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The Lettermen deserved clean image, says original member

The Lettermen deserved clean image, says original member

The squeaky-clean image presented by Tony Butala and The Lettermen back in the early ’60s wasn’t a c
The Lettermen deserved clean image, says original member
From left, Bobby Poynton, Donovan Tea and Tony Butala of The Lettermen.

The squeaky-clean image presented by Tony Butala and The Lettermen back in the early ’60s wasn’t a clever marketing tool created by an agent or record producers. It was the real thing.

“I’m No. 8 of 11 kids, I slept in a bed with three brothers and we were 100 percent Croatian Catholics,” said Butala, the one continuous member of the group since The Lettermen hit the charts in 1961 with “The Way You Look Tonight.”

“I went to confession, I never smoked or did drugs. Oh yeah, I really was pretty squeaky clean.”

On Saturday night, Butala and The Lettermen will be part of the Golden Oldies Spectacular at Proctors. Also performing will be Darlene Love (“He’s a Rebel”), The Duprees (“You Belong to Me”), The Marcels (“Blue Moon”), and Jay Siegel’s Tokens (“The Lion Sleeps Tonight”).

While Butala has performed with about a dozen different singers as The Lettermen, he has plenty of experience with the other two current members of the trio, Donovan Tea and Bobby Poynton.

‘Golden Oldies Spectacular’

WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St.,


WHEN: 7 p.m. Saturday

HOW MUCH: $54.75-$39.75

MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org

They have toured consistently as a group the last four years, while Tea has shared the stage with Butala since 1984. Poynton, meanwhile, was a member from 1990-95 before joining forces again in 2011.

“I started performing when singers were singers and writers were writers,” said Butala, who grew up just outside of Pittsburgh. “If you look at all the great vocalists from the 1950s and ’60s — Peggy Lee, Frank [Sinatra], Dean [Martin], Nat King Cole — they weren’t songwriters. Yeah, I did write about 200 songs myself, but they were all lousy.”

Butala, who turns 75 this November, began his professional career in 1948 when he sang on Pittsburgh radio station KDKA. That led to a gig in California with the Robert Mitchell Boys Choir in 1951 and he performed with that group through 1954.

He performed as a lead singer with various bands, but then in 1961 he, Bob Engemann and Jim Pike were signed by Capital Records and had their first major success with “The Way You Look Tonight.” The trio went through some changes during the ’60s, but Butala was always at the helm.

The Lettermen followed up their first hit with “When I Fall in Love” later in 1961, enjoyed modest success throughout the first half of the ’60s, and then in 1967 had another smash on their hands with “Goin’ Out of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.”

Butala has never stopped touring for any length of time, and sees no reason to stop anytime soon.

“My pipes are great,” he said. “I’ve never abused them. I might have two glasses of wine a day, but I take care of myself. When I go to a [Pittsburgh] Pirate game, I don’t yell and scream at them. My voice is my Stradivarius and I take care of it.”

Working with Tea and Poynton, he says, also keeps him from over extending himself.

“Any of us can carry the show from the front,” said Butala. “The two guys with me now are the best combination of singers I’ve ever had. We’re all tall and handsome and we’re all soloists. Nobody here is a background singer.”

Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]

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