Tony Butala Interview
1981 marks the 20th anniversary of this group's formation. In twenty years they've sold seventy five million-dollars worth of records, had some twenty five hits on the charts, and accumulated nine gold albums. As headliners in Las Vegas, The Lettermen command a fee of $35,000 a week. Out on the road they'll get $10,000 a night plus a percentage of the gate for a 3,000 seat auditorium. Their business organization is solid having had the same manager for twenty years (Jess Stearn) and the same agent (William Morris Agency) for twenty years. In eighteen years they produced forty-eight albums for Capitol Records. The Lettermen now have their own label - Alpha Omega Records, and a new album out titled "Love Is." While the distribution for the album on the east coast is not yet finalized; you can still obtain a copy by sending a certified check or money order to "The Lettermen" Merchandise Center, P.O. Box 151, McKees Rocks, PA 15136.
We spoke with leader/founder, and original member Tony Butala at his office in Beverly Hills.
Q. Tony, are you the only original member?
A. Yeah, that's it, I'm the only one. We've only had a couple of changes in twenty years.
Q. Is your act basically the same as when you started?
A. Who wears last years suit? We're constantly tryin' to update the image. We keep it in line with the times. We're pretty contemporary. We'll change our act by 70% from year to year. People aren't gonna see the same old show when we come back to their town.
Q. Do you still play as many colleges as you once did?
A. We used to play as many as 250 colleges a year in the mid sixties. Now out of 200 dates, about twenty five of'em are colleges. To be quite frank, "The Lettermen" are not as meaningful to college kids as we once were. Our price is up too and some colleges have done away with college attractions.
Q. Do you still wear matching outfits?
A. We haven't worn matching outfits for over ten years. We wear coordinated out tits. We don't wear street clothes. Our costumes are designed and tailored for us for about $3.000 a piece. We don't wear the same thing wherever we go, just as we don't do the same act.
Q. How are your shows different?
A. In colleges we'll wear levis, leathers, stuff like that. We'll do more original material at a college 'cause they get into what we're about more than how we perform.
In Vegas we wear flashy, sequined tuxedo kind of outfits. They're coordinated to look good under the same lighting. We don't do anything that's not known in Vegas. We do a tried true type of act. We're not a nostalgia group either. Only fifteen minutes is devoted to all of those hits. At a civic center we'll wear a certain outfit that'll appeal to the whole family. In fact, two outfits, 'cause there's intermission.
Q. Can you see any groups that might have been influenced by "The Lettermen" sound, around today?
A. Oh sure, a lot often being subtly influenced. "Ambrosia" has a 1980's Lettermen kind of sound, "The Carpenters" harmony was influenced by The Lettermen. There's a lot of Lettermen style harmonies goin' on in the music of David Gates and Bread. The Sandpipers. Sounds of Sunshine, "Boston," and "Queen" in a subtle way.
Q. Are you the front man for the group?
A. No front man. Just three individual singers who sing together. It's not Tony and The Lettermen. Each of us do solos in the act. I do most of the lead singing, 'cause my sound is the sound that's the lead on most of the hits. We're a viable entertainment package, and it's not till you see our show that you realize that.
Official Website: The Lettermen.com
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