Thursday, December 4, 2014

Lettermen - Part 3

Response continues to be good for our very special Lettermen Mini-Series ...

Here are a few more emails we received after Part 2 went up on the site yesterday ...

The Lettermen are appearing at Proctor's Theatre in Schenectady in the Golden Oldies Spectacular on April 11, 2015.  Also appearing are Darlene Love, Jay Siegel's Tokens, The Duprees and The Marcels. 
Shelley J Sweet-Tufano
So cool to see these guys booked so far in advance ... we told you yesterday that Ron Onesti has also booked the group for a Christmas performance in 2015!  (kk)    

Hola Kent,
Best wishes entering your "Sweet Sixteenth" year.  
The Lettermen supplied the harmonies to balance all the 'Pushing the envelope' groups and artists as the decade of the sixties fathered the more experimental music of the seventies. We Baby Boomers were also emerging from our cocoons and finding ourselves as we went out and made our way in the world. They were the link to the milder harmonies of our parents and stabilized the music scene. I still have to pinch myself when I look back and realize how fortunate we were to have lived and developed in that era.  
Wishing you and all your FH subscribers and followers the Merriest of Christmases and a Hearty Healthy New Year (jeez when did it get to be 2015?!!!) and happy Holidays to all those who wish to celebrate the Holiday Season in their own way.   
Special regards to all my Oldies Music / Music Oldies Buddies who make up large group of your followers.  
Sweet Dreams, 

I stay tuned to Forgotten Hits because I never know when something will pop up that I fully relate to. Love The Lettermen! The Lady In Red - The Way You Look Tonight medley is not only great sounding but extremely clever. What a great idea!  
Speaking of clever, how about this picture of Reunion wearing their Letter... well, you get the idea.  (Nice sweaters, guys!)  kk


>> 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)   Wow - this is very, very nice! Super job on melding these songs. 
David Lewis    
Most of the feedback we have gotten from the promo people and others prefer "Just One More Chance", which will be the single. They say it's current with a touch of retro. To me, I think this song has the same desperation feel to it that "Hurt So Bad" has. If given JUST A CHANCE I know it can be a hit.  "The Way You Look Tonight / Lady In Red" came in a close second.  
Gary Pike


Honestly, I'd go the other way ... The Lettermen are known for some of their great medleys ... and the idea of a "remake" of one of their old hits of sorts only strengthens the whole performance. Mark my words ... push this to the right soft rock stations and you may soon be hearing yourselves on the radio again! And who knows, THAT push just might help to rekindle the old catalog, giving radio an excuse to play the original version of "The Way You Look Tonight" along with "When I Fall In Love", as well as a couple of other hit (but forgotten) medleys like "Goin' Out Of My Head / Can't Take My Eyes Off You" and "Traces / Memories". "Lady In Red" and "The Way You Look Tonight" both have the advantage of being immediately recognizable ... which will make the listener pay attention quicker with a little more comfort due to the familiarity of both of these well-loved tunes. Trust me on this one ... without hearing anything else off the new CD, THIS is the hit. (kk) 


Thanks to Gary Pike for sharing his insight into little-known but key details in the Lettermen story. But, then again, us Garys have to stick up for each other. During my tenure as the Music & Entertainment Editor of Reader's Digest we compiled and released a three-CD box set entitled "The Lettermen: Their Greatest Hits and Finest Performances" (Reader's Digest Music 092C). That 1994 set was assembled from all Capitol masters by Eric Berman and came with a 32 page booklet of extensive track-by-track liner notes. Typical of Reader's Digest collections, it included every single tune the group placed on Billboard's Hot 100 plus an array of B sides and album cuts ... and was sold through direct mail only.  It's out of print now, but pops up from time to time on amazon and   
I've also licensed quite a few individual Lettermen tracks for many compilation box sets.  As such, The Lettermen turned up in a lot of Reader's Digest various artists collections, including Christmas box sets.  In fact, my second Reader's Digest Music release, 1982's "Christmas Through The Years," included The Lettermen's 1966 version of "O Holy Night" and went on to sell more than eight million copies.   Hopefully the original Lettermen earned some decent royalties off that.   
My most recent use of Lettermen material was last year in the ten hour radio countdown "The 100 Greatest Christmas Hits of All Time," which Wink Martindale hosts and Envision Networks syndicates worldwide.  "O Holy Night" pops up in Hour 7 while "What Child Is This" (featuring an interview with founding member Tony Butala) turns up in Hour 5.  Both tracks come from their 1966 Christmas album.    
"The Lettermen got started in 1960," says Tony in the interview. "We were three lead singers of our own vocal groups individually and when those groups broke up we felt it would be a different approach to have each person be strong enough as a soloist to change the melody from one person to another -- which turned out to be quite a bit ahead of it’s time." 
Gary Theroux   

First pressings of the Capitol Collectors Series cd on the Lettermen DID include the bio that had been written ... however, I've only ever seen one copy and I don't own it! They're VERY rare.  
That Capitol Collectors Series cd was done very well, but, as Gary also mentioned, they digitally cleaned up the audio and the use of noise reduction was definitely a bit heavy handed at times. Ron Furmanek did the remixes from the original session tapes for that cd and the mixes sound excellent, while the noise reduction was only added to the tracks after Ron mixed them and I guess he didn't get to have a say in the mastering (which was done by Bob Norberg, who is also listed as a remixer on the cd). I just wish they could've split it into two volumes to allow for more non-lp singles to get remixed into stereo.
Gary's reply to Mike also mentions Girl With A Little Tin Heart, which is just an incredible song so I am sending it to you as well. How a fantastic song like that is not available legitimately on cd is something I won't understand. It's perhaps their hardest to find Capitol 45 and even comes with a picture sleeve (I own the 45 but have yet to even see the sleeve in person ... however I see that several 'sleeves without 45s' have come up for sale on ebay in the last several months -- I wonder if they are bootlegged copies or if they were just leftover stock that were never added to 45's to begin with)


As for the folk recordings the group made, on both their albums and singles, their 8th single for Capitol was Allentown Jail b/w Two Brothers and it's a great folk record where (as best as I can determine) neither made it onto an album. Allentown Jail made it to #123 on Billboard but it was a big hit in Miami, Florida, as well as Vancouver, British Columbia in mid June 1963. The 12 string guitar player on Allentown Jail is none other than Glen Campbell, according to one of the comments on my youtube video of the song.
Count me among those who would like to see more Lettermen recordings on cd ... I'd really love to see it happen and maybe be a part of any releases that might come out.

Lastly, I'm sending you a copy of Love Letters by the Lettermen, my favorite version of the song, which is here in stereo from a various artists LP that I found the song on before I got the original Lettermen LP the song appeared on. I'm afraid of what the lp master in Capitol's vault might sound like these days.

Tom Diehl

Wouldn't it be funny if (after all the shit I gave him the other day) Tom Diehl ended up winning one of the autographed copies of Jim Pike's book and The Lettermen's All-Time Greatest Hits CD's?!?!?  (Of course if THAT happened then every OTHER reader on the list would think the contest was rigged and that I "caved" to Tom's wimpering ... so we just can't let THAT happen, right???)
Instead, I worked it out with Gary Pike that we're going to send Tom both the book AND the CD ... and still pick two OTHER readers to boot.  (Those readers will be chosen at random by Gary Pike through a lottery system ... he'll have NO idea what number has been assigned to which entry ... and will randomly select TWO who we'll then declare as the winners!!!)  
I think it's the least we can do ... and no, this isn't a case of the squeaking wheel getting the grease ... Tom has helped me out SO many times in the past supplying music that we needed for our site that I've lost count ... but it very well may be into the THOUSANDS!!!  And I know he's a HUGE Lettermen fan who hasn't had a chance yet to read Jim Pike's book ... so I'm making an "executive decision" here and doing what in my heart feels right ... especially since we'll still be declaring two OTHER winners as originally announced.  Sound fair?  Then get your entries in TODAY ... 'cause YOU'VE still got a chance to win these prizes, too!!!  Our deadline will be midnight, Friday Night ... and we'll have Gary pick the official winners over the weekend.  (kk)


Some might argue that the basic history of The Lettermen is pretty well documented ... at least amongst their true, die-hard fans ... but the "general public at large" may not have been privy to some of these details ... and since Tony Butala has gone out of his way to rewrite a good portion of that history now that he has sole ownership of the name, we figured we'd pass along a few more Lettermen stories that Gary Pike has decided to share exclusively with our readers.  

For even MORE "fly-on-the-wall" details, you may want to pick up a copy of Jim Pike's biography "My Lettermen Years:  The Journey To Hell And Back".
(Or, if you haven't already, get your entry in to win an autographed copy!)

Meanwhile, here are a few more Lettermen stories from Gary Pike ...   

Here is a little sidebar of information involving Connie Stevens.  

Before the Lettermen, Tony sang with another group called “the Fourmosts”.  In this group was a young girl named Concietta Ingolia.  She landed a part in a new TV series called “Hawaiian Eye”,  changed her name to Connie Stevens and left the group.  Anyway, in her bio she mentions the story of singing in the Fourmosts and then getting the big part in the TV show, stating that after she left, the three guys continued on as The Lettermen.  It makes good press but is not 100% accurate.  Tony of the Lettermen is the only one she used to sing with.  She later did write liner notes on one of the Lettermen albums but didn’t tell this story.   

Karl Engemann, Bobby’s older brother, was a producer at the newly formed Warner Bros. Records when he signed Jim Pike to a record contract.  Karl knew Jim through Bobby and liked his voice.  The record was not successful and later, after  the Lettermen was formed, Jim brought a demo of “Their Hearts Were Full of Spring” to Karl and WB released it with no success.  Karl then got a job at Capitol as VP of A&R.  Jim and Bob didn’t like what WB wanted them to record and asked Karl if he could get them out that contract.  Karl did and then made an appointment for the guys to see a new A&R producer at Capitol by the name of Nick Venet.  Nick flipped out, signed the guys and wanted to record something right away ... but the only studio time he could get was at the tail end of a Four Prep session ... so he brought the group in and they recorded “That’s My Desire” and “The Way You Look Tonight”.   

The first Capitol release for the Lettermen was “That’s My Desire” and on the back side was “The Way You Look Tonight”.  This was mid 1961.  Nick signed the Beach Boys almost a year later.  (That's Producer Nick Venet you hear interacting with The Lettermen on this next track.)  Capitol beat That’s My Desire to death and after a couple of months, nothing, it was dead.  (“That’s My Desire” was kind  of a pre-Four Seasons doo-wop sound.  I’m real happy this wasn’t the hit.)  

A disc jockey In Buffalo, NY, one night flipped the record over and started playing The Way You Look Tonight and the phone started lighting up and he started getting requests.  He got excited and called the Tower. (Capitol)  They said to keep playing That’s My Desire but he said you have a hit here and I can’t stop playing it.  It made their play list and started to chart.  

Now, WABC in New York City shared a listening audience with this Buffalo station but WABC was the top, top 40 station in that region and this station in Buffalo (and I can’t remember the call letters for the life of me) forced WABC to start playing The Way You Look Tonight.  NOW, Capitol took notice and flipped the record.  It spread from the East Coast to the West Coast.  I honestly think if the record had peaked all over the country at the same time it would have charted higher than 12 or 13 in Billboard, but hits that spread from one coast to the other just don’t chart nationally as high as they could.  The Way You Look Tonight reached # 2 here in LA on both top 40 stations.  There were numerous other markets where it was in the top 5 but not at the same time.  

I remember Bob Eubanks having battle of the bands on KRLA and playing The Way You Look Tonight by the Lettermen and The Way You Look Tonight by, I think, the Jarmels.  The Lettermen won handily by call in votes.  The flip side of the Jarmels version was titled “A Little Bit of Soap”.  That side ended up being a bit of a hit for them.  

The other reluctant hit for the Lettermen and didn’t peak at the same time was “Hurt So Bad.”  It was #1 here in LA and quite a few other big markets but only made it to, I think  #13 in Billboard and #12 in Cashbox and a little higher in Record World.  (It went all the way to #2 here in Chicago! - kk)

Some time ago you mentioned in Forgotten Hits about Jay Siegel of the Tokens possibly replacing one of The Lettermen in the early eighties and that’s accurate.  After my brother Jim Pike sold controlling interest in the Lettermen name to Tony Butala (legally, Tony was the only one Jim could sell to), Tony had complete control of the group and offered Jay the job to replace me because I was leaving.  I wondered why it never happened.  Jay came to see a show and we talked,  but I guess it never worked out.  I was leaving (in part because of the heavy tour schedule and up until that time my family traveled with me ... and I had a wife and three kids.)  Fortunately The Lettermen were enough in demand that William Morris could block book us so we toured much like most of the country artists.  We all traveled in motor homes with a semi for the equipment and sound guys and a Greyhound for the musicians.  We were 100% self contained.  But now my oldest had started school and the family stayed home.  I guess the heavy tour schedule was Jay’s reason for not taking the job.  After I left, I heard Jay was going to produce a couple of songs for a new Lettermen single but I never heard anything more.  Anyway,  Ralph Nichols took my place.  He had been a replacement in the Sandpipers earlier on.  Nice guy ! He lasted a couple of years and got tired of the road, or the pay, or the lack thereof.

Through the years Tony has had about 17 different guys as Lettermen.  Back in '03 I think it was, Tony asked me to fill in for (at that time) Letterman Darren Dowler for a couple of months so he could rest his voice.  I was singing with The Reunion at the time and fortunately both our schedules did not conflict so I took the job, much to the shagrin of my brother Jim, but he understood.  During this time Tony told me that  Darren and Donovan’s (The other two Lettermen)  contracts were up that year and wanted to know if I was interested in coming back.  I knew he was just using me as leverage in his negotiations with Darren & Donovan so I turned him down ... besides I was involved with The Reunion as well as filling in with The Four Preps .  I guess you could say that Jim and I at that time were quite involved not in musical chairs but musical groups, no pun intended ... Jim with the Four Preps and Reunion and me involved with The Lettermen, Preps and Reunion.  The four Preps at that time consisted of Bruce Belland and Ed Cobb of the original Preps, David Somerville of the Diamonds and Jim Pike and me of the Lettermen, and we sang all the hits of these groups, and I got to sing all those great hits of all these great groups.  Darren Dowler, of course, went on as lead singer with Paul Revere and the Raiders and also with Bill Medley, filling Bobby Hatfield’s role.  Things have settled down a bit now and I continue with my brother Jim in Reunion, singing all the old Lettermen hits, and then some. 

Keep up the good work, Kent!
A Lettermen REUNION,    
Gary Pike 

THE LETTERMEN HIT LIST  (Top 40 National Hits): 

1961 - The Way You Look Tonight  (#8)
1962 - When I Fall In Love  (#7)
1962 - Come Back Silly Girl  (#17)
1965 - Theme from "A Summer Place"  (#11)
1968 - Goin' Out Of My Head / Can't Take My Eyes Off You  (#6)
1968- Sherry Don't Go  (#35)
1968- Put Your Head On My Shoulder  (#35)
1969- Hurt So Bad  (#12)
1971 - Love  (#34)