The Lettermen

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The Lettermen
The three group members in 1964
The Lettermen in 1964: Jim Pike, Bob Engemann, Tony Butala
Background information
OriginLas Vegas, Nevada, U.S.
GenresPop
Years active1959–present
LabelsCapitol

The Lettermen are an American male pop vocal trio. The Lettermen's trademark is close-harmony pop songs with light arrangements. The group started in 1959.[1] They have had two Top 10 singles (both No. 7), 16 Top 10 singles on the Adult Contemporary chart (including one No. 1), 32 consecutive Billboard chart albums, 11 gold records, and five Grammy nominations.[2][3]

History[edit]

A Lettermen group was formed in the late 1950s by Mike Barnett, Dick Stewart, and Tony Butala. They auditioned for Jackie Barnett (who was chief comedy writer for the Jimmy Durante TV show) for the "Newcomers of 1928" revue. It was Barnett who gave the group their name. Now as "The Lettermen", they landed the part to impersonate The Rhythm Boys, the vocal group that traveled with Paul Whiteman and his orchestra in the late 1920s, and gave Bing Crosby his initial fame. The "Newcomers of 1928" revue opened on February 28, 1958, at the Desert Inn in Las Vegas, Nevada, and also starred Paul Whiteman, Buster Keaton, Rudy Vallée, Harry Richman, and Fifi D'Orsay. They played to sell-out audiences and were held over for many weeks. Continuing with a six-week tryout at the Deauville Hotel in Miami Beach, Florida, the idea continued to be a smash, with Butala being the lone consistent Letterman. Barnett and Russell were replaced by Gary Clarke and Jerry Paul. When the tryout ended, Butala landed a job as singer/bass player in a lounge group, "Bill Norvis and the Upstarts", with Gary Clarke. After a few months, Clarke left the group and was replaced by Jim Pike (November 6, 1936 – June 9, 2019).[4] Pike and Butala decided to leave the Upstarts and form a new group although they had not yet decided to use the Lettermen name. Pike envisioned a group where each member was an excellent soloist as well as a great group singer. Pike and Butala joined with the third Letterman, Bob Engemann (February 19, 1935 – January 20, 2013),[5] a singer that Pike had met when he attended Brigham Young University a few years earlier.[1] (Pike and Engemann had come to Los Angeles, California, and had sung together until Engemann had to go into the California National Guard for 6 months. That's why Pike joined Bill Norvis and there met Butala.) The combination of Pike, Engemann and Butala first recorded in 1960.[1]

They secured a recording contract with Warner Bros. Records through Bob Engemann's older brother, Karl Engemann, who was a record producer there, and for whom Pike had earlier released a record called "Lucy D", which was not successful. Karl Engemann years later became Marie Osmond's personal manager for many years. Pike, Butala, and Engemann as "The Lettermen" released two singles in 1960 for Warner Bros. The A-sides were "Two Hearts" and "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring". They were not successful. After Warner Bros., Karl Engemann moved on to Capitol Records as President of A&R. He got them out of their contract at Warner Bros. and made an appointment for them to see Nick Venet, a producer at Capitol. The audition was successful in getting them another record contract.

There was another "Lettermen" group in the late 1950s and early 1960s that recorded for Liberty Records (which was a major record label at the time), an R&B group with five members, and their not-so-successful single was called "Hey Big Brain". About that same time, there was a third group called the Lettermen Trio, headed up by Sammy Vandenburg, who also had no record success. But the "Lettermen" of Pike, Engemann, and Butala had the first hit record, so, by law, they were entitled to use the "Lettermen" name exclusively.

The Lettermen were unknown until they signed with Capitol Records in 1961.[1] Their first single for Capitol, "The Way You Look Tonight," succeeded on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart and climbed to No. 13. Their next, "When I Fall in Love," reached the Top 10 in late 1962 and hit No. 1 on AC. They had several other Top 10 AC hits, such as 1965's "Theme From A Summer Place". In late 1967, Bob Engemann resigned and was replaced by Jim Pike's younger brother, Gary Pike. The hits continued with the 1967 medley "Goin' Out of My Head"/"Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and in 1968 with "Put Your Head on My Shoulder", plus 1969's "Hurt So Bad", which reached No. 12 and lasted 21 weeks on the Hot 100, second only to the 22 weeks for The Archies' "Sugar, Sugar" within that calendar year. The last successful single was in 1971, John Lennon's "Love", a solo by Jim Pike.

The Lettermen have had two Top 10 singles (both No. 7), 16 Top 10 Adult Contemporary singles, including one Adult Contemporary No. 1, 32 consecutive Billboard Hot 200 charted albums, 11 gold records, five Grammy nominations, an Andy Award, and a Cleo Award.

The Lettermen were featured on the TV show Dobie Gillis in the episode "Vocal Boy Makes Good" which originally aired on January 16, 1963. The Lettermen were featured on The Jack Benny Program in the episode "The Lettermen" which originally aired on March 31, 1964. {S14 Ep25} In 1976, Jim Pike left the group because of vocal problems and sold the Lettermen name to Butala. After Gary Pike left the Lettermen in 1981, the Pike brothers along with Ric de Azevedo sang The Lettermen hits, billed as "Reunion".

In 1961, The Lettermen started performing live concerts, doing over 200 shows a year, an unbroken string that continues to the present.

Over the decades, the group has had various line-ups, replacing members who left for various reasons with new people to maintain a trio. Tony Butala has stated that the group ethos is that of three strong soloists that harmonize, and that the group encourages individual singing and songwriting. Butala has stated that the combination of himself, Donovan Tea (thirty years) and Bobby Poynton (eight years) "is the best combination of voices, and best sounding group since the original trio." Butala also said this of the previous line-up of himself, Tea, and Mark Preston (eleven years) thus highlighting the high standard of vocalists The Lettermen had always had. This is also evident in the addition of Rob Gulack to the group in 2019 as Butala eased into a semi-retirement. The legacy of The Lettermen and tradition of fabulous harmony continues and is in good hands.

The group prides themselves in welcoming audience members to photograph during the show as they sing "Up, Up, and Away".

Among their many songs include renditions of several traditional Filipino kundimans such as Dahil sa Iyo ("Because of You"), Sapagkat Kami Ay Tao Lamang ("For We Are Only Human"). Their enunciation and pronunciation in the language has developed over the decades that they have interpreted these love songs.

In 1969, in light of The Doors' singer Jim Morrison's arrest in Miami for indecent exposure, the Lettermen performed at a concert against indecency, along with Anita Bryant, Kate Smith, and Jackie Gleason. President Nixon supported the concert. (Source: Rock Almanac. 1983) The Lettermen had covered songs by the Doors in 1968.

On December 9 and 10, 2012, The Lettermen Society Convention was held at the Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. The members had dinner and breakfast with the current group of Tony Butala, Donovan Tea, and Bobby Poynton. They attended the soundcheck and Lettermen Holiday Show with ticketed audience members in the casino showroom. This celebration was the 31st annual convention.

The 32nd annual Lettermen convention was a four-day event at the South Point Hotel, Casino & Spa in Las Vegas between October 10 and October 13, 2013. Hundreds of Lettermen Society members and fans were invited to attend.

Bob Engemann died on January 20, 2013, in Provo, Utah, at age 77,[5] of complications from his December 13, 2012, heart bypass surgery.

Jim Pike died from complications of Parkinson's disease on June 9, 2019, at his home in Prescott, Arizona. He was 82.[6]

The Lettermen are represented by Michael Pick at MPI Talent in Los Angeles.

Personnel[edit]

Timeline[edit]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Discography[edit]

Albums[edit]

[8]
  • 1962: A Song for Young Love (US No. 6)
  • 1962: Once Upon a Time (No. 30)
  • 1962: Jim, Tony and Bob (No. 59)
  • 1963: College Standards (No. 65)
  • 1963: In Concert (No. 76)
  • 1964: A Lettermen Kind of Love (No. 31)
  • 1964: Look at Love (No. 94)
  • 1964: She Cried (No. 41)
  • 1965: You'll Never Walk Alone (No. 73)
  • 1965: Portrait of My Love (No. 27)
  • 1965: The Hit Sounds of The Lettermen (No. 13)
  • 1966: More Hit Sounds of The Lettermen (No. 57)
  • 1966: A New Song for Young Love (No. 52)
  • 1966: For Christmas This Year (re-released 1975 and again in 1990)(No. 41)
  • 1967: Warm (No. 58)
  • 1967: Spring! (No. 31)
  • 1967: The Lettermen!! ...And Live! (No. 10)[9]
  • 1968: Goin' Out of My Head (No. 13)[9]
  • 1968: Special Request (No. 82)
  • 1968: Put Your Head on My Shoulder (No. 43)
  • 1969: Hurt So Bad (No. 17)[9]
  • 1969: I Have Dreamed (No. 74)
  • 1970: Traces/Memories (No. 42)
  • 1970: Reflections (No. 134)
  • 1971: Everything's Good About You (No. 119)
  • 1971: Feelings (No. 192)
  • 1971: Love Book (No. 88)
  • 1972: Lettermen 1 (No. 136)
  • 1972: Live in Japan
  • 1972: Spin Away
  • 1972: A Time for Us
  • 1973: Alive Again ...Naturally (No. 193)
  • 1974: Now and Forever
  • 1975: There Is No Greater Love
  • 1975: Make a Time for Lovin'
  • 1975: The Time Is Right
  • 1975: Lettermen Live in Japan, 1975
  • 1976: Kind of Country
  • 1977: To a Friend
  • 1979: Love Is...
  • 1979: Lettermen Live with New Japan Philharmonic
  • 1985: Evergreen
  • 1986: Why I Love Her (re-released 1993 and 2006)
  • 1987: It Feels Like Christmas (re-released 1992 on CD & Cassette Tape and again as reissue version of the 1987 album on September 3, 2013 on CD {from MVD Records} and again in 2014 as CD {along with 4 bonus tracks} {from Capitol Records/EMI under the RCA label})
  • 1991: Close to You
  • 1991: Live in Concert
  • 1991: The Lettermen... Then & Now
  • 1992: Sing We Noel
  • 1993: Love Is All
  • 1995: Christmas with The Lettermen
  • 1995: Deck the Halls
  • 2000: Greatest Movie Hits
  • 2001: Today
  • 2006: Live in the Philippines
  • 2006: Why I Love Her
  • 2008: The Lettermen: Best of Broadway
  • 2008: The Lettermen: Favorites
  • 2010: The Lettermen: New Directions 2010
  • 2014: The Lettermen: It Feels Like Christmas – Special Edition (Along with 4 bonus tracks) (An reissued version of the 1987 album)
  • 2014: The Lettermen: It Feels Like Christmas – Deluxe Edition (Along with 6 bonus tracks) (Target Exclusive only) (An reissued of the 1987 album)
  • 2014: The Lettermen: Christmas Classic Collection (13 Tracks including Christmas All Alone, It Feels Like Christmas and 11 more tracks)
  • 2015: The Lettermen: The Classic Christmas Album (15 Tracks)
  • 2016: The Lettermen: Golden Classic Christmas (16 Tracks) (re-released in Fall 2018 as CD from Capitol Records under the label RCA and MVD Records)

Compilations[edit]

  • 1966: The Best of The Lettermen (re-released 1988 on CD/Capitol)(No. 17)[9]
  • 1969: The Best of The Lettermen, Volume 2
  • 1969: Close Up (No. 90) (Released 7/16/1969) [10]
  • 1970: The Lettermen (3-LP set)
  • 1971: Let It Be Me/And I Love Her
  • 1973: Best Now (CD: Capitol/Japan)
  • 1974: Sings Old Rock'n Roll
  • 1974: All-Time Greatest Hits (No. 186)
  • 1975: The Lovin' Touch of The Lettermen
  • 1977: With Love from The Lettermen
  • 1988: Twin Best Now
  • 1989: When I Fall in Love
  • 1990: Best Now (CD: Capitol/Japan)
  • 1990: Greatest Hits – 10 Best Series
  • 1992: Collectors Series
  • 1993: Best Hits
  • 1993: 36 All-Time Greatest Hits
  • 1994: Their Greatest Hits & Finest Performances
  • 1997: Super Now
  • 1998: Memories: The Very Best of The Lettermen
  • 2002: A Song for Young Love/Once Once Upon a Time
  • 2003: Soft Rock Collection
  • 2003: Greatest Hits: The Priceless Collection
  • 2003: The Lettermen Collection: Beautiful Harmony (6-CD set:Japan)
  • 2004: Absolutely the Best
  • 2006: Complete Hits
  • 2007: Complete Hits Volume Two
  • 2010: Lettermen Best
  • 2014: The First Four Albums And More

Singles[edit]

Year Title Peak chart positions
Hot 100 CB US AC CAN Top CAN AC
1961 "The Way You Look Tonight" 13 8 3
1961 "When I Fall in Love" 7 13 1
1962 "Son of Old Rivers"1
1962 "Come Back Silly Girl" 17 19 3
1962 "A Song For Young Love" 123
1962 "How Is Julie?" 42 50 16
1962 "Turn Around, Look at Me"2 105 85
1962 "Silly Boy (She Doesn't Love You)" 81 97
1962 "Again"3 120 95 -
1963 "Heartache Oh Heartache"4 122
1963 "Allentown Jail"5 123
1963 "Where or When" 98
1964 "Put Away Your Tear Drops"6 132 125
1964 "You Don't Know Just How Lucky You Are"
1965 "Girl with a Little Tin Heart"7 135 112
1965 "Theme from A Summer Place" 16 17 2
1965 "Secretly" 64 56 8
1965 "Sweet September"8 114 97 24 23
1966 "You'll Be Needin' Me" 118
1966 "I Only Have Eyes for You" 72 82 4 74
1966 "Chanson D'Amour"9 112 117 8
1966 "Our Winter Love" 72 120 16 91
1967 "Volare" - 17
1967 "Somewhere My Love" - -
1967 "Goin' Out of My Head / Can't Take My Eyes Off You" 7 7 2
1968 "Sherry Don't Go" 52 35 9 40
1968 "All the Grey Haired Men"10 109 116
1968 "Holly"
1968 "Medley: Love Is Blue/Greensleeves"
1968 "Sally le Roy"
1968 "Put Your Head on My Shoulder" 44 52 8 42
1969 "I Have Dreamed"11 129 16 16
1969 "Blue on Blue"
1969 "Hurt So Bad" 12 14 2 10 1
1969 "Shangri-La" 64 55 8 50 8
1969 "Traces/Memories Medley" 47 51 3 37 3
1970 "Hang On Sloopy" 93 101 18
1970 "She Cried" 73 54 6 55
1970 "Hey Girl" 104 111 17
1971 "Morning Girl" 34
1971 "Everything Is Good About You" 74 78 6 69 9
1971 "The Greatest Discovery"
1971 "Feelings" 33
1971 "Love" 42 44 8 43 19
1971 "Oh My Love"
1972 "Spin Away"
1973 "Sandman" 73 2
1973 "Summer Song" 25 21 11
1974 "The You Part of Me"
1974 "Touch Me in the Morning/The Way We Were" 31 10
1975 "Eastward" 16 8
1975 "You Are My Sunshine Girl" 28 20
1976 "If You Feel the Way I Do"
1976 "The Way You Look Tonight"13
1977 "What I Did for Love"
1979 "World Fantasy"
1980 "In the Morning I'm Coming Home"
1985 "It Feels Like Christmas"
1986 "Proud Lady of America"
1987 "One More Summer Night"
1988 "All I Ask of You"

Footnotes:
1 "Son of Old Rivers," a parody of "Old Rivers" by Walter Brennan, was recorded by Engemann and Pike.
2 "Turn Around, Look at Me," the b-side of "How Is Julie?," did not chart on the Hot 100, but hit No. 105 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart.
3 "Again" did not chart on the Hot 100, but hit No. 120 on the Bubbling Under chart.
4 "Heartache Oh Heartache" did not chart on the Hot 100, but hit No. 122 on the Bubbling Under chart.
5 "Allentown Jail" did not chart on the Hot 100, but hit No. 123 on the Bubbling Under chart.
6 "Put Away Your Tear Drops" did not chart on the Hot 100, but hit No. 132 on the Bubbling Under chart.
7 "Girl With a Little Tin Heart" did not chart on the Hot 100, but hit No. 135 on the Bubbling Under chart.
8 "Sweet September" did not chart on the Hot 100, but hit No. 114 on the Bubbling Under chart.
9 "Chanson D'Amour" did not chart on the Hot 100, but hit No. 112 on the Bubbling Under chart.
10 "All the Grey Haired Men" did not chart on the Hot 100, but hit No. 109 on the Bubbling Under chart.
11 "I Have Dreamed" did not chart on the Hot 100, but hit No. 129 on the Bubbling Under chart.
12 "Hey Girl" did not chart on the Hot 100, but hit No. 104 on the Bubbling Under chart.
13 The 1976 release of "The Way You Look Tonight" was a new disco version.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music (Concise ed.). Virgin Books. p. 748. ISBN 1-85227-745-9.
  2. ^ Jess Rand (May 4, 1974). "Jess Rand" (PDF). Billboard.
  3. ^ "Career Building Is Jess Rand's Special Concern" (PDF). Billboard. May 4, 1974. p. N-24.
  4. ^ "Jim Pike (2019), co-founder and lead singer of The Lettermen". legacy.com. June 20, 2019. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  5. ^ a b "Robert Engemann February 19, 1935 - January 20, 2013". bergmortuary.com. Retrieved May 3, 2021.
  6. ^ "Jim Pike, Co-Founder of Lettermen Vocal Group, Dies at 82". Billboard. June 19, 2019. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  7. ^ "The Lettermen ~ Biography". Thelettermen.com. Archived from the original on May 27, 2008. Retrieved March 25, 2012.
  8. ^ "The Lettermen". discogs. Retrieved June 21, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c d Gold Disk
  10. ^ The Times-Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania)16 Jul 1969, WedPage 14

External links[edit]