Soon to Be 80, Crooner Engelbert Humperdinck Shows No Signs of Slowing Down

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JANET MACOSKA/HARD ROCK ROCKSINO NORTHFIELD PARK
  • Janet Macoska/Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park
One of the last of the old school lounge/soft rock singers who sings about romantic love like it’s something precious, Engelbert Humperdinck hammed it up when he appeared at Hard Rock Live at Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield Park back in 2014. And yet Humperdinck, who returns to the venue at 7:30 on Sunday, May 8,  still took soft rock seriously enough that older members of the crowd didn't think he was just phoning it in and goofing around.  

Humperdinck devoted most of the second half of that 2014 show to playing material from 2014's Engelbert Calling, an album of duets that debuted in the UK Top-40 Album Charts at No. 31. The album features duets with Charles Aznavour, Elton John, Il Divo, Johnny Mathis, Lulu, Willie Nelson, Olivia Newton-John, Cliff Richard, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, Neil Sedaka, Ron Sexsmith, Gene Simmons and Dionne Warwick. During a recent phone interview from his Los Angeles office, Humperdinck spoke about the album and what keeps him going as he approaches his 80th birthday.

Do you remember when you first played in Cleveland?
Yeah, I used to do fair dates over there a long time ago. I can remember playing Cleveland to 50,000 people in one day in the afternoon and in the evening in the early days. When that disappeared, we went into the theaters and now it’s the casinos and all that.

You’ve played Hard Rock Live here in the past. Talk about what that show was like?
That was two years ago. I had a great time. I try to have a good time everywhere I go. I give me same effort at every place I go. That’s me. I get very upset if I don’t or if something goes wrong mechanically or the sound isn’t good. I like to give my audience the best of me at all times.

I was at the show here in 2014. You still had women screaming their lungs out. What’s the secret to staying so sexy at 79?
I don’t know. I don’t try to analyze that. I just try to keep going the way I’m going and hopefully it will stay with me for a long time to come.

Your career started back in the '50s, but it didn’t take off until the ’60s. What was the key to becoming successful?
What happened was I got the right manager, Gordon Mills, who changed my life by giving me a new name. We found a song that went to No. 1 around the world, which was “Release Me.” It was a country song that we turned into country pop song. It went to No. 1 everywhere and had vast sales. In England alone, the peak sales per day were 120,000, which never happens in today’s world.

Did you have any doubts about changing your name to Engelbert?
Oh no. I had to do that. I tried under the other name but it didn’t work. My father was rather upset because I changed the family name, but you had to go where you’re going to be successful. I changed my name and became successful around the world. I still maintain my other name on my passport, so my father was satisfied with that. He was very proud of me in the end.

You’ve also made a number of cameos and appearances on TV shows. What stands out?
There’s been many many TV shows. I’ve done so many that I can’t think off hand which has been my favorite of all. I can’t say. Appearing before a royal family was one of my favorite times. I’m a Brit so that was special.

You’ve said you were disappointed when your manager turned down an opportunity to do a song with Gorillaz. What’s the story there?
The story was that I was being handled by someone who didn’t know who they were and no idea about music anyway. They never told me. If they had told me, I would have jumped on it myself. Right now, I have a manager who I communicate with and he tells me everything that’s going on. This guy never told me that this came along. He just let it go by. I was furious when I heard about it. I missed out. I really did, and I’m so upset about it.

Talk about what it was like to record Engelbert Calling?
I got to work with some of the people I truly admire. Johnny Mathis has a forever voice. He’s like a Nat King Cole. I was so thrilled to work with him. And people like Elton John and Neil Sedaka and Kenny Rogers and Gene Simmons. Elton started it for me. I called him first. That’s why it’s called “Engelbert calling.” I called him and asked him if he could do a song on my duets album. He said yes and so I thought I would call them all. That’s the way it started. I called them all and they all said yes, including Willie Nelson. Willie was great. And, of course, Gene Simmons was outstanding. Who would put Engelbert Humperdinck and Gene Simmons together? But it worked. It was just great.

That song with Elton John is a treasure.
That’s the B-side of “Candle in the Wind.” It sold millions and millions of records. That song is as well known as “Candle in the Wind.” When he said he wanted to do that song with me, I was really, really thrilled. We didn’t start singing right away when we got in the studio. We just talked for a couple of hours before we even started putting our voices down. It was great getting to know each other again after a long time.

Any other recordings in the works?
Not right now. I have a lot of big shows coming up around the world. Pretty soon, I’m off to Cairo and Singapore and the Philippines. I’ve got a world tour coming up.

You’re about to turn 80. Any big plans for a birthday party?
Jut family and friends here in L.A. You know, it’s a hard number to accept in your head. You say, “I can’t believe it that I’m going to be that.” It’s better than the alternative. I’m fortunate because people tell me I don’t look my age. People come up to me and say, “You don’t look your age.” I can’t imagine how bad I must’ve looked when I was younger. I must have looked hideous.


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