Stuck on Elvis: Chris Isaak hosts show

LOS ANGELES — On a recent evening, singer/actor Chris Isaak sits down to talk about the man who, for him, started it all.

Isaak has just finished shooting promos for an NBC special called "Elvis Lives," airing at 10 p.m. tomorrow (KING). The set is reminiscent of the bare, square stage used by Elvis Presley in his 1968 TV special, "Elvis: One Night With You," and so is the black-leather suit Isaak is wearing.

But for Isaak, it's not about the look. "I know a lot of stuff about him, because, over the years, I've read enough books, but I'm not really into what year he was born, what's his birthdate. I'm not a baseball-statistics kind of guy.

"But if you ask me what songs, I know the music pretty well, and particularly that early stuff that Sam Phillips and Scotty Moore played on. That, to me, is a really fascinating time. It was really a band of guys who put the music together, who made rock 'n' roll.

"With any one of those guys out of the picture — if Scotty Moore hadn't been in the picture — I don't think it would have come out like that. Elvis could easily have been far more country, but Scotty Moore dragged him to some new place."

"Elvis Lives" celebrates Presley's legacy with commentary and performances by contemporary stars Bono, Tom Petty, Sheryl Crow, No Doubt, Dave Matthews, LeAnn Rimes and Britney Spears. Along with stories, reflections and archival footage, the special features selected performances by modern artists of four Presley classics from the recent RCA release "Elvis 30 Number One Hits."

It's Presley's early years — raw and wild and unpredictable — captured by Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn., that are closest to Isaak's heart. "I stood with my drummer in front of Sun Studios," he recalls. "We looked at each other — and we're the two most sarcastic musicians, everything is a reason for a joke — and we're like, 'We're on hallowed ground.' "

While Isaak is happy to host a special that features new covers of Elvis tunes, he doesn't think the magic has happened again.

"This is not to rag anybody, because I include myself in this, but 20 different people, and we all sang an Elvis song. It's an interesting statement to say about a guy, these are all today's top, biggest stars, and each picked the song they thought they did best, and I don't think any of us did as good as Elvis."