I was in Texas a couple of weeks ago, visiting a musician friend and taking care of some legal business. While there, I was treated to two nights of (musical) bliss, listened to some great bands and had a wonderful, laughter-filled time. However, even the good vibes from that experience, (and being again exposed to some great musicians from my past), did not compare to the Chris Isaac concert last night at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in Portland. I bought tickets for myself, my friend SB, and John. The occasion was the first of many surprises for John’s upcoming birthday.
Now, THIS is a musician!
Chris is the perfect example of an established, professional musician that knows what his audience wants, and knows how to give it to them. I have seen him many times through the years, and he has always been a great showman. Last night, I think I figured out why he is so successful when other talented musicians are not and never will be.
First of all, this man is not an ego-driven individual. A good example….He can play guitar very well. He has had the same Gibson for decades and regularly asked to appear at Gibson-sponsored events. However, to this day, he still studies guitar with a professional teacher, as do his other band members. Chris Isaak is smart enough to know that there is always something new he can learn.
Less intelligent musicians are ego-driven and assume they know everything. They boast about how great they are. They won’t listen to anyone else, and this is why they fail. Chris Isaak listens to others. That is what master musicians do. He has great instincts and gives his audience what they want. He works for it. He doesn’t just assume that everyone is going to fall all over him. He is confident, but modest.
Chris also clearly recognizes that his lead player, Herschel Yatovitz, is a better guitarist than he is, and he doesn’t compete with him on stage. In fact, he allows Herschel to do what he does and he supports him, rather than tries to drown him out with his own playing. This is a key element in what sets Chris Isaac apart from other musicians… and an important element in what makes him so great. He isn’t boastful, and he knows his own limitations. Chris can concentrate on his own strengths and let others do what they do best without feeling threatened. His band is great. They are tight, funny, and experts at their craft They know how to put on an excellent show and the audience never senses any kind of discord or tension between band members. Even though Chris Isaac is the star, he makes sure that everyone in the audience knows that his band is worthy of respect. He treats the other band members with reverence and doesn’t act like HE is the big star….although he is.
In person, Chris is a striking figure with the handsome face of a ’50s matinee idol. He fashions his brown hair into a signature pompadour and dresses like Porter Waggoner, in sequins and glitter. One of his suits last night looked like it was made entirely of mirrors. The guy is a showman and goes that extra mile to look good for his audience. He has great posture and a healthy sense of his own body, which he uses as a prop to woo his audience. There is nothing sloppy about him.
While sexy, Chris is not overtly sexual. He moves, but not provocatively. His dancing is graceful and practiced. He is polite and again, modest. His movements have an air of elegance rather than crudeness. He is funny, dancing in unison with his bass player and lead guitarist, using their guitars to mimic gangsters firing machine guns. He is comfortable in his own skin. There is a wholesome quality about this musician He is romantic, witty and intelligent. He has skills…but he remains unassuming and professional. He never takes his other band members or the audience for granted. His demeanor while on stage is humble and kind.
Each time I have seen him, Chris Isaac has looked healthy and much younger than his actual age (now nearing 60). The man clearly has self discipline and knows the importance of maintaining his health and appearance. He works out. He eats healthful foods and espouses this. You can say of Isaak what rockabilly great Carl Perkins, (a man I worked with once) who wrote “Blue Suede Shoes,” said about Elvis: “The boy has everything. He has the looks, the moves and the talent… He really is different.”
Chris is shown here with an Epiphone guitar, but he usually plays a Gibson that he has owned for decades.
Chris regularly practices vocal exercises to keep his vocal instrument strong and in tune. Where other musicians throw their money away, Chris has invested in a good vocal coach. Twice last night, he sustained a single note for a LONG time…longer than many younger musicians can hold a note. His voice is strong and amazing because he takes care of it.
There is no bending down to adjust knobs or guitar tuning for Chris while on stage. Everything is rehearsed, tight, professional and in place to give the audience a good show. Things are so well orchestrated that he makes everything look effortless. It is clear, however, that he has rehearsed and rehearsed. It is also clear that he gets along well with his other band members. They have been together for years and years.
Last night, he asked that the house lights be turned up so he could honor the audience. He even ran upstairs and sang a song from the balcony so that those with the “bad” seats could enjoy him up close and personal. He showed real appreciation for his audience. Everything wasn’t about HIM….it was about the audience…the people that love and support him. When he spoke, he wasn’t full of himself. He talked about THE AUDIENCE. He told one or two small jokes, but didn’t run these into the ground. They weren’t crude, racist, sexist or stupid. They were intelligent, and to me, nothing is sexier.
Chris Isaak is high, loving energy. He turns that energy OUT and lets it move through his body. He keeps his body language loose, feels the music and is utterly comfortable.
Chris Isaak, ladies and gents. Everything a REAL professional musician should be.