Jim Pike, Founder of Lettermen Vocal Group, Dies

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The Lettermen in 1964 (l. to r.): Jim Pike, Bob Engemann, Tony Butala (Photo from Wikipedia)

A founding member and lead singer of the 1960s vocal trio The Lettermen, Jim Pike, has died, according to published reports. His death occurred on June 9 in Prescott, Ariz., due to complications of Parkinson’s disease, however it was only announced this week. Pike was 82.

The Lettermen were best known for their two top 10 singles, 1961’s “When I Fall in Love” and a medley of “Going Out of My Head” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” in 1967-68. They also scored a top 20 single in 1965 with a vocal rendition of “Theme From ‘A Summer Place’.” In all, the Lettermen placed 31 singles on the Billboard chart as well as 33 albums, two of which—1962’s A Song for Young Love and 1967’s The Lettermen!!…And “Live,” went top 10. The group racked up five Grammy nominations and 11 gold records.

The Lettermen launched in Los Angeles in 1961, featuring Pike, Bob Engemann, who was a college friend from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, and Tony Butala, a third singer. Another group called the Lettermen was already in existence but the new trio received permission to use the name. Signed to Capitol Records, the Lettermen notched their first hit in 1961, with “The Way You Look Tonight,” a ballad that reached #13. They were nominated for two Grammys (Best New Group and Best Vocal Group) but did not win either.

Related: Another hitmaking ’60s vocal group, the Classics IV

The group’s popularity was instant. They fit in alongside the new folk-oriented vocal groups that were blanketing the country, particularly on college campuses. Their clean-cut image made them a natural fit for television variety shows and they sold records consistently through the ’60s, even as the British Invasion and the rock boom dominated. Their final chart single, “Love,” came in 1971—still on Capitol Records—and their final chart album was released two years later.

Watch the Lettermen cover “Traces” in the late ’60s

Pike left the group in 1973, selling his share of the group to Butala, as Engemann had done in 1967. Pike was replaced in the group by his younger brother, Donny; another brother, Gary, had replaced Engemann. Butala, the only consistent member since the beginning, continues to lead a Lettermen group today.

Watch the Lettermen sing “Going Out of My Head/Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” in 1968

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