Capturing the Chris Isaak story

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Capturing the Chris Isaak story

Words by Tammy Walters

Being personally serenaded by the world’s number one crooner, Chris Isaak, was not on the bingo card for 2024.

As the zoom window opens, Isaak appears on screen, his branded guitar pressed to his chest. Attentive, he takes immediate notice of my name. 

“Tell me, has everybody been singing ‘Tammy’ to you your whole life?” 

He takes vocal flight, “The ole hooty-owl hooty-hoo’s to the dove, Tammy, Tammy, Tammy’s in love.” His fingers dance silently, unconsciously across the guitar fretboard; an extension of his body. 

The answer is yes. That namesake song from the 1960’s Sandra Dee and Debbie Reynolds starring movie series, Tammy and the Doctor, Tammy and the Bachelor, and so on, shadowed me my entire life, embarrassment overpowering the association, but the song echoing from Isaak’s lips evoked a sense of pride, and a hint of flush. 

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“I met Debbie Reynolds. I saw her on a talk show in the United States and I passed her in the hallway and I said “Excuse me, Miss Reynolds, you did a really wonderful job on Tammy”. I said, “I thought your vocal on that was really beautiful”, and she looked at me like I was just another generic rock idiot and all of a sudden I looked not as dumb as I had before,” he recalls, his storytelling captivating.

It’s this effortless charm, this ability to immediately draw you in and drink every word that drips from his California-accented tongue, that has continued to capture the heart of audiences across the world. At 67 years old with 45 years of career flex behind him, Isaak has a lot of stories to tell.


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From his talk show host days to his stadium showstoppers, his acting cameos, and of course his time as a judge of Australia’s Got Talent, Isaak comes with a books of tales from his adventures. We venture beyond his fame for his second story, back to the hay-day.

“I used to work on farms throwing hay and I did that a lot. I was still throwing hay even after I was signed on my record deal and farmers would call me because I was a damn good worker. I was pretty strong with a strong back and, like a mule, I would work hard. A farmer hired me to clean out a field of weeds where he couldn’t get his tractor in and he wanted me to hoe it. He hired me and my buddy and he figured it would be a week’s work. I told my buddy, “Let’s not be here for a week. This is miserable. Let’s get it done TODAY!” and we did,” he laughs.

The tales roll on through his colourful career that has taken him into all corners of the world. Down Under, a land where Isaak has played over a whooping 120 shows, lived for a stint during his judging era and made a cultural mark playing the AFL Grand Final of 2015, Isaak speaks of his interesting encounters.

“When I was in Australia we did the Footy Show and it was these athletes talking about a game from four years ago or whenever and they would go, [mocks an Australian accent], “he pulled his hammy and had to go see the physie” and I’m like “Hammy?”, “Physie?”. You shorten everything!” 

That’s just a snippet of his time spent with different species in Australia. Stacking up against the six-foot six-packed athletes is nothing compared to his dealings with other creatures.

“Australia does have something though – they have bugs that I go “Oh My God”. There was a spider in Australia that I saw – we have tarantulas in California but there was one in Australia at this party and I said “Oh my god, there’s a huge tarantula in the room” and [the homeowner] put a wine glass over it and tried to pick it up with a piece of paper and take it outside instead of kill it. When she put the wine glass over it, it was so big it kept kicking the wine glass over. That’s big – that’s a big spider,” he laughs.     

Alas, it does not deter him from jetting across the Pacific again. He is brimming with excitement speaking of his upcoming tour and stop into A Day On The Green for his In Concert series, beginning tonight in Perth.

“I love being in Australia – people always ask me where is your favourite place to play? Well any time the audience is smiling or in a good mood; you can be playing in a gravel pit but if the audience is good, it’s going to be a fun day. But I have to say my favourite place is Australia,” he continues.

“Imagine California in the 60’s, and that’s a good thing to imagine because when I grew up California was not many people, everybody was laidback, plentiful food, great sunshine and cool beaches, and that’s what Australia is to me. It’s mecca.”   


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After 120 shows, Isaak still keeps the live setting interesting for his fans. If you’ve seen Isaak once, you have to see him again because you never know what will turn up in his setlist.

“The show changes a little bit every time and it also changes [depending] on what people want to do that day. If the audience is listening to more ballads, I’ll play more ballads. If they want to listen to rock ‘n’ roll, I’ll play rock ‘n’ roll. I expect a good time. We’ve never had a bad time in Australia,” he admits.

“Hopefully when we come back the people won’t remember all of the jokes.”

The streak will keep going this Saturday night down at Mt Duneed Estate where Isaak returns to a field, only this time there will be no hay hauling.

Tickets to see the legend along with Boy & Bear, Linda and Vika, Ella Hooper and The Mojo Corner are still on sale via the A Day On The Green website