Lettermen, The, pop vocal act of the 1960s that matured into a successful lounge and touring act (f. 1958). membership: Tony Butala, lead voc. (b. Sharon, Pa., Nov. 20, 1940); Bob Engemann, voc. (b. Highland Park, Mich., Nov. 6, 1938); Jim Pike, voc. (b. St. Louis, Mo., Feb. 19, 1938); and a cast of dozens, Butala being the one constant element.
Tony Butala was already singing professionally in his native Pittsburgh at an early age. When he was eight years old, he was invited to join the Mitchell Boys Choir in Calif., and appeared with them in films including White Christmas, Peter Pan, and War of the Worlds. Later in the 1950s, he formed the vocal trio Lettermen, and an early version of the group appeared in a revue at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas. In 1960, he hooked up with Jim Pike and Bob Engemann. All three had previously recorded with little success. After two unsuccessful singles released by Warner Bros., the group signed with Capitol in 1961. They recorded a close-harmony version of an old Fred Astaire hit ’The Way You Look Tonight” which went to #13 on the pop charts that fall. Three months later, they took a similar version of “When I Fall in Love” to the top of the adult contemporary charts and #7 pop. Their album with these songs, A Song for Young Love, rose to #6, beginning a curious trend for the band: their albums almost always sold better than their singles. This was unusual for 1960s-era pop groups, but could be explained by the fact that they appealed to a more mature audience, who tended to buy albums rather than singles that were aimed at teenagers.
Through the 1960s the group charted over 20 hits on the adult contemporary charts, placing another four on the pop charts, including “Come Back Silly Girl” (#17, 1962), “Theme from ’ Summer Place’” (#16, 1965), “Goin’ out of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” (#7, 1968), and “Hurt So Bad” (#12, 1969). These last two hits featured Gary Pike, Jim’s brother, taking the role of Bob Engemann, who had left the group. The group also scored four gold albums, including a 1966 “best of” compilation, The Lettermenill…and “Live”. The Letterman continued to perform and record through the 1990s, mostly selling tickets and albums to fans from the 1960s, with rotating personnel surrounding Butala.
A Song for Young Love (1962); Once Upon a Time (1962); Jim, Tony and Bob (1962); College Standards (1963); The Lettermen in Concert (live; 1963); A Lettermen Kind of Love (1964); The Lettermen Look at Love (1964); She Cried (1964); Portrait of My Love (1965); You’ll Never Walk Alone (1965); The Hit Sounds of the Lettermen (1965); More Hit Sounds of the Lettermen (1966); New Song for Young Love (1966); The Lettermen!!…And Live! (1967); Warm (1967); Spring! (1967); Goin’ out of My Head (1968); Special Request (1968); Put Your Head on My Shoulder (1968); I Have Dreamed (1969); Hurt So Bad (1969); Lettermen at the Waldorf (1969); Traces/Memories (1970); Reflections (1970); Everything’s Good About You (1971); Feelings (1971); Love Book (1971); Letter-menl (1972); Alive Again…Naturally (1973); For Christmas This Year (1990); Close to You (1992); Sing We Noel (1992); When I Fall in Love (1992); Why I Love Her (1993); Deck the Halls (1995); Christmas with the Lettermen (1997); Today (1997).