Lettermen to perform at Southampton High

Published 10:14 am Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Letterman Bobby Poynton, from left, Donovan Tea and Tony Butala will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at Southampton High School. -- SUBMITTED

The Letterman Bobby Poynton, from left, Donovan Tea and Tony Butala will perform at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, at Southampton High School. — SUBMITTED


FRANKLIN—When an audience does its job of showing up for a concert by The Lettermen, that’s when the trio gets to work.

“We make sure that audience members forget their trouble for awhile,” founding member Tony Butala said Tuesday. “We’re not there because we have to be.”

The Lettermen will perform 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 23, in the Southampton High School auditorium. The concert is presented by the Franklin-Southampton Concert Association.

The group, which began in 1958, started enjoying a string of musical successes in the 1960s. Butala, Jim Pike and Bobby Engemann were The Lettermen then. Today, Donovan Tea, Bobby Poynton and Butala are the singers.

“When I Fall in Love,” “Goin’ Out of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” and “Theme from ‘A Summer Place’” are a few of the songs the trio shaped with its distinctive harmonies.

“I decided to find a sound between rock and jazz,” Butala, 74, said about putting The Lettermen together. The name refers to the letter sweaters they wore at first; they’ve long been put away.

Having the best possible singers, good looks and moving the best are other factors sought by Butala.

“Each of us could entertain and be soloists,” he said. “We’re not like most groups. Each can carry the show. We’re not just as good as the last song.”

When The Lettermen first started, 300 shows a year was the norm.

But as different members left — or even sometimes returned — or got married and had children, they scaled back, and now do 100 shows a year, said Butala.

The Lettermen have missed fewer than 10 out the 10,000 shows during the group’s career.

Having a large audience or venue is not a deal-breaker. He recalled when a snowstorm, a football game and a newspaper strike coincided with a concert years ago in Columbus, Ohio. Instead of 4,000 people there were 37.

“We sat on the edge of the stage, sang a few songs and answered questions,” recalled Butala. “We refunded their tickets. Six months later we returned and the placed sold out… when you’re an entertainer you have to be flexible.”

He praised Poynton and Tea for their talent, and added there’s an instant gratification they each get by singing.

“We love that. It’s really a good gig,” Butala said. “We like people.”

As an aside, he mentioned that The Lettermen set aside a few minutes during shows for photographs.

Nancy Rowe, president of the FSCA, looks forward to the concert.

“We’ve had them before four or five years ago. They were a big attraction and everyone loved them,” Rowe said. “I think the audience knows The Lettermen and are familiar with their music.”

Tickets at the door are $30 and $10 for students. For more details, call Rowe at 653-2498.