great to have him back making wisecracks on stage again. I think if all goes well he may even come sit in for some shows around the Bay Area. But the No. 1 thing now is he just gets healthy.
How has your current tour been going?
We have been really lucky to have a great addition to our band, (drummer) Curt Bisquera. He has played with everybody from Johnny Cash to Mick Jagger, and he is as much a nut as the rest of us so he fits right in. We have been having a ball on stage. The guys have band suits that look like they stole them from Liberace’s closet (I have a suit covered in mirrors that weighs 35 pounds) and I love seeing the audiences’ faces when our piano player starts playing “Great Balls of Fire” and the piano bursts into flames.
You released your record “Beyond the Sun,” which featured covers of songs recorded by Sun Record artists, in 2011. When can we expect the next Chris Isaak recording?
I have a bunch of songs on my dining room table, and a bunch of songs’ starts I’m still working on, so I’m ready to get back to recording when this tour slows down a bit. I always have things I want to record. My plan is always simple — pick the best songs and see where they take you. I did have fun recording at Sun and I think I’d like to record in that style again. Everybody playing at one time and doing it altogether rather than overdubbing and fixing things on computers. It just sounds so much better when you are playing together and going for it.
There was a time when you were all over television and the big screen. Any plans to return to acting?
Funny, but I have had several offers to get back on TV, and I will sort through it and look for the offer that seems most likely to allow me to pursue my passion for sleeping in and being lazy. I love doing film and TV work, but I really have always been a singer, and that’s what I want to be doing. I go on tour and I sing every day and after months of doing that, when I get home, my friends ask me what I’m going to — and the first thing I think of is sitting in my hall, where it has a nice echo, and playing my guitar and singing. I picked the right job.