Date: March 31, 2006
To: The Breeze
Gentlemen, first, we would like to commend you for the most accurate artist profile of “The Lettermen” that’s out there today.
You have evidently looked and done your research. We would like to tie some loose ends together for you regarding your fuzzy section, as you state it, and we don’t blame you because there have been misleading statements floated about.
The most confused is the creation of the famed Lettermen beginnings and we hope to clear things up. We’ll try to keep it as simple and short as possible but it’s going to be tough.
In the late fifties Jim Pike and Bob Engemann knew each other in college and had come to the Los Angeles area looking for success in the record industry. They sang together in different combinations and as a duo. Bob Engemann’s older brother Karl, at this time was a producer at the newly formed Warner Bros. record label and had signed Jim Pike to a record contract as a solo artist. They released a single which was not successful. At this same time Jim and Bob were looking for another singer to form a group. Jim’s vision was to have a vocal group where each member was an excellent soloist as well as a good group singer and they were having a difficult time finding the right guy, plus, Bob had to fill a National Guard obligation for a few months and so to kill some time and make a few bucks, Jim joined a Las Vegas lounge group called “Bill Norvis and the Upstarts”. (How’s that for a name?) In this group Jim met Tony Butala and liked his blending voice plus he sang solos. Jim asked Tony if he would come join him and Bob to form a new group when the Bill Norvis gig was over. They did just that….
They started rehearsing and thinking of a name. Bob suggested “The Lettermen”, but Tony said he sang with a group a few years earlier for a short time called “The Lettermen” and the name belonged to Mike Barnett. they called Mike to see if the group was still together. He said he was no longer in the music business and that they could use it. Jim, Tony and Bob eventually registered the name in a 3 way partnership.
Jim picked a couple of songs, “Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring” and “When”. He did the vocal arrangements, put up the money to record the songs, took them to Warner Bros. , they signed The Lettermen to a recording contract and released the record.
“Their Hearts Were Full Of Spring” had regional success in San Francisco and a few other cities but not enough to excite Warner Bros.
By this time, Karl Engemann (Bob’s brother) had moved on to Capitol Records as V. Pres. of A&R. The guys were not happy with Warner Bros. new distribution dept. So Jim and Bob called Karl at Capitol and said ‘Are you interested?’ Karl set up a meeting with Nick Venet (who gets credit for signing The Lettermen and The Beachboys) and Nick said ‘Let’s do it.’ Karl called Warner Bros. and got them out of that contract. They recorded “That’s My Desire” and “The Way You Look Tonight”.
The “A” side was “That’s My Desire” . It died fast but some jock, (we should really get his name) in Buffalo, N.Y…. flipped the record and started getting action and forced WABC to start playing it. So Capitol started pushing “The Way You Look Tonight” and it was a hit.
Jim was the creative force behind The Lettermen and so for a follow up he wanted to do “When I Fall In Love” with the melody doubled on top with his falsetto. This is a little different than “The Way You Look Tonight” where the lead changed hands several times through the song, as did many other songs we recorded. That’s why it’s difficult to figure out who’s singing the melody in a lot of our songs because all three may do it at one point. Jim has the lead on “Summer Place” in falsetto and on “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You”, on the hit “Goin Out Of My Head / Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” medley. Jim also sings the hit “Love ” as a solo. So you can’t say any one guy is the lead singer of The Lettermen. We are all lead singers.
The other item that needs to be cleared up is the Connie Stevens connection with The Lettermen. In high school and just out of high school Tony Butala was part of a group called “The Fourmosts” which featured Connie Sstevens. She of course got the part of “Cricket” on the Warner Bros. series “Hawaiian Eye” and had to leave the group.
Her bio says when she left the group they went on to become The Lettermen. It makes good press but is not accurate. Lettermen Jim And Bob were never part of The Fourmosts. Where all this can get confusing is back when The Lettermen were just getting started,… Connie Stevens was recording for Warner Bros., at the same time Karl Engemann (Bob’s record producing brother) was there, He (Karl) lined up a blind date between Letterman Bob and Connie Stevens. Bob says they talked about music of course but never connected Tony being with Connie’s old group (The Fourmosts) and The Lettermen. There was one date and they both went on with their careers. Years later at a function when all were present they discovered the coincidence. Connie Stevens did not assemble The Lettermen. It makes good press but did not happen.
In late 1967 Jim asked his brother Gary Pike (who played bass in their backup band) to take Bob Engemann’s place in The Lettermen. Bob was married with children and was tired of the road. He sold his interest in the group to Jim and Tony.
In 1974 because of developing voice problems Jim Pike asked his youngest brother Donny Pike (who was The Lettermen sound man) to take his place. Two years later in 1976 Jim Pike contractually had to sell the group name to Tony Butala.
The Lettermen continued as you report correctly with Gary Pike, Donny Pike and Tony Butala until 1981.
In 1980 the forming of “The Reunion” had begun with Jim Pike, Bob Engemann and Ric de Azevedo. As you reported, in 1999 Bob Engemann developed some serious health problems and again was replaced by Gary Pike. we would like to report that Bobby is doing much better.
We’re sorry this letter is so long and a little wordy but explaining these things in a short and simple manner is difficult. We wanted your bio to be accurate and we hope we have done that. Please use what you need and hopefully you can condense it better than us.
If you would like to contact us for verification or to clarify anything we have stated here feel free to do so.