Englebert Humperdinck can surprise you. Not only is he still touring the world at age 81, he’s also doing it to promote an album of all new material that has a special place in his heart.
“It’s an extraordinary position I am in right now, being at this age and being able to work more than most people who are younger than me,” Humperdinck said in an interview in December from his home office in Southern California. “I’ve just always had this work ethic. I’ve done this all my life.”
The singer known for his songs of romantic love continues that musician’s life with his latest tour, which makes a stop on Jan. 12 at Grand Sierra Resort. While many of Humperdinck’s loyal fans will likely be there, there are scores of others who are considerably younger than the singer in the audience, which he said he is amazed by after 50 years in show business.
“Social media has been very extraordinary in promoting my career in many ways,” he said. “The fans who are making videos of past hits of mine, and showing pictures I haven’t seen for ages, it’s so heartwarming, you know?”
Humperdinck has plenty of career for younger generations to discover. It began with his first recordings in England in 1958, under the name Gerry Dorsey, a variation on his real name of Arnold George Dorsey. He worked nightclubs in the UK consistently until 1965, when he was managed by Gordon Mills, who suggested the Engelbert Humperdinck name change.
His first big hit was “Release Me” in 1967, which went to No. 4 in America and famously held off the Beatles’ song “Penny Lane” from reaching No. 1. Other big hits for Humperdinck in the ’60s included “Am I That Easy to Forget?” “A Man Without Love,” and “Winter World of Love.” He also hosted his own variety show in 1969 in the UK, which was licensed to ABC-TV in the States.
The man he wants to be
In the ’70s, Humperdinck continued to score hits, although he was become more known for his nonstop touring around the world. Among the hits was “After the Lovin’,” a top 10 hit in America. Other songs from this era of Humperdinck’s career include “Love is All,” “This Moment in Time” and “Goodbye My Friend.”
After his commercial chart peak, Humperdinck never really let up on either touring or recording, although both were on less of a breakneck pace than before. Among the notable songs from this period were “Love’s Only Love,” “Til You and Your Lover and Lovers Again” and “Love Will Set You Free.” He also showed a sense of humor with a comic song that featured his vocals, played completely straight, for the movie “Beavis and Butthead Do America” in 1996.
The past year has been a particularly eventual one in Humperdinck’s career. First there was “50,” a compilation record covering his entire career. Then, in late November, Humperdinck released “The Man I Want To Be,” a new album that features a wide range of songs including several written by contemporary artists.
The album is also dedicated to his wife of 55 years, Patricia Healey, who has Alzheimer’s disease. Humperdinck said that Patricia is doing well.
“Her treatments seem to be having some effect,” Humperdinck said. “She’s speaking words again and really recognizes me quite a lot. When I’m away, I’ll call her and say, ‘Hello, my darling,’ and at that point, she tries to kiss the phone. So, she knows it’s me.
“I’ve been very public about the fact that my wife has Alzheimer’s, and I wanted to use this record to show the people what I’m thinking and that I care about her so much.”
Finding the right songs
“The Man I Want To Be” features several songs that tie to Humperdinck’s life in some way. There are love songs that tie to his current life, such as his cover of Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are,” and ones like album opener “I Don’t Know Who I Am Yet,” a song about meeting his wife for the first time in a dance hall. The album also features Humperdinck’s granddaughter, Olivia, who is age 9, singing a part on one song.
“She’s amazing. This young lady is going to be like Bruno (Mars) and be a huge star someday,” Humperdinck said. “ I’m not just staying that because she’s my granddaughter, I’m saying it because I do know how to recognize talent, and I’ve done that a great deal over the years. She really does have a great amount of ability, but she’s so young now that it hasn’t come out just yet. But it’s going to be extraordinary to watch.”
Humperdinck said that finding these right songs takes time and that each has to have a good story line within the song.
“It has to be something people can relate to,” he said. “That’s something I experience when I listen to my favorite songs. When people can really connect with the song, it’s like a release for them, and that’s the way it is for me when I perform it.”
One of those songs Humperdinck chose was “Photograph,” by popular singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran.
“His writing is absolutely spectacular,” Humperdinck said on why he chose the song. “I don’t stick to all my own songs in my show. I love a challenge, so I’ll do other people’s songs and then let the audience see how I do it. So, I’ve sang Ed’s songs before I even recorded one, because I loved them so much. When my producer brought me (‘Photograph’), I just thought it really fit the story line of the album.”
Although he doesn’t write the songs he sings, Humperdinck said he does write poetry, which he doesn’t share but which sounds therapeutic for him.
“I know that when I have something on my mind, I sit down and write a poem about it. If there’s something that stresses me out at the time, I can write it and read it back to myself and it’s gone. It takes away the pressure.”