Sometimes it's best not to change. The Lettermen have made few alterations to their sound, a significant feat considering it's been nearly 50 years since the group released its first album.
The trio, which will perform tonight at the Orpheum Theatre, still serves up smooth, soothing harmonies and catchy numbers. Vocalist Tony Butala, who is the lone original member, talked in a recent interview about why the band hasn't morphed and its close connection with fans.
Do you ever get tired of playing the same old songs night after night, year after year?
No. You gotta dance with the ones that brung you. That's what people want to hear and that's what they get. I still love singing "The Way You Look Tonight" just like I did when I first sang it a lifetime ago. I don't know how singers get sick of songs. People expect certain songs and a way of performing and that's why I don't think it's a good idea to change. But not everybody agrees with that. I remember when I heard (the late) Rick Nelson talk about his song "Garden Party" on Johnny Carson. He doesn't feel that he has to play the old hits. That he only wanted to play what he was into at the time. I just don't understand that. The fans are the ones who gave us this career with their support. The least we could do is give them what they want.
There's a certain disconnect with many younger recording artists. It's as if there is a moat between them and the audience, even when there isn't a pit separating performer and the crowd. But that's not the case with the Lettermen.
We want to break down the wall between the audience and us physically and psychologically. At a lot of shows, there is a pit, there are security guards, and you can feel this big barrier between the fans and the recording artist. It's just not our way. We also spend so much time in the audience during shows. I can't tell you how much I appreciate those who come out to see us.
The Lettermen are a throwback, which provide well-rounded, old-school entertainment.
We're not about flash pots, laser beams and all that excess stuff. Kids who are recording artists today don't do it this way since they never saw Sammy (Davis Jr.), Frank (Sinatra) or Paul Anka. We're out there to please the audience. It's not as if you come to our show and you feel as though we're gracing you with our presence.
There aren't a lot of recording artists, even your contemporaries, that are keen on mingling with the audience after the show.
But we love it. What's the alternative? Going up to my room and watching television? We really enjoy it or we wouldn't do it. After every show we're out there meeting fans. We actually urge fans to bring cameras to the show. It's usually the opposite and anyone who goes to concerts can vouch for that. I love the fans. I'll do whatever for them. One time a guy brought 38 vinyl albums and I signed every one of them. It's fun for me. It should be all about having fun.
If you go
What: Pop vocal trio singing hits from the '60s
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 200 N. Broadway
When: 8 p.m. today
How much: Tickets $21, $27 and $37.
For more information, call 316-755-7328.