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Lettermen still haven’t graduated Las Vegas

Nobody ever thinks of Tony Butala as a Las Vegas name, but maybe they should.

Butala has put the name of The Lettermen in front of his own for better than a half-century. So he slips under the radar of entertainers still around to say they played the Desert Inn in the ’50s.

The last of the collegiate harmony groups — the genre saluted in “Forever Plaid” — the Lettermen closed the widening generation gap and spanned the ’60s as hitmakers, from “The Way You Look Tonight” in 1961 to “Hurt So Bad” in 1969.

But the Los Angeles trio realized early on that contemporaries such as Wayne Newton and Paul Anka found longevity as fully realized showmen, not just pop hitmakers. Butala, who turns 74 next month, had a long head start there.

A former child star, Butala recalled a few years ago that an early version of his group was part of a 1958 Desert Inn revue, which had a premise of traveling back in time to 1958.

“It had this rickety, wobbly, papier-mache spaceship that took the whole stage,” he remembered.

And while he is not on the original recordings, 30-year Lettermen singer Donovan Tea remembers the late-’70s and early-’80s era of Las Vegas from being a singer in “Casino de Paris” at the Dunes and “Lido de Paris” at the Stardust.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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