Engelbert Humperdinck’s career has spanned more than 60 years—and he’s never really had a dry spell.
There are a lot of legends about the man, who’s taken many iconic songs and performed them better than the artists who originally wrote and sang them. Engelbert Humperdinck has lived a fascinating life, and he’s still going at the age of 81. On Friday, Feb. 16, he will return to Morongo (where almost all shows have been selling out as of late—so you may want to consider getting your tickets now, if so inclined).
During a recent phone interview, I asked Humperdinck about growing up in Madras, British India, where his father was stationed in the British Army.
“Being in a tropical country like that was very exciting for a young boy,” Humperdinck said. “There were so many wonderful things to see. There was always the beautiful sunshine, and there were the monsoon seasons. I was brought up on eating curry, which is still one of my favorite foods to this day because of that. It was a nice upbringing.”
Humperdinck made his debut on Decca Records in 1967, and instantly reached the charts—although he faced an uphill battle to get signed.
“I was very lucky to get on Decca Records. My introduction to it was thanks to Gordon Mills, who was my first manager,” Humperdinck said. “He took a record there with my old stage name on it, Gerry Dorsey, and they turned me down. He went back, changed the name to Engelbert Humperdinck, (and took) the same song back to another A&R manager with the company, and they signed me up! A name means a lot. When I was beginning, I started out as Gerry Dorsey playing the clubs. I had been in the business for three or four years at 20 years old, and when Gordon took my record in the first time, they said, ‘This guy is an old hat!’”
His first single as Humperdinck was “Release Me.” It earned Humperdinck an unthinkable accomplishment: It prevented the Beatles from taking the No. 1 slot with “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane” on the British charts.
“I can’t believe that the first song I ever recorded stopped the mighty Beatles from having their 13th No. 1 single, and I’m in the Guinness Book of World Records. … It went No. 1 in 11 countries around the world and established my career in a global way. It’s been a fantastic song for me, and I’ve been lucky enough to sell 150 million albums—but with all the songs I’ve recorded, and 81 albums altogether, it’s the only song people remember and sing to my face in airports.”
Humperdinck—the United Kingdom’s surprise 2012 entry in the wildly popular Eurovision Song Contest—discussed the fact that he’s never really had a dry spell.
“I don’t think I really struggled once I became successful. The troubles that I’ve had in my life were during the beginning,” he said. “I got turned down many times by many people when I would audition for certain shows, but one of my things is the first condition of communication is the willingness to take rejection—and I took it many times. But I never stopped knocking on people’s doors, and it finally happened for me with ‘Release Me.’ I was selling 80,000 copies a day, and the most we sold in one day was 127,000. That was only in England. The sales spun around the world, and it was extraordinary.”
However, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing for the British crooner. When Damon Albarn reached out to Humperdinck’s management and asked him to collaborate on the 2010 Gorillaz album Plastic Beach, his management turned Albarn down—without Humperdinck’s knowledge.
“The guy who managed me had no idea who they were. Managers should really get themselves well-informed of things in the music world if you’re going to handle a singer,” Humperdinck said. “He just let it go by. I was furious when I heard about it. I don’t know why Damon Albarn wanted me, but I was very touched by the fact he did want me, and I would love to know why he wanted me. If I ever meet him, I’m going to ask him that question.”
In 2014, Humperdinck released Engelbert Calling, a double-album of duets with some of the biggest names in music, such as Elton John, Willie Nelson, and … Gene Simmons?
“That was unbelievable,” Humperdinck said about the collaborations. “Being in the studio with Elton John was so wonderful. The man has earned his title and has certainly earned his position in life. When you see him in the studio, you respect what he’s achieved over the years.
“Gene Simmons is an extraordinary person. Who thought he’d want to do a duet with Engelbert Humperdinck? But he did! He was amazing in the studio with me, too, and made me feel very relaxed. I was nervous, because that guy is in a different world than my kind of music. But he made me feel so comfortable, and he said, ‘Just treat it like you’re having a party.’ That’s what we did.”
I had to ask: What was up with “Lesbian Seagull,” the hilarious song that appeared on the Beavis and Butt-Head Do America movie soundtrack?
“I was playing the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, and the producers of Beavis and Butt-Head came to see me,” he said. “I do have a sense of humor, so they enjoyed my show and my sense of humor and asked me if I wanted to do a song in the movie. They sent it to me, and I heard it, and I thought, ‘It’s a beautiful song.’ I recorded it, and it went platinum because of the idea of it.”
Fifty years after “Release Me,” Humperdinck recently released a new double-album, 50. It’s dedicated to his wife of more than 50 years, Patricia.
“She has Alzheimer’s, and with all my heart and soul, I’m looking for a cure,” Humperdinck said.
Engelbert Humperdinck will perform at 9 p.m., Friday, Feb. 16, at Morongo Casino Resort Spa, 49500 Seminole Drive, in Cabazon. Tickets are $65 to $85. For tickets or more information, call 800-252-4499, or visit www.morongocasinoresort.com.