Engelbert Humperdinck knows the secret of success: Good songs and good entertainment

Published on March 29th, 2021

By Jim Dail

With sales of more than 150 million records, Engelbert Humperdinck can clearly make good records. However, while there’s no doubt about his voice, it is also clear that he continues to be one of the top draws when it comes to putting on a show, which he will do Friday and Saturday at the Pechanga Showroom.

He agrees there’s more to it than just singing.

“Entertaining has been an evolving skill,” he said during a recent interview. “It started in the working man’s clubs in England. If you stood still for too long, you’d get beer thrown at you on a rowdy night, no matter how good your singing chops were or how smartly you were dressed.”

They wanted their money’s worth.

“These crowds had worked hard, long hours all week and they wanted to be entertained,” he said. “Even when I fell on my posterior, I’d slide forward on my knees like it was part of the act.

As time went by, I couldn’t help but be a sort of thespian of song. The lyrics were so strong that they just brought the emotion and movement to the delivery.”

Indeed, the song is still a vital cog and he has not stopped searching for good songs, as evidenced by his new record, “Runaway Country.”

The album features such classics as “Behind Closed Doors,” “I Can See Clearly,” “Desperado” and “We’ve Got Tonight.”

“Runaway Country takes those songs that hit so many of our lives’ sound tracks and adds a little of the roots of my early music,” he said. “’Release Me,’ ‘There Goes My Everything,’ many of the hits were rich in Southern influence. It just seemed natural to hop back on that track all these miles down the road.”

Of course, some of his songs are already major classics, such as ‘Release Me,’ ‘The Last Waltz’ and ‘After the Lovin’.”

“All three of those songs gave me goosebumps [when I heard them] and a surge of excitement that comes with knowing a song is going to hit more hearts than just mine, millions more,” he said. “The intros were so instantly recognizable, and it didn’t even take a full measure to know what was to follow.”

He credits the people in the studio.

“The arrangers [Charles Blackwell, Les Reed and Charlie Callello] played such an important part, and I certainly had more than my fair share of enormous talent taking on these stellar songs,” he said.

Born Arnold George Dorsey, he learned saxophone when he was 11, leaving it behind to sing in a contest at a pub in England. After contracting tuberculosis, he decided to change his image as a master impressionist and take the name of Engelbert Humperdinck from the 19th-century operatic composer, and the rest is history. Of course, that history includes such groups as The Carpenters and Jimi Hendrix opening shows for him.

“I had several influences, but I listened to Nat King Cole and those golden, rounded tones,” he said. “I soaked up the best of the best. My vocal landscape was wide open when I first started. I just worked hard at being the best version of myself but originally stole nuggets from those far away vocal sounds that floated in over the air waves.”

And there were a number of good songwriters and songs from which to choose. 

“In the early days, it was easy to find a killer song because the writing teams were so spot on with how they wrote for an artist,” he said. “Sometimes, it wasn’t finding a song but holding on to it that proved to be tricky. Les Reed and Barry Mason [‘The Last Waltz,’ ‘When there’s No You’] were an incredible team for me.”

With such a rounded ability to sing just about anything, his shows are a wide collection of styles.

“People can expect a fresh mix of what got me to where I am today with some unexpected surprises along the way,” he said. “New material still gives me a good mix of nervous butterflies and eager excitement.”

But there’s no signs of calling it quits on the horizon.

“I’m looking forward to another 365 around the sun and many miles of memories to come,” he said.

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