Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Lettermen - Part 2

Good response to Part One of our Lettermen feature yesterday ... and lots of folks entered our latest Forgotten Hits Give-Away to win a copy of Jim Pike's biography along with a CD featuring The Lettermen's All-Time Greatest Hits.

Here are just a few of the emails we received yesterday from our readers ...

We just locked in the Lettermen Christmas show for 2015!
Ron Onesti / The Arcada Theatre
We missed that show in 2013 ... of course, this will be the Tony Butala version of the group, but from what I understanding, they still put on a very satisfying show ... maybe somewhere down the line we can work toward a special Reunion booking, too, that'll feature Lettermen brothers Jim and Gary Pike from the hit years!  (kk)   

I listened to them all the time ... they were and are right up there with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.  
Kent, thank you for all you do with this site for us Rock N Rollers.  
Janice Burn 
Orlando, FL 

I could add to your list many more of the Lettermen songs but I will add my favorites. My all time favorite would be "Graduation Day". Some more would be "Shangri-la", "The Things We Did Last Summer", "Theme From A Summer Place" and "The Way You Look Tonight." I never went for the headbanging stuff but most females didn't at that time. We loved the romantic sounds of such artists as the Lettermen. That was an era that really split the females from the males as far as music goes. 
Have a good day everyone and I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas.
At the end of Part Three, we'll be running The Lettermen Hit List ... ALL of their Top 40 Hit Records from 1961 - 1972 ... so stay tuned for that!  (kk)

Kent ...
Here's my favorite Letterman Hit.
Frank B.
And a quick correction from Gary Pike ...   

Hey Kent,  
Just read the Lettermen article and everything looks real good, but I need to make a slight correction.  
"Going Out of My Head" was one of the last songs Bobby Engemann recorded with the Lettermen and of course it was not a hit until after he left the group ... so I got  to take credit for it.  Not too many people know this, but like I said, you could not have asked for better timing when ushering in a new replacement than on top of a hit record like this one!  Fortunately, we had several more hits after this that I did get to sing on.
In addition to the two contest winners, I’d like to send you and your wife a copy of our latest CD, even if it is a couple of years old.  You guys can relax after work, put your arm around her and hold each other while you play it.  That is what most of our albums are good for according to the feedback we’ve gotten for 50 years!      
Thanks again,  
Gary Pike
Thank YOU, Gary!  It's a date!  (kk)


Several months ago we had some conversations with Gary Pike, formerly of The Lettermen. His brother Jim has just released a new book "My Letterman Years ... The Journey To Hell And Back", which we reviewed on our website. This prompted some discussion regarding the limited amount of Lettermen CD's currently available as reissues. (So that's how this whole thing started way back when!)  

Right around the same time, one of the founding members of the group, Bobby Engemann, passed away, making this both a timely and difficult topic. However, for one reason after another this planned series never ran in Forgotten Hits.  

Despite all these delays, we have stayed in contact with Gary, who (in addition to filling in a lot of the story's gaps, twists and turns over the years) also sent along a few NEW tracks that he, Jim, and new partner Ric de Azevedo (formerly of The King Family) recorded as Reunion ... and I've got to tell you, these tracks sound as fresh as EVER!    

Remaining founding member Tony Butala currently owns The Lettermen name, and continues to perform with two other vocalists, Donovan Tea and Bobby Poynton. (In fact, they brought their Christmas Show to The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles last year ... unfortunately, we were unable to attend ... but if you check out Ron Onesti's email above, you'll see that they guys are already booked for next holiday season!) FH List Member Darren Dowler, currently the lead singer of Paul Revere's Raiders, spent several years in The Lettermen, too!  

However, over the past several years new leader Tony Butala has spent a fair amount of his time rewriting the history of The Lettermen, downplaying (or, in some cases, flat out ignoring) the earlier incarnations of the group. Reunion (the vocal group who can currently claim both Jim Pike and Gary Pike as members) is, by court order, allowed to bill themselves as "formerly of The Lettermen" (gee ... that seems fair ... since the group has always had at least ONE Pike family member on board at all times ... and THREE brothers at one time or another over the years!) ... and they can still sing their hits within the context of their concert ... but they can't advertise the Lettermen name.   

How ridiculous did it get??? As explained yesterday, at one point, Butala took Reunion to court, arguing that Reunion sounded and looked too much like The Lettermen!!! (That's akin to Saul Zantz suing John Fogerty for plagiarizing himself by writing songs that sounded too similar to the hits he wrote and recorded with Creedence Clearwater Revival!!!) Who else SHOULD they look and sound like?!?!? Perhaps they should have had cosmetic and vocal surgery to completely change and alter who they really were?!?!? And then what ... be unable to earn a living at all?!?!? It truly is that ridiculous! (And fortunately the judge saw it that way, too, granting Reunion the right to perform as stated above.)

The evolution of The Lettermen and The Lettermen name has played out like a comedy of errors over the past several years ... only, as is typically the case,  it's a comedy that isn't very funny.   We're using these few days in the spotlight to help correct some of the myths, errors, misconceptions and flat out lies that have perpetuated themselves over the years.    

After some dialog this past week by Gary Pike (who reacted to an entry submitted by History of Rock And Roll Hall Author Gary Theroux), we've been able to assemble several "back-and-forths" between Gary, myself and some of our readers that I wanted to share as part of this mini-Lettermen series. It'll give you a chance to relive some of the golden memories ... as well as an opportunity to hear some of the great, new music these guys are still creating, circa 2013 - 2014.    

And, we've even got another special Forgotten Hits Give-Away Offer ... two of our readers will win autographed copies of Jim Pike's new book ... along with a copy of "The Lettermen All-Time Greatest Hits" CD.    

So stick with us this week. And, if you'd like the opportunity to pick up a copy of "My Letterman Years ... The Journey To Hell And Back", drop me an email now at and we'll enter your name in this very special drawing. (kk)   

Here's the way the whole thing started way back when ... 

>>>Regarding the Lettermen: Unfortunately, the level of their CD reissues is seriously lacking. The best was issued by EMI as part of their Capitol Collector series in 1992. Significantly, the accompanying booklet did not feature any career perspective. There were neither bio details nor any mention of the group’s history. (However at $10, it’s still a great buy!). Since then, there have been budget issues and some compilations emanating from the Philippines, where I believe that the group has the type of popularity experienced by the Ventures in Japan. Collectors Choice began reissuing the Lettermen’s LPs as 2-fers but that project ended after the first two albums appeared on CD. Strange when, as you mention, the group put 33 albums on the Billboard chart! On the bio side, I cannot recall any collector magazine featuring a career overview together with a discography. I’m not sure what ... but “there is something going on here”.  
Given their output and their successes in the 60s, the Lettermen are one of the most underrepresented artists in terms of CD reissues. We need a double CD of their hits and best LP cuts (and there were many) with great packaging. In addition, the 2-fer project needs to continue, so that all their albums are available again. As for the Lettermen’s recordings, a few questions come to mind. Why did they not record any Beach Boys’ songs, particularly when they shared the same label, Capitol? Same goes for the 4 Seasons (except for “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”), Jay & The Americans, etc. Maybe they did not want to risk losing their identity. However they did record some Beatles and British Invasions songs. Their versions of Gerry’s “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying” and Herman’s “Listen People” are amazing. (Mike Edwards)   

>>>I sent a copy of your email to Gary Pike to see if perhaps he knew about any future reissue plans through Capitol ... or maybe some foreign releases that better capture the complete Lettermen catalog. I'll be sure to let you know as soon as I hear something back. (Now I want to hear their versions of "Listen People" and "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying"!!!) kk   
UPDATE:  Complete 60s (UK) has also put together a Lettermen compilation that includes their first four studio albums ... it is available here:  

Hi Kent,   

I’ll take Mike’s questions one at a time and answer them the best I can.   

The Lettermen catalogue re-issues stopped some time ago through CEMA, which is their re-issue venue. There was a 3 CD set with 36 tunes called “Best of the Lettermen, All-Time Greatest Hits”. It was released in 1993 and pops up on Ebay all the time. During our stint with Capitol we were contracted to do three albums a year. It totaled to about 45 albums not counting the re-packaged stuff and that’s quite a few songs.   

The year before “The Best Of”, 3 CD series, in 1992 on the Capitol label they released the “Collectors Series”, which Capitol did with all their major artists. Mike complains that there was no bio information included in the booklet and with this CD he is right, and I’ll explain why.   

When Capitol was putting the CD together they called each one of us and we sent them the accurate information about the group's formation and history.   Everyone was happy with what Capitol put together except Tony Butala. But now here’s the back-story!   

You have to remember that this was 1992, long after Jim Pike had sold his rights to the Lettermen name to Tony in 1976. Through the years since then, Tony had put his spin on the formation and history of the group in the bio, so naturally he was afraid of the truth being published in this high profile release. He got so excited about this he threatened legal action against Capitol. We told Capitol, "Hey! You have the testimonies of all of us ... he doesn’t have a leg to stand on." Capitol said they just didn’t want the hassle and was going to cancel the release of the CD. We didn’t want this so Jim told Capitol to just make it very generic and just give a special thanks to all involved and add a lot more pictures and that’s what Capitol did. They only mention individual names in the booklet in a special thanks to: Jim Pike, Bob Engemann, Tony Butala, Gary Pike, etc. But, I’ll never figure how Bruce Belland of the Four Preps got his name included! The Preps had their own collectors series. We were also disappointed that my younger brother Donny, who Jim used on several of the Capitol albums and even had his picture on the last album we did for Capitol and toured with us as a Letterman, was never mentioned. We discovered this after Capitol had already pressed them up.   

Collectors Choice a while back did release the first two albums together that you could order out of their catalogue and I bought one on Ebay. Sad to say I was quite disappointed ... the Capitol masters have degraded so much that the tape hiss is horrible. The only CD’s that are any good are the ones released through Capitol that have been digitally cleaned up. The other masters they sell to budget sellers are just copied direct from the original tapes and are all junk. I have gone through the entire Lettermen catalogue and have digitally cleaned up all the songs. I feel like making copies and taking everything down to Capitol and saying, "Here you go, these are on me ... and please don’t send out any more junk."   

Mike asked why we didn’t do any Beach Boys songs ! Well, here is an interesting story.   

We share a mutual love of the Four Freshmen with Brian Wilson. Brian knows this and has talked about the Freshman with us. One day Jim asked Brian to write a song for us and he said he had a great idea about a Surfer Girl. This was about the same time Brian’s dad, Murray, was jumping all over Brian about sharing his talents and song ideas with other artists. The next thing you know Capitol releases “Surfer Girl” by the Beach Boys. We’ll have to ask Brian if he originally intended to give the song to us ... I don’t know.   

For some reason station program directors didn’t like the Lettermen doing original songs. This was reported to us by the Capitol promo men, even though we released some dynamite originals. A lot are posted on youtube. They would say, you guys should do only standards.. Mike asks about doing other groups' material and we covered a host of them. We had a real modest hit with “She Cried”, which is one of my favorites. We did an original song called “Girl With the Little Tin Heart” which was really Four Seasons-esque. Early on, there was some good folk stuff on our albums ... and you can ask Tom Diehl about that. I think we have quite a variety of songs out there.   

As far as repackaged Lettermen songs now days, they pop up once in while repackaged with other artists in late night Time / Life infomercials ... also the Christmas stuff. I think Capitol may be a little reluctant to release another all Lettermen Best Of or Greatest Songs because of the fiasco with the Collectors Series ... even though it’s been over ten years they might be a little gun shy, I don’t know. Also, there have already been about three best of’s, a couple greatest hits, a couple all time greatest hits, plus the budget stuff that’s been released and it doesn’t pay to beat a dead horse.   

I forgot to mention that in our group “The Reunion”, we have recorded all the hits and most popular Lettermen songs on several CD’s ... AND, you can get them through our web site at: (One g between singing and group)  

I hope I’ve answered all of Mike’s questions and as far as Jim’s book not being long enough, well, he was worried it would bore people to death, that’s the way he is. Humble Jim Pike.  

Thanks, Kent, for the space.   

Lettermen / Reunion, 
Gary Pike  

Here are a few of the Lettermen tracks you and your readers may be interested in: 

Lettermen 1964

Reunion Singles 2013 from the album It Must Be Love

Wow, I really like the "The Way You Look Tonight / Lady In Red" Medley ... VERY nice ... and I've gotta say you guys STILL sound fantastic!!! Thanks, Gary! (kk)

Check out some of these tracks above ... and then be sure to join us again tomorrow as we dig deeper into the Music of The Lettermen ... right here in Forgotten Hits! (kk)