Chris Isaak

How cool is this? My dear friend Keith from San Fran asked his friend to do a piece for me on my favorite heart throb and singer Chris Isaak.... YES... So Author Brixton Key wrote this story for Retrokimmer.com. Thanks guys so much!!!! XXOOK

From Keith:

Random notes on Chris Isaak:

Chris was both class president and head cheerleader at Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in Stockton, California.

Drummer Kenny Dale Johnson is noted for his brush work, backing vocals and great sense of humor.

Bassist Rowland Salley wrote the great song "Killing The Blues" featured on "Raising Sand" by Robert Plant and Allison Krauss.

The "new guy" in the band, guitarist Hershel Yatovitz, joined in 1995!

He was a voice singing from a fourth generation cassette the first time I heard him. The tape was playing in the kitchen during a party in Berkeley, California, 1980. I’d walked into the proto-punk room to grab a beer from the sink.

The voice was singing a haunting country song. The immense soul and clarity of his voice grabbed me. The twist in the lyrics was delightful. A boy was brushing his suit and combing his hair. A typical Sunday morning before church in the Appalachians, until the song progressed, yes, he was preparing for his mother’s funeral. The vocals grabbed my heartstrings. An ordinary voice would’ve rendered the song naff. This vocal on the cassette was magic. Electrifying! My spine tingled. I asked, “Who is singing.” The girl dancing didn’t know.

Chris Isaak

I listened six more times. I would’ve played it a seventh, but at a punk party, I was pissing people off. Country music was still tainted. It wasn’t fast. It wasn’t new. It wasn’t the Dead Kennedys. All I discovered was the singer came from Stockton. I wish I still owned the copy of the home recording that the young lady gave me.

I was managing No Alternative at the time. Outside the Mabuhay Gardens later that night where they were playing, I mentioned “the tape” to one of their fans. Blimey, if she didn’t know who he was, Chris Isaak. She even had the phone number of his tiny apartment where she said he lived in a space smaller than a cell in Attica. Three square yards jam packed with thrift shop clothes, guitars, amps and boxes full of dented canned goods on which he lived.

Later I rang Chris in the early hours of the morning. I can’t help but be amused now. Our first conversation sounded like one of those Cliff Richard films screened in 1950’s London.“What can you do for me,” were the first words I heard Chris say. Taken aback I ludicrously said: “I can make you a star.”

It was an audacious statement. Chris dislikes bullshit. He’s a man who cuts to the quick fast.“How?” “Who do you want in your band?”“John Silvers,” he said. I knew John. He was hard to handle. He was beautifully handsome. He’d played drums for the Dills. He was now playing with the Soul Rebels. I’d heard he was about to be sacked.

“Why don’t you come over for dinner tomorrow at my apartment,” I said. “I’ll invite John.” Chris rang the bell with his guitar in hand. When John showed, his drumsticks were in his back pocket. I was on the telephone. It was a strange meeting. I’m not sure any of us even liked each other.

But we were all dressed to the hilt. Chris looked like a god who’d just jumped off the midnight train from Memphis; John was wearing a shot silk red jacket, drainpipe trousers, pointy shoes, and a sneer. I was wearing a shirt from Sex, with straps and slogans, and motorcycle boots. I rolled John joints to go along with vodka and sniffed libations.

Chris drank water without ice. He didn’t want to hurt his voice. Freezing his vocal chords was right out of order. He was very odd for a rock’n’roller. He turned down a cup of tea. He was real without the obligatory trimmings. Chris was straight up. He took his guitar from its case, tuned it up, and started singing like there were a thousand people in the room.

John polished his 2Bs with a dinner napkin and started his rhythms. My girlfriend, called out, “Dinner is ready.” Hours later we ate cold pasta and arranged rehearsals for the next day. I got on the phone and started booking gigs. We didn’t have a bass player. But everything works out. Don’t it. We’d find one. We had two weeks. Mabuhay Gardens on Broadway offered a dead spot on a dead night.

At the first Silvertone gig, fifty people turned up. It was a Monday night. The take at the door paid for more rehearsals at a Tenderloin dive. We ate hamburgers at an all nite joint on Columbus Avenue and planned.

At the next gig the first fifty people brought along fifty more. Now the gig had a hundred girls screaming. Surprisingly, to all the punk bands in San Francisco, Silvertone was creating a buzz. They were gathering momentum. The rockabilly guy with the quiff was seriously pissing other bands off.

The bees and honey that Silvertone was making was invested back into the business of making music. Chris is a friendly guy. He was a great interview; anyone with a camera and access to a fanzine was treated by him like they worked for Newsweek. Chris understood exposure.

It’s crucial. It lays the groundwork that can’t be beat. It establishes grassroots’ fans. The band was gathering its own momentum faster than ever. Every penny made went back into his art. But there was a gnawing chink in the armour. All the songs Silvertone played on stage were covers. Cover bands never make any money in the long run I told Chris. Why don’t you write some songs? It’ll pan out gold.

Gone Riding

Always a quick study, it wasn’t but two days later that he called me at two in the morning. What was I doing? He had the beginnings of a song to play for me. By sunrise he’d finished “Gone Riding.” A few days later he added “Blue Hotel.” Once he’d caught the bug, it was a disease and the songs kept coming. The audiences were growing and Silvertone was changing. We hired a new bass player, found him an electric upright, Jimmy Wilsey from the Avengers had become his lead guitarist.

Jimmy and Chris were always an odd pair. Jimmy was an art school boy, brought up in a military family; he was always alone with his thoughts. Chris was a working class guy who was at home with himself. We loved to talk concepts together and take calculated risks. Jimmy wanted to get rid of me and find a manager who had an “in” with a major record company.

Blue Hotel

Chris was more of a gambler with honor and an eye for the unusual. We spent hours together, planning and thinking. My idea was always to go for maximum exposure. We both realized we were working within a tiny fishbowl. In the scheme of things being a major act in San Francisco wasn’t enough. No one would know who were in London, no one would care about you in Paris. But, they had to keep working. Honing their craft was everything. When they did get to Paris, they blew their socks off.

People outside our inner circle were always talking of over-exposure. Chris and I didn’t understand that. I used to play this game where we would argue for top-billing at a local venue. I’d pretend to reconsider on the day of the show then I’d back down. It’s the classic move. Demand, demand, demand.

Get backs up and then step down. Take the middle spot and play a show that takes no prisoners. It worked over and over again. The underdog in full flight will always strip off the emperor’s rags. And then in 1981 at the Art Institute in San Francisco all Chris’ work paid off.

The venue was packed to capacity. The hall, hot and sweaty, was unbearable. Snare drum skin was stretched and guitars unable to stay in tune.The amps were buzzing in and out. Chris was drenched in sweat; the band played its heart out. In the audience was Erik Jacobsen. He’d scored a load of hit records. He was a brilliant producer. He was apparently old school. He’d demand a pint of blood to sign an agreement. People warned the band off. He’ll take every penny you’ve got. It became a tired refrain.

Chris and I took a liking to Erik. He was the most conducive, smart thinking, generous man we’d ever met. He arranged sessions at Hyde Street Studios, once Wally Heider’s where all sorts of magical records had been produced. Jacobsen paid for the sessions out of his own pocket. Nothing was signed, only a flimsy agreement that if a record contract were to be offered he’d reap a piece of the profits. Erik was the craftsman who helped Chris meld all his musical talents into a polished gem. The rest is history...

I stepped down from Chris’ management after two albums. I wasn’t feeling well and I’d had a lifetime of living on the road in seedy hotels, on tour buses, and in recording studios. I continue to love his work. His voice is still that of an angel floating somewhere untamable. It was a couple of years after we stopped working together that I was struck down by a brain aneurysm. When I recovered I’d become Brixton Key, an author and writer of novels.

While I work, I play Chris’ records. They still strike me with that same force of that first early cassette – powerfully moving. Now when my phone rings in the early morning, I expect to hear Chris. I miss his snippets of songs. I hear them now as completed works. They’re always special. He’s special. Happy Birthday, Man.

Brixton Key,
Charlie Six, www.WhereIsCharlieSix.com

Mr. Lucky 2009
Chris Isaak Christmas 2004
Always Got Tonight 2002
Speak of The Devil 1998
Baja Sessions 1996
Forever Blue 1995
San Francisco Days 1993
Heart Shaped World 1989
Chris Isaak 1986
Silvertone 1985


Keith said...

Chris Isaak and SRC posts on retro looked great!

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you became a writer. Not only is Chris Isaak my favorite singer, your insights and delivery paint a wonderful picture of those days. Thank you.

pranto said...

Really nice guitar

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