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May 19, 2005

Lettermen still in style

Weymouth News (MA):

The one thing that Tony Butala, founding member of The Lettermen would have changed in the more than 45-year history of the popular vocal group is a surprising one. "We chose the wrong name," explained Butala from his home in the California wine country last week. "In the late 1950s, when you started a vocal group and wanted to stand out from the crowd, all you had to do was use a novel name that would give your group its own unique look and image."

At a time when most pop singing groups had school-related names like "The Four Freshmen" and "The Four Preps," Butala's trio was given the moniker "The Lettermen," and the appropriate letter sweaters to wear in concert. Before long the name had become dated. The Lettermen already had a few hits, however, and Columbia Records was reluctant to tamper with success by changing the group's name as was Butala's wish. The sweaters were moth-balled, but the name remained as the group recorded a long list of hits including "The Way You Look Tonight," "When I Fall In Love," "Goin' Out of My Head/Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and "Hurt So Bad" which earned them a legion of still-loyal fans.

"We have changed over the years, but our tradition of vocal harmony and positive love ballads continues," says Butala. "And our own rule is to never dress below the level of our audience. Our stage wardrobe is comprised of denim jeans for outdoor festivals and fairs, casual clothes for colleges and tuxedoes for hotels with even glitzier garb for casino showrooms. And we even still pull out the sweaters for a medley of our earliest hits."

The contents may vary, but the suitcases are always packed as The Lettermen - now Butala, Donovan Tea and Darren Dowler - average some 100 concert dates each year and are booked through 2007. They also still regularly release new albums.We're recording our 75th album, 'The Lettermen on Broadway.' We found a whole new demographic a few years back with 'The Lettermen at the Movies.' People of all ages love Broadway music just as they love the music of the movies. These albums have done very well for us."

As lead singer on all but two of the group's biggest hits - and founder of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame - Butala, 64, knows something about doing well and enduring in an often fickle business. "I've been performing professionally since I was seven," explains the Pennsylvania native and father of four. "I'm more charged up now than ever before, because I don't need the money. I do it now because no other job comes with such instant gratification. You can make a lot of money in other fields, but you won't get a standing ovation or get asked for an autograph."

And these outfits are an improvement! I can't even imagine what "level" of audience they are dressing for in this photo...

Posted by acapnews at May 19, 2005 12:29 AM