When reflects on his career mistakes, his idol — the late, great '60s rocker Roy Orbison — comes to mind. "I got a call from Roy Orbison years ago, when I was out playing some hole-in-the-wall," Isaak says. "He wanted me to play on a special and I said, 'Yeah, I'd love to do it!' My manager said, 'We already booked a gig and they're depending on you.' And from wherever the hell I'm from, I went, 'You're right, they're depending on me.' Now, I realize I should have said, 'Screw them, I'm playing the Roy Orbison thing!'"
It's too late for Isaak to do a gig with Orbison, but thanks to the magic of television, he can go back in time to share in his legacy. The rockabilly guest-stars on Sunday's American Dreams to sing "Pretty Woman" — as Orbison himself.
"That [song is] so much Roy, I usually wouldn't think to touch that," Isaak says. But he changed his mind after recalling a conversation he had with Orbison years ago. "I actually told him when he was alive [that] if the Martians came and said, 'Show us how to write a rock song,' 'Pretty Woman' is what we should give them. This is what rock and roll is supposed to be like."
Once Isaak accepted the Dreams gig — after receiving permission from Orbison's widow — he didn't need to do any research to deliver a pitch-perfect performance. "I knew everything there was to know," Isaak says, adding that he did eventually play with Orbison and the two became friends. He worried about appearing realistic, though. "I don't really look like Roy Orbison," Isaak says. "[But] they made [my hair] black, black, black, and sprayed it and puffed it up. They made my skin really white. And when they got done, I looked in the mirror and went, 'Roy!'"
Now that he's back to just being Chris, we wonder what's next for him and his band when Showtime's The Chris Isaak Show ends. (The two-hour series finale airs March 25.) "We're talking about maybe doing another TV show," Isaak reveals. "It would be comedy, and less of a drive to work. Variety with plenty of ham. I'm the ham."