Isaak was born in Stockton, California, at St. Joseph's Medical Center, the son of Dorothy (née Vignolo), apotato chip factory worker, and Joe Isaak (1929–2012), a forklift driver. His father's family is German Catholic—also known as Black Sea German—from North Dakota. Isaak's mother is Italian American, from Genoa.[better source needed] 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 communications in 1981.
Isaak signed a contract to Warner Bros. Records in 1984 for his first album, Silvertone. One track from the album "Dancin" was Isaak's first music video featured on MTV and two tracks from this album, "Gone Ridin'" and "Livin' for Your Lover" featured in David Lynch's cult classic Blue Velvet. Isaak's second self-titled album,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, Michele Pfeifer and Dean Stockwell.
Chris Isaak onstage in Berkeley, California – 1986
Isaak's best known song is "Wicked Game". Though released on the 1989 album Heart Shaped World, aninstrumental version of the song was later 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 10hit 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.
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.