If ever there was a musical group with staying power it would be The Lettermen. They’ve been in the music industry for more than 50 years, and have no intentions of slowing down anytime soon. In fact, they’ll be performing at Fayetteville’s Crown Theater on Feb. 26.
In 1960, The Lettermen, Tony Butala, Jim Pike and Bob Engemann signed with Warner Brothers Records and released their first singles “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring,” “When” and “The Magic Sound,” and “Two Hearts.” By 1961 they’d moved on to Capitol Records and released a single titled “That’s My Desire.” On the B side of the album was “The Way You Look Tonight.” It was different from the sounds of the day, but it rocketed to number 13 on the Billboard Chart.
Since then, the faces in the group have changed a few times. There have been eight Lettermen in 50 years. They’ve produced 76 records, and traveled anywhere from 300 days a year, in their early years to 100 days a year in the past decade or so.
While five decades is indeed a long stretch of time, it is by design and not by chance that The Lettermen are still performing so regularly.
“This is what we do,” said Lettermen founder Tony Butala. “We are entertainers. Show business has two words show and business, but back when we started people didn’t see it that way. They considered it more of a lark. When I formed the first group in 1958 — it was the first boy band. I looked for the best looking guys I could find and the best soloists I could find. Instead of a strong lead singer and weaker singers doing back up I wanted three strong singers. The outlook of the band has always been professional. It was a different concept back then.”
The current version of the band, Tony Butalla, Donovan Tea and Mark Preston has been together since 1984, the longest any members have stayed together. They have traveled about 100 days a year for the past 26 years, bringing their brand of music to fans old and new around the country and the world.
“Over the years we’ve changed our product — like Cadillac changing the chrome or fins on a model of their car — but you don’t change the essence below, it is still a smooth ride, and a great quality car,” said Butala. “We are a product. We learned from the beginning, it is not a lark. We didn’t’ go out there and play it like it was a game. We ran it like a business.”
The “hip to be square” image that Butala and the rest of the band have adhered to has paid off in spades with loyal fans, a stellar reputation, shows booked throughout the year and no end in sight. A much different ending than some of the other musical groups that have come and gone in the years the Lettermen have been delivering great performances.
In 2010 the group released a new cd titled The Lettermen: New Directions 2010 in conjunction with Les Brown Jr.s Band of Renown. This new CD features such songs as “After The Love Is Gone,” “Listen To The Music,” “Pure Imagination” and “Come Fly With Me.” Readers interested in purchasing this CD can contact the Lettermen Society office at 724-444-0778 or go to the website at www.thelettermen. com.
If you haven’t experienced the Lettermen yet, don’t miss out. Butala joking says “For people who people haven’t seen us and don’t know us, tell them what we are not — we are not three elderly, balding, kook headed guys trying to relive the past. This is a 2011 entertainment package that happens to have had hit records in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It is an entertainment group, not a recording group.”
The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Call 438-4100 or visit www.atthecrown.com.