LONDON – Chris Isaak is returning to the roots of rock ‘n’ roll and doing it old-school: All in one take.
The U.S. soul singer headed back to the original Sun Studios in Memphis to record a collection that includes cover versions of hits by Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. The album, “Beyond the Sun,” was released this week and Isaak will soon embark on a string of U.S. concert dates.
The 56-year-old, well known for his mesmerizing vocals on the now-classic 1989 hit “Wicked Game,” says the decision to make the new album was easy.
“I just went ‘I’ll sing a bunch of those songs I like singing. I got a band, I’ll just call them up and tell them to come over,'” he told the Associated Press in an interview in London.
To make it truly authentic, Isaak and his band recorded with no headphones, no separate takes, just everyone listening to each other and going with the flow.
“It scared the hell out of the band because they go, you know, ‘If I screw up the guitar solo then everybody is going to look at me,'” Isaak said.
Sun Studios, the record label owned by Sam Phillips, launched the careers of some of the greatest U.S. singer/songwriters — including Elvis, Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison.
Influenced by those big names while growing up as a child in California, Isaak delivers his interpretations of “Ring of Fire,” ”Great Balls of Fire,” ”Can’t Help Falling In Love,” ”Oh, Pretty Woman,” while also penning his own original songs.
The first single to be released is one of Isaak’s own, “Live It Up.”
Fortunately for the band, the old-school approach to recording meant they ended up producing more songs than they had bargained for. Even Isaak’s manager was surprised at the speed of production.
“She goes ’38 songs? You finished 38 songs?’ I said ‘Yeah.’ She said ‘Well, you have to mix all those, that’s going to cost a fortune.’ I said ‘No, they’re all done. We just did it all at one time in a room.'”
The singer says he’s never missed a show and neither has his drummer Kenney Dale Johnson or his bass player Rowland Salley in the 27 years they’ve been playing together.
“I’m very proud of them,” he said.
Before forging a career in music, Isaak tried his hand at many different occupations: roofing, truck-driving, being a bouncer and even a boxer. He claims he was “lousy” at all of them, it was only with music that he finally found a job he can do well.
“Singing is something that I’m always happy to do it and going in the studio I never felt any pressure. I just feel like I get to sing, you know. It’s fun,” he said.
While many musicians decry the strain of touring, Isaak says he’s lucky to be able to travel the world doing what he loves.
“I come from a small town and I come from a background where we didn’t have money to travel,” he said. “I thought I’d have to join the military to get to Europe. So I’m thrilled to travel.”
U.S. fans will get a chance to see Isaak in action starting in Austin, Texas, on Feb. 13 and ending in Napa, California, on April 27.
But, despite the stereotypes about rockers, don’t expect him to be raising hell on tour.
“I liked the rock n’ roll, I never wanted the drugs and I never saw the sex because …nobody ever suggested anything wild to me!” he said. “I think I look too much like a cop.”