The year 1967 is arguably most remembered nowadays for the Summer of Love. But, ironically, one of the top songs from that year was about love that had run its course: “Release Me” by Engelbert Humperdinck, which spent six weeks at No. 1 on the British charts. It was Humperdinck’s first and most enduring hit, and famously prevented “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever” from being The Beatles’ 12th straight British No. 1 single.
“Release Me” launched Humperdinck’s career, which is still going strong more than 50 years later. He will be performing this and other such hits as “The Last Waltz” and “After the Lovin’” at the Chumash Casino Resort in Santa Ynez on Friday, Feb. 9. Tickets are available online by clicking here.
Humperdinck reflected on his career in an email interview with Noozhawk.
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Jeff Moehlis: What can people look forward to at your upcoming show?
Engelbert Humperdinck: It’s early in the tour year, so I don’t want to give too much away. The show has a good balance of the hits that took me around the world and gave me a global career and a great selection from the songs on the latest CD, The Man I Want to Be, that have already resonated with audiences and the press. The Chumash crowd will be well looked after when it comes to the set list and all the stories that weave it together.
JM: Your first hit single, “Release Me,” came out 51 years ago. Can you tell us a bit about how you chose to record that song, and how the recording came together?
EH: I heard a sax melody by the famous British bandleader Frank Weir. It was haunting and stirring and so sad. I asked if anyone had recorded a version with lyrics. I knew by goose-bump gauge, as soon as I heard the words and the melody together, that it was for me — just as I felt many years later with “After the Loving.”
Interestingly and frustratingly, it sat on the shelf until I filled in for a sick guest on a TV show called Sunday Night at the London Palladium. I was sick with nerves, but the next day, the record flew off the shelves in record-breaking numbers of 80,000 to 120,000 a day just in the U.K.
JM: What, in your opinion, makes a song like “Release Me” stand the test of time?
EH: “Release Me” has the cold, hard truth mixed into a warm but heartbreaking melody.
It’s an age-old story that may hit home with the listener in varying degrees, but in reality, I’d imagine, those words are never uttered — just swallowed. It may just be a song that puts you into your own starring role and the song is make-believe. We all love songs that make us cry for some reason.
It’s ironic that it was my first hit and here I am 53 years later married to the same wonderful woman whom I dated seven years prior to popping the question.
JM: “Release Me” kept “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields” from reaching No. 1 in the U.K. Did you ever cross paths with The Beatles, and if so, did this come up?
EH: The “Release Me Balladeer” did not stroll down “Penny Lane” or run through “Strawberry Fields” very often. We were on “Long and Winding Roads” but hardly ever the same road. John lived close to me in England, and our dalmatian used to pinch his bread off of his doorstep. It wasn’t like pinching the No. 1 spot, but I’m sure it added a bit to the disbelief that the chap with the name that sounded like a group pulled off a seemingly impossible task. I loved and love their music, and even though it’s a great talking point for me, I give the glory to destiny and later recorded “Penny Lane” as a tribute and thank you.
JM: Can you tell us about touring with Jimi Hendrix in 1967?
EH: Jimi was such a lovely guy. What a great honor it was to be on a tour that was introducing him to The Brits. He already had huge hits in the U.S. It seemed like an odd pairing, but I’m so glad this Brit was given the opportunity to see this colorful and creative genius at work.
My guitar player fell ill one night, and Jimi filled in for me — hiding his aura behind the curtain, not to give the game away and sounding like three guitars were playing. Needless to say, that was one of my best nights and highlights on that tour. I have a real treasure of a photo of him in an orange jumpsuit next to Cat Stevens, Noel Redding and myself.
JM: Who was your favorite guest on The Engelbert Humperdinck Show?
JM: How did you end up recording “Lesbian Seagull” for the Beavis and Butt-Head movie?
EH: The creator of Beavis and Butt-Head came to my show and liked my tongue-in-cheek comedy. I learned from the best and never took myself too seriously. How could I with a name like mine? They sent me the song, and when I heard the sweeping melody my heart took flight. I even enjoyed squawking in the most majestic way I could caw! It still makes me smile when I hear it or get asked about it.
JM: Do you ever get tired of singing songs like “Release Me,” “The Last Waltz” or “After the Lovin’”?
EH: The songs that got me to where I am today are always received with such enthusiasm that it always brings me back to the days before the world knew them. How could I ever tire of them or take them for granted? I did change up arrangement once in awhile, but people like to be part of your journey and the disco versions of any of the ’60s and ’70s hits soon returned to their original format and glorious arrangements. I had amazing writers and arrangers when I started this road!
JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?
EH: My advice is persistence and being ready for the moment when the right opportunity comes along. I knocked on so many doors but never gave up. I worked so hard at my craft and stole from the best until I became the artist formerly known as Arnold George Dorsey. Be a thespian of song. Paint the pictures with your words, and don’t just go for the clever runs. It’s the audience connection that matters the most. They’ve got to feel it for you to achieve it.
JM: You just released an album, The Man I Want to Be, which is getting great reviews. Do you have anything else in the works?
EH: Who would imagine that 50-plus years on in my career that there is always something in the works? I never rest on my laurels, although I do like my easy chair when I am off the road, but there are notes everywhere with song titles and stories and dreams to put into action and work to make them come to fruition. Stay tuned. I’ll give you a jingle!
JM: What was your initial reaction to the suggestion of using the name “Engelbert Humperdinck”?
EH: I was in shock. I just imagined the billboards and the poor chap putting up the letters — not to mention the signature. I’d have a cramp in my hand after practicing the autograph. The name gave me a platform to live up to. I couldn’t go forward without giving it 100 percent. I quickly embraced it, got used to people laughing or not being able to pronounce it, and was grateful to see and hear people talking about it.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.