Selling Out With Engelbert Humperdinck
You might recognize his name from his biggest hits, “Release Me” and “Quando, Quando, Quando,” or the platinum-selling “Lesbian Seagull” from Beavis and Butt-Head Do America. The man who assumed the name of the Austrian composer who wrote “Hansel & Gretel” is now 47 years deep into a career that’s seen more than 150 million records sold worldwide and a No. 1 spot that stopped the Beatles from having their 13th No. 1 in England. He’s also scored four Grammy nominations, a Golden Globe for “Entertainer of the Year,” 63 gold and 24 platinum records and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Engelbert Humperdinck has built a brand that keeps on selling. He just toured 65,000 miles in six weeks and will be appearing at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills this Sunday for Valentine’s weekend. Here, the man who gave Elvis Presley the idea to rock long sideburns and flamboyant leather jumpsuits shares what kick-started his career in the U.S.A., his secret to staying relevant for over 40 years and his best piece of advice for new artists.
Jessica Koslow: You have made some good branding decisions that seem to have boosted your career. Like changing your name, for instance.
Engelbert Humperdinck: I got the name in 1965. That’s when I was being managed by Gordon Mills, the man who innovated my name change, brought me to America [from England], put me on The Ed Sullivan Show. That’s when I had my first hit, which was in 1967, called “Release Me.” It went to No. 1 in 11 countries around the world. In England, it stopped the Beatles from having their 13th No. 1 over there. It created history. It was in the Guinness Book of Records for being the highest-selling album in the world at that time with 127,000 a day. It gave me a global career. I did The Ed Sullivan Show [in 1968]. That was the show that started the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley. It was the kick-starter of anyone’s career. I did it three times. It really gave me a good start in the U.S.A.
But I don’t think anyone did marketing more than I did. When I first started, I dyed my hair jet black and grew these long sideburns, which were down to my jawline. I was the originator of the sideburns. Many other people copied my style. Everyone that knew me knew Engelbert Humperdinck for his sideburns. Bob Hope said Engelbert looked like he was always on the phone. Carson said his sideburns were so long he tucked them into his underwear, and he was tickled to death.
JK: Would you credit your success to your branding?
EH: My secret to success is the fact that when I first started in the industry I had a very good apprenticeship. Because I didn’t have the opportunities that people have today with American Idol or America’s Got Talent. I started in small clubs, and I worked my way up. And it’s an apprenticeship that gave me a good standing so when I did get ahead, I was well prepared to handle my career.
JK: You now have a Facebook page. Times have changed since you started. Is social media now a larger part of your promotion?
EH: Having a person as young as my son who handles me, he’s aware of what’s going on in today’s world. He’s in tune with what’s happening today — the kind of music people like, the kind of venues you should play. He puts me in the right place. And places me so I don’t get staid or stale in any way, shape or form.
JK: As a performer, how do you stay relevant? How do you appeal to a parent and their child at the same show?
EH: It’s of a genuine nature. Your public is not stupid. They can see what is contrived and what is real. They determined a long time ago that Engelbert Humperdinck was a real person. Every time I deliver on stage it’s with reality. But I also feel as though I’m an actor when I’m on stage. I portray every song with feeling and make sure the audience understands where I’m coming from.
I have a very large following, and it started from the beginning of my career. When I first started, they were called chapters, and at one time I had about 250 chapters. Now that my career is 47 years old, a lot of [my fans] are not with us anymore. Those that have remained are still very staunch, and if anybody says anything derogatory about my career they stand up for me and fight for me.
JK: Is your show different today than it was 20, 30, 40 years ago?
EH: When you’ve been in the business for the amount of years I have, the shows are all trial and tested and what the people want to hear. I have come to realize what they really like, so I put that in my show. In the last six weeks, I’ve been halfway around the world. I went from L.A. to London, London to Bangkok, Bangkok to Manila, Manila to Davao, Davao to Singapore, Singapore to Russia, and then to Poland and back to Russia and back to London, and I did a Florida tour for two weeks. I did about 65,000 miles in six weeks. I’m a world traveler. I take my show all over the world, and I cannot change it on a daily basis to whatever country or place I play. I carry the same show.
I do the classics because they are what made me what I am today. I’ve been very fortunate because over the past 47 years I have sold over 150 million albums around the world. I have a global career. And I’ve got a new album coming out [his first duets album, called Engelbert Calling with Sir Elton John, Willie Nelson, Smokey Robinson and many more]. This latest album is my 80th. It has really excited me. I’ve got so many legends in the industry on there.
JK: What advice would you give to new artists for achieving longevity in this business?
EH: It all depends on your publicity. Keep yourself in the proper manner. Although sometimes bad publicity is good publicity. But keep your nose clean as the saying goes. We all make mistakes in our life when we become successful. You tend to take liberties with whatever you’ve achieved in a short space of time. Nothing lasts forever, and if you don’t look after it, it can disappear.