The Lettermen Are Coming To The Saban Theatre
February 11, 2016
Tony Butala, original and founding member of The Lettermen, is excited about their upcoming concert at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills on February 20.
According to Butala, the two other performers, Donovan Tea and Bobby Poynton, make up their best trio since he founded the group in the late 50’s, so audience members are in for a special treat.
Tea has remained a continuous member of The Lettermen since he joined the group in September of 1984, making him the longest tenured Letterman next to Butala.
“What’s so unique about The Lettermen is that all three of us are lead singers that just so happen to also create great harmony,” Butala said.
The vision of The Lettermen was of three very strong soloists who had the ability and showmanship to perform and entertain an audience, but who also had the discipline needed to be group singers.
Butala began singing professionally at age seven in Sharon, Pennsylvania -where he still lives today and on the same street - and by the age of eight was singing on KDKA Radio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Within a few years he moved to Hollywood to become a member of the famous Mitchell Boys Choir, who since 1932 had appeared in over 100 motion pictures, scores of television and radio shows, radio & television commercials, and world-wide concert tours.
In the mid- 50’s, while attending Hollywood Professional high school, Butala formed The Fourmost, a vocal group of three ex-Mitchell Boy Choir friends and a female classmate, Concetta Ingolia.
In a few years, after moderate local success, Concetta exited the group to be cast in a new TV series, "Hawaiian Eye," and used her stage name Connie Stevens.
By 1960 The Lettermen were signed to Warner Brothers Records and released their first singles: "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring" together with "When," "The Magic Sound," and "Two Hearts."
A year later, Nic Venet, a new, young, creative A&R man with Capitol Records who years earlier had written a few songs with Butala, was played these first recordings. Venet was impressed by their unique natural close harmonic blend and, convinced that he could produce a hit record with them, signed them to what turned out to be an over twenty-five year contract with Capitol Records.
For their debut Capitol single record in the summer of 1961, Capitol Records decided to put a ballad on the B-side of "That's My Desire," their doo-wop single, figuring disc jockeys would have to play the A-side because the B-side was so sweet, and slow, and did not necessarily encompass the commercial sound of the day.
That B-side was "The Way You Look Tonight," their first big hit and would go on to become their all-time most popular song. Soft, melodic and romantic, it was a departure from the rock 'n' roll music of the day and listener requests made it a must for disc jockey play lists nationwide.
The song shot to No.13 on the Billboard chart. The group's second single that year did even better, "When I Fall In Love," another soft, slow ballad hit No.7, establishing The Lettermen as the most romantic singing group of the 60’s.
Butala's breathy vocals were the lead on most of The Lettermen hit records. He said that he is very careful with his voice at all times and prevents throat strains by keeping his speaking voice soft and not yelling when not on stage. That is his secret to vocal longevity.
The 60's and early 70's saw The Lettermen score over 25 chart hit singles, including "Theme From A Summer Place" (No.16, 1965, from the Sandra Dee/Troy Donahue film), "Goin' Out of My Head/Can't Take My Eyes Off You" (No.7, 1968), the first hit record ever to completely integrate two songs as one and also "Hurt So Bad” (No.12, 1969).
Their signature sound made romantic standards of songs such as "Smile," "Put Your Head On My Shoulder,” "Shangri-La," "Love," "Traces/Memories" and many more.
Among those 32 consecutive albums, which charted in Billboard magazine’s Top 40, four were certified gold: "The Lettermen!!!...And "Live" (1967) "Goin' Out of My Head" (1968), "Best of The Lettermen" (1969) and "Hurt So Bad"(1970).
At the same time they toured with George Burns, Jack Benny, and Bob Hope; performed on bills with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin, Jimmy Durante, Debbie Reynolds, Sam Cooke, and Sammy Davis, Jr .; appeared several times on television's "The Ed Sullivan Show," and were regulars on "The Red Skelton Show" and "The Hollywood Palace."
Butala estimates that the group made some 200 appearances on television shows including Dick Clark's "American Bandstand," "Shindig," and "Hullabaloo."
They were interviewed and performed on talk shows and variety shows with Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin, Jack Paar, Milton Berle, Steve Allen, Dinah Shore, and many others throughout the 60's and 70's, cultivating new crops of fans.
The Lettermen have also enjoyed international success touring Japan, the Philippines, China, Thailand, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Germany, France, South America, Canada, Mexico and even Saudi Arabia.
They have sung and recorded in over fourteen languages, received 18 gold records internationally, and have over 10,000 sold-out shows to their credit.
Their All-American, clean-cut, no-drugs image may have been a drawback in the hard rock era of the sixties and seventies, but The Lettermen stood by it.
Even as the British Invasion and the introduction of The Beatles onto the music scene dimmed other American artist record sales in the 60's, television and concert appearances sustained The Lettermen career.
The group has been a rarity that can perform from small college campuses to the posh Empire Room at The Waldorf Astoria in New York City; from the Iowa State Fair to main showrooms in Las Vegas, Nevada; from U.S.O. shows in the jungles of Thailand and Cambodia to elegant concert halls with the world's most renowned symphony orchestras.
They have continually recorded, averaging at least one album a year and formed their own Alpha Omega Records in 1979.
Also stay tuned for Butala’s book that will be available soon.
He is proud of the fact that his group has been part of Americana for over fifty-five years and that as long as there is a Lettermen group, they will be singing good, quality, and positive harmony music that the whole family can enjoy.
The letter sweaters may only make a brief appearance at each Lettermen performance, but their harmony is non-stop.
Whether singing acapella or backed by an entire symphony orchestra, the Lettermen theme still remains the love song. Lending that well-known harmony to every arrangement, they have proven that love ballads have an appeal that knows no boundaries and will continue to stand the test of time for many years to come.
For information about future shows at the Saban Theatre, go to: http://www.canyonclub.net/html/schedulebh.html