Goldmine spoke with Engelbert Humperdinck about his connection with Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and discussed the new 2 CD package on Decca/UMe, celebrating the 50th anniversary of his debut Top 40 single “Release Me” and a box set of his first eleven albums, on CD, making it the first time many of these fan favorites are available digitally.
By Warren Kurtz
1967 “Release Me” album cover photo session courtesy of UMe
GOLDMINE: Congratulations on the 50th anniversary of “Release Me.” In February of 1967, the single blocked the Beatles’ “Penny Lane” / “Strawberry Fields Forever” single from the number one spot. Did you meet the Beatles?
ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK: We all lived in the St. George’s Hill area, me, Cliff Richard, the Beatles, within a quarter-mile radius. They weren’t too upset. They had several number ones. I have met Paul. Ringo has come to my shows several times. The single went to number one in many countries throughout the world and I can go around the world because of that song.
GM: In your autobiography “What’s in a Name” you also talk about another act who had his big debut in 1967, Jimi Hendrix, and how he filled in for your ill guitarist early that year in England, and insisted on playing behind the curtain to not be a distraction from your show.
EH: That was one of the big events of my life. Jimi went too soon. He and I and Cat Stevens were on a rock and roll tour in England.
GM: Here in the U.S. “Release Me,” with “Ten Guitars” on the flip side, did great for a debut single months later. In June of 1967, it reached number four. “Respect” by Aretha Franklin was number one, “Groovin’” by the Young Rascals was number two, and just ahead of you, at number three, was “I Got Rhythm” by the Happenings. I reached out to Bob Miranda from the Happenings and he said, “I’ve always loved Engelbert’s voice. There is something very special there that generates emotions. I’m just honored that we were in the competition with such a huge talent. I wish him the best on the new release.”
EH: Thank you. That is quite kind.
Flip side: Ten Guitars
A side: Release Me (And Let Me Love Again)
Top 100 debut: April 8, 1967
Peak position: 4
GM: “Release Me” began a string of six consecutive singles in the Top 40 in the U.S., with the 6th being one of my favorites, which I saw you perform on The Ed Sullivan Show and have the picture sleeve single I bought in 1968 next to me, “Les Bicyclettes de Belsize.”
EH: Two great British writers, Barry Mason and Les Reed, wrote that one and many hits for me including “The Last Waltz” and “Winter World of Love.”
GM: All those are on the new “50” CD which also includes a song that I first heard on the Bee Gees’ 1970 “Cucumber Castle” album, their flip side “Sweetheart,” which you released as a single later that year too.
EH: Barry Gibb auditioned that one for me on his guitar. It is a great song and one that could have been so much bigger, like their “night” songs, you know, “Nights on Broadway” and “Night Fever.”
GM: Dean Martin later released a version of “Sweetheart” too.
EH: I didn’t know that. Dean was a great friend and fan. I bought a home in Las Vegas and Dean would stay at my home when he was performing there.
GM: The eleven-disc box set, “The Complete Decca Studio Albums” gives us fans even more of your music digitally. In the U.S. we had the vinyl albums on the Parrot label. “Love Me with All Your Heart” is one of my favorite songs.
EH: “Love Me with All Your Heart” is one of the most popular songs in my shows. People think it was a hit, but it is just a very popular album cut. Fans will like that each CD cover in the box replicates the original album artwork.
GM: Another classic is your vocal recording of Bert Kaempfert’s instrumental “Wonderland by Night.”
EH: Bert invited me to his home in Spain in 1966. He played me his compositions “Wonderland by Night,” “Spanish Eyes” and a new one, “Strangers in the Night” and I recorded them all and wanted to use all three. Later Bert called me and said I couldn’t have “Strangers in the Night,” that Sinatra wanted that one. It could have been a hit. It certainly became one for Frank. No one knows where the tape of my version is.
GM: The box set includes some of my favorite flip sides of yours, the haunting “Take My Heart” and the flip side of “A Man Without Love,” the song “Call on Me,” which I also have as “A T’Aimer,” a ‘70s cover in French by Canada’s Michel Pagliaro.
EH: Those flip sides and other flip sides “Ten Guitars” and “Pretty Ribbons” were written by my manager Gordon Mills. It made good financial sense for him to have songwriting credit and income on the flip sides of these hit singles.
German single picture sleeve
GM: It was great to hear you back on Top 40 radio in the mid-‘70s with the “After the Lovin’” Top 10 gold single. The album’s co-producer Joel Diamond told me how he brought the MAM record contract to Steve Popovich at Epic. I know Steve was thrilled to get you signed to Epic / MAM in the U.S. Joel also let me know that the key female background singer on the records was Linda November.
EH: Linda did such a great job on that album, the next one, and my “Christmas Tyme” album too.
GM: The flip side of “After the Lovin’” is another of my favorites, the dance number “Let’s Remember the Good Times.”
EH: That one is very popular in my shows. In between those two songs on the album is “Can’t Smile Without You” which was going to be my next single, but Barry Manilow beat me to it, did a great job, and had quite a hit.
GM: That became the first single from his “Even Now” album, produced by Ron Dante. At the record store where I worked, each evening in 1978 I would feature an easy listening genre album including “Even Now,” the Captain and Tennille’s “Dream,” Debby Boone’s “Midstream,” and your new album at the time, “Last of the Romantics.” Your opening title tune, that Rupert Holmes wrote, sounded so great on the big speakers throughout the store. I loved promoting it with customers.
EH: Thank you. There was a big billboard of the album on Sunset Strip.
GM: With the “Fantasy Island” style cover photo. We had that up in the store too. Also on side one we heard the first posthumous cover of an Elvis Presley song, your dynamic version of “Love Me Tender.”
EH: I asked his permission in the ‘70s when we were in Las Vegas together, “Elvis, is it OK to record your songs?” Elvis said, “Yes, I’m doing a lot of yours.” Which was true. “Release Me” was on his “On Stage” album. He was one of the greatest performers. He was a great entertainer. He had humility. He was charismatic. I learned a lot watching his shows. Charlie Calello did the wonderful arrangement on my version of “Love Me Tender.”
Photo courtesy of Engelbert Humperdinck
GM: The following year Gloria Gaynor had the biggest hit of her career with “I Will Survive.” Then in 1987, in a year of duets including “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” by Bill Medley and Jennifer Warnes, you and Gloria Gaynor released “Love is the Reason.”
EH: Gloria did a great job on that on my “Remember I Love You” album.
GH: In the following decade, you had a song on the soundtrack to “Beavis and Butt-Head Do America,” played during the final credits, the tender tale called “Lesbian Seagull.”
EH: I was performing at the Greek Theater in L.A. and the film’s writers visited me and found that I had a sense of humor. The song has a great story and is beautiful. The record was a big seller.
GH: Moving on to this century, I enjoyed your 2012 Eurovision award contender “Love Will Set You Free.” For 2017, one of my favorite songs is your “I Don’t Want to Call It Goodbye.” The verses are beautiful.
EH: Thank you. That one was written in England. I was in the studio with the writers including Richard Scott. That is one of two new songs on the “50” collection along with the reflective “I Followed My Heart” which I also enjoy. Both songs are now included in my live shows too.
Photo by Craig Sotres
GH: I see that you are going to some great places throughout the world in support of these new collections.
EH: I am fortunate to go anywhere. I do well in Singapore, Japan, Russia, Canada and other places. Fans will love both collections and I hope that the new dance mix of “Release Me” as the finale on “50” will make it to dance clubs too.
For more on the Beatles, Elvis Presley and Jimi Hendrix, please see our 2017 Goldmine issues.
Warren Kurtz is a Contributing Editor at Goldmine, known for “Fabulous Flip Sides” along with interviews, CD, DVD and book reviews. “Warren’s Fabulous Flip Sides” can be heard most Saturday mornings, in the 9 a.m. hour, Eastern time, on WVCR radio as part of “Moments to Remember.”