Isaak was born in Stockton, California, at St. Joseph's Medical Center, the son of Dorothy (née Vignolo), a potato chip factory worker, and Joe Isaak (1929–2012), a forklift driver. His father's family is Catholic Black Sea German from North Dakota. Isaak's mother is Italian American, from Genoa.
Isaak attended Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in north Stockton, graduating in 1974. He was class president all three years, culminating with his election as Student Body President in his senior year, along with being the 1974 graduating class valedictorian and head of the all-male cheer squad. He subsequently attended a local college, San Joaquin Delta Community College, before transferring to the University of the Pacific, graduating with a bachelor's degree in English and Communications Arts in 1981. He also was in an exchange program which allowed him to study in Japan. After graduating from college, Isaak put together his first band, Silvertone. This rockabilly outfit consisted of James Calvin Wilsey (guitar), Rowland Salley (bass) and Kenney Dale Johnson (drums), who remained with Isaak as his permanent backing band.
In 1985, Isaak signed a contract with Warner Bros. Records, and released his first album, Silvertone, to critical acclaim, including from John Fogerty. The name was taken from the band he formed after graduating college. The album's sound was raw and diverse, mingling country blues with conventional folk ballads. Although the album was a critical success, it failed to sell respectably. Two tracks from the album, "Gone Ridin'" and "Livin' for Your Lover," featured in David Lynch's cult classic Blue Velvet. Isaak's self-titled follow-up album was released in 1986, and managed to scrape into the Billboard Top 200. The album saw Isaak hone his style to sophisticated R&B. The artwork for Chris Isaak, was photographed by fashion photographer Bruce Weber. Isaak's contract was renewed in 1988 when Warner Bros. moved him to their Reprise Records label. "Suspicion of Love" appears in the 1988 hit movie Married to the Mob starring Matthew Modine, Michelle Pfeiffer and Dean Stockwell.
Isaak's best known song is "Wicked Game." First released on the 1989 album Heart Shaped World, an instrumental version of the song was subsequently featured in the 1990 David Lynch film Wild at Heart. Lee Chesnut, an Atlanta radio station music director who was obsessed with Lynch films, played the vocal version and it became the station's most-requested song. Chesnut spread the word to other radio stations and the single became a national Top 10 hit in February 1991. It also reached No. 10 in the UK Singles Chart. The music video for the song was directed by Herb Ritts and was a MTV and VH1 hit; shot in black and white, it featured Isaak and supermodel Helena Christensen in a sensual encounter on the beach, caressing each other and whispering erotically in each other's ears. Another less-seen version of "Wicked Game" is directed by David Lynch and comprises scenes from the film Wild at Heart. "Wicked Game" featured as the backing music in the 2001 TV advertisement for the Jaguar X-Type in the UK. In 1995, Isaak split with longtime guitarist James Calvin Wilsey. That year's Forever Blue album and the accompanying tour featured Hershel Yatovitz on guitar.
In an interview with Mark Needham, an engineer who worked with Isaak on "Wicked Game," Needham claimed that it took several years to put the track together.
In 1999, Isaak's "Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing" was featured in Stanley Kubrick's final film, Eyes Wide Shut. The song is on his 1995 Forever Blue album. The music video for the song is directed by Herb Ritts, it was shot in color and featured Isaak and French supermodel Laetitia Casta in a motel room. This was Isaak's second collaboration with Ritts.
Isaak composed a theme song for U.S. late-night television variety/talk show, The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn. In 2001, Isaak starred in his own television show, The Chris Isaak Show. It aired from March 2001 to March 2004 in the United States on the cable television network Showtime. This adult comedy show featured Isaak and his band playing themselves and the episode plots were based on fictional accounts of the backstage world of Isaak—the rock star next door. In 2004, his track "Life Will Go On" was featured on Chasing Liberty's soundtrack, which starred Mandy Moore and Matthew Goode. His track "Two Hearts" was featured in the closing credits of the 1993 film True Romance, directed by Tony Scott, written by Quentin Tarantino, and starring Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette.
Isaak's producer, Erik Jacobsen, was instrumental in his sound for 15 years. Jacobsen is known for his production work with The Lovin' Spoonful, and solo albums from Spoonful's John Sebastian and Jerry Yester. Isaak ceased working with Jacobsen on his 2002 album, Always Got Tonight. In 2007 Isaak opened for Stevie Nicks on her Crystal Visions Tour during the first leg of the tour.
In 2006, he was guested by Johnny Hallyday to cover Fats Domino's hit Blueberry Hill. The duet was recorded and issued on Johnny Hallyday's live album La Cigale (2007, Warner Music). At the end of this record you can hear Isaak thanking the French Rock'n'Roll star as "The King."
Isaak collaborated with John Shanks for his 2009 album Mr. Lucky. He contributed a cover of Buddy Holly's "Crying, Waiting, Hoping" for a tribute album, Listen to Me: Buddy Holly, released in September 2011.
Isaak released an album called Beyond the Sun, which was recorded in Memphis, Tennessee at the Sun Records studio.On 7 September 2015, it was announced that Isaak would be performing at the 2015 AFL Grand Final, along with English singer Ellie Goulding and Canadian musician Bryan Adams.
In 2016, he did the "First Comes the Night Tour."
Isaak revealed in a 2002 interview with Acoustic Guitar that he uses a one-of-a-kind Gibson:
For my electric, I've got a one-off Gibson version of a Gretsch 6120, a sort of Chet Atkins thing. They made one of these things and gave it to me to see if I liked it, and I liked it so much I've been playing it ever since. People told me they thought it was a White Falcon, but it's not. It's just a white Gibson. I don't think they ever manufactured any of the things. They strung up this one prototype, scratched their heads, and said, 'Huh. Give it to Isaak.'
Isaak also plays a Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar, which he uses for songwriting.
Isaak has appeared in numerous films, mostly playing cameo roles. He starred, however, with Keanu Reeves and Bridget Fonda in the 1993 Bernardo Bertolucci-directed Little Buddha, and played a major role in David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992). Other motion pictures include Married to the Mob (1988), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), That Thing You Do! (1996), A Dirty Shame (2004), and The Informers (2008).
Isaak starred in The Chris Isaak Show (2001–2004) playing himself and featuring actual members of his band along with actors and celebrity guests.
He guest-starred on "The One After the Superbowl, Part One," the Super Bowl XXX edition of the television sitcom Friends; and on the HBO miniseries, From the Earth to the Moon, as astronaut Ed White, the first American astronaut to leave the confines of his spacecraft, who later died in the 1967 Apollo 1 fire.
The Biography Channel aired The Chris Isaak Hour, a one-hour music interview and performance show in 2009. The series premiere featured Trisha Yearwood, and included the first ever performance of "Breaking Apart," a duet from Isaak's new album, Mr. Lucky. Additional guests included Stevie Nicks, Smashing Pumpkins, Chicago, Glen Campbell, Michael Bublé, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), and Jewel.
In April 2010, Isaak was the special guest during Conan O'Brien's The Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour performance at the Nob Hill Masonic Center in San Francisco, California.
On September 29, 2011, Isaak received the Stockton Arts Commission STAR Award in his hometown of Stockton, California.
In 2014, he voiced the character of "Enoch," the apparent ruler of the town of Pottsfield, in the second episode of Over the Garden Wall, "Hard Times at the Huskin' Bee."
On 3 May 2015, Isaak was confirmed to be replacing Redfoo on the seventh season of The X Factor Australia. He joins James Blunt and returning judges Guy Sebastian and Dannii Minogue.Silvertone (1985)
Chris Isaak (1986)
Heart Shaped World (1989)
San Francisco Days (1993)
Forever Blue (1995)
Baja Sessions (1996)
Speak of the Devil (1998)
Always Got Tonight (2002)
Mr. Lucky (2009)
Beyond the Sun (2011)
First Comes the Night (2015)
Married to the Mob - The Clown (1988)
The Silence of the Lambs - SWAT Commander (1991)
Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me - Special Agent Chester Desmond (1992)
Little Buddha - Dean Conrad (1993)
Grace of My Heart - Matthew Lewis (1996)
That Thing You Do! - Uncle Bob (1996)
Blue Ridge Fall - Emerson Cotswold (1999)
A Dirty Shame - Vaughn Stickles (2004)
The Informers - Les Price (2009)
Wiseguy...Berated lounge singer (Season ?, Episode ?, 1987)
Friends...Rob Donnen (Season 2, Episode 12, 1996) – "The One After the Superbowl"
From the Earth to the Moon...Astronaut Edward White II (1998)
Melrose Place...Himself/Musical Guest (Season 7: Ep. 28 Ryan's Choice 1998)
The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn...Himself (Season 3, Episode 40, June 29, 2001)
The Greatest...Himself (50 Sexiest Video Moments, 2003)
Ed...Jamie Decker (Season 3, Episode 20, 2003) – "Second Chances"
The Greatest...Himself/Host (100 Greatest Videos, 2003)
The Chris Isaak Show...Himself (2001–2004)
American Dreams...Roy Orbison (Season 2, Episode 14, 2004) – "Old Enough to Fight"
The Footy Show...Himself (Grand Final, 2004)
The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson...Michael Caine in Space (Season 2, Episode 177, 2006)
Great Performances Jerry Lee Lewis: Last Man Standing Live...Himself (2007)
The Bill Engvall Show...Himself (Season 1, Episode 6, 2007)
Australian Idol...Himself (Season 6, November 9–10, 2008)
The Chris Isaak Hour...Himself/Host (2009–Present)
George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight ...Himself (Season 2, Episode 23 | October 21, 2011)
Conan ...Himself (Episode 192, January 4, 2012)
Loose Women ...Himself (September 28, 2012)
The Tonight Show...Himself (January 13, 2014)
Hot in Cleveland...Chase Jackson (one episode, 2014)
Over the Garden Wall...Enoch (one episode, 2014)
Adventure Time...7718 (one episode, 2015)
The X Factor Australia ...Himself -Judge/Mentor (2015-)
Sheriff Callie's Wild West ...Johnny Strum (voice) (Season 2, 2016)