The Lettermen will take Park City audiences down Memory Lane
Donovan Tea takes his role as one of the three vocalists of The Lettermen seriously.
“We’ve all been to shows where artists, great artists sometimes, get tired of singing the same songs year after year,” Tea said. “But we have a little down-home phrase: ‘You dance with the one who brung ya.’ We are where we are today because of the people who fell in love with each other because of the songs that went out on the airwaves, so we do our best to sing our best, because that’s what the fans deserve.”
Park City will see Tea and his bandmates, Bobby Poynton and Rob Gulack, fulfill that promise when The Lettermen perform three nights this weekend at the Egyptian Theatre.
Tea said the concerts will take audiences down “Memory Lane.”
“Music is a special thing,” he said. “You can remember exactly where you were, what you were doing and who you were with when you heard a particular song that struck you. So, we know when people come see one of our shows, they are buying a little piece of those memories.”
Tea also said the group doesn’t take any artistic liberties with the songs.
“While the chemistry has changed with every lineup shift, we all know it’s the music that’s important,” he said. “So, no matter who is in the group, we try to stay true to that original sound. I mean, you wouldn’t want Andy Wiliams to sing ‘Moon River’ with a country twang.”
Tea knows when the group has made an impact on audience members when he looks out into the crowd.
“Sometimes when we can see everyone fairly well, and when that happens, we will often notice someone reaching out and taking the hand of the person they are sitting with,” he said. “That speaks volumes to us, because we know that the song we’re singing means something special to them.”
The trick for The Lettermen, however, is finding a balance in the songs the group chooses to perform, according to Tea, who joined the group in-1984.
“The Letterman recorded more than 800 songs,” he said. “Of course we can’t sing all of them, but we try to do what people want to hear, because we’re there for them, whether we’re playing Park City, Manila or Dallas. It doesn’t matter.”
Although Tea likes many Lettermen songs, his favorite will always be “Theme from a Summer Place,” which features Poynton on lead vocals.
“It was the closest to an original song by The Lettermen, because they mostly covered tunes and just Lettermen-ized them,” he said.
“Theme from a Summer Place” was written by Max Steiner to score the 1959 film, “A Summer Place,” which starred Sandra Dee and Troy Donohue.
The piece, which won the 1961 Record of the Year Grammy Award, was performed originally as an instrumental by Percy Faith and his orchestra, and, in 1960, hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100, where it remained for nine consecutive weeks.
The Lettermen’s version, featuring lyrics written by Mack Discant, hit No. 16 on the Billboard charts in 1965.
“I think it’s one of our best,” Tea said.
Last year, The Lettermen released the song in a medley that included “The Way You Look Tonight” and “When I Fall in Love” on the album “By Request.”
“By Request” features songs that the group’s audiences have requested the most throughout the years, Tea said.
Other songs on the album include “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing” — which was covered by an array of singers including The Four Aces, Andy Williams and Engelbert Humperdinck — and a cover of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” from James Cameron’s 1997 blockbuster “Titanic.”
Some of those songs will be included in the Park City concerts, Tea said.
The trick, however, is making sure the concerts have a variety of songs that will please the audience, he said.
“We can have only so many slots in the show for so many songs, and we also have to pace the show, so there are certain songs that will go into certain sections,” he said.
One year, the group replaced its version of the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody” with “Mr. Lonely,” which was made famous in 1964 by Bobby Vinton.
After the concert, a number of fans expressed their displeasure at not hearing “Unchained Melody.”
“We totally understood why they were unhappy, but in order to make ‘Mr. Lonely’ in, we had to make adjustments,” Tea said.
The group found a way to please audiences in the future, he said.
“If you have a favorite song, and you’re coming to our show, email us, or, if you’re in your seats and you think about a song, write it down on a piece of paper and have an usher get it to us,” Tea said. “If the song fits in the show, and if we can do it, we will move heaven and earth to try to get it in and even dedicate it to you.”
The reason for doing that is simple, according to Tea.
“We take performances and songs very personally, but we wouldn’t be anything without our fans,” he said. “They are the ones who keep coming to the show, so we want to make a guarantee to people who put their money down that they will get their money’s worth and more.”
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