Chris Isaak points out that he wasn't exactly idle for the seven years that separated "Always Got Tonight" and his new album, "Mr. Lucky." There was a holiday album, a live recording, a TV show and lots and lots of touring. The creator of "Forever Blue" is on the road again.
"I live more in a hotel than anywhere else," the California-based singer-songwriter says. "But that's OK, because I like the small soaps and the free slippers." Isaak took some time to field questions about "Mr. Lucky", his straight-arrow existence and the importance of Neil Diamond.
Q: Is there a reason "Mr. Lucky" is in quotes on the album title?
A: When things go completely off-the-tracks wrong I sometimes whisper to myself "Mr. Lucky" ... and when they go completely right and that has happened I think to myself "Mr. Lucky." I really do have a lucky life. My dad drove a forklift for most of his life and had a second job as a handyman. I think I am lucky to have had folks who worked their (butts) off to give me the chance I got.
Q: In "Cheater's Town," you refer to her "black heart." That's a serious accusation. Have you ever accused somebody of being black-hearted?
A: I think "Cheater's Town" is pretty easy to understand for anyone who ever rode around town looking at places and thinking "they were there together" ... and, "How could she take him to our hangout!" But it's best not to dwell on such things. Go outside, make some new friends, join a club, talk to your minister.
Q: So it's 1985. The year starts with "Like a Virgin" on top of the charts and ends with "Say You, Say Me" on top. And you make "Silvertone." Did you feel like an alien? Was there a kinship with the punky rootsy guys in L.A. like the Blasters, Los Lobos and Dwight Yoakam?
A: I worked pretty much without a scene. We were in San Francisco, and it wasn't the record capital like L.A. I think it was a good thing. We did our work, and we didn't spend all our time at a party or talking about what we were doing. I always tried to see the Blasters or Los Lobos when they played. They really are great bands. So real, so talented. And Dwight Yoakam is about as good a songwriter that ever put a pen to a paper. I think he is someone who years from now will still be remembered, like a Hank Williams or Buck Owens.
Q: The "retro" label gets bandied about a lot with you. There's clearly an affinity for some older stuff, but the records always sounded modern. Do you think the tag is lazily applied?
A: I always liked music from the '40s and '50s, but I didn't want to try to redo that sound or those songs. I wrote my own songs about my own life, and I tried to put my own flavor to it. But when people heard influences of (Roy) Orbison or Elvis (Presley) . . . yeah, I stole all I could carry, but nobody sounds like those guys.
Q: Has the falsetto ever let you down in concert? Is it safe to say you've never been much of a smoker?
A: I don't drink, I don't smoke, and I never did pot in my life. My idea of a good time is going swimming and playing guitar, and somebody brings some food.
Q: Do you remember the first album you bought with your own money?
A: Maybe "Meet the Beatles." I'm not going to count the red Huckleberry Hound record.
Q: You've covered "Solitary Man" is there a better song out there?
A: No. And if you have a second, get the book by David Wild about Neil Diamond. It will fill you in and make you realize why without Neil Diamond, the USA would probably not be free, and you and I and many others would be working in chains in a sewage plant someplace.
Q: Does one feel self-conscious the first time he steps onstage in a sparkly suit?
A: Not if one is a hillbilly like me!
Q: I've heard surfing wipeout, car accident, boxing and genetics as the cause of the nose bend. Are any of these the culprit?
A: Boxing. It has been broken a bunch and mostly straightened with a spoon.