Rehabilitation employment specialist Tom Connelly will be conducting a resiliency workshop on Wednesday at Marine Corps Logistics Base-Albany. (File photo)
One Friday evening a few years ago after finishing my exercise routine at the YMCA, I journeyed downtown and looked for a place to eat and hopefully take in some entertainment.
After taking a right off of Gillionville onto Slappey and crossing the railroad tracks, I noticed a number of cars outside of a restaurant called Casa Tapatia’s. Taking this as my cue, I pulled in, parked the car and entered this establishment.
After being greeted by someone who I learned was the manager, Natalie Diaz, I heard some music emanating from the front of the building. And, to my delight, it was the type of music popular in my younger days.
Then, as I entered the room and walked toward the area where the band was, there appeared a familiar face. The lead singer of the band, Jose Tongol, was someone I knew from the running club we used to be in (Albany Running and Fitness Club), as well as the church we attend (St. Teresa’s Catholic Church).
Accompanying Jose were a few of his Filipino friends, Beltrahn Azarraga on the lead guitar and Heldi Villareal on the bongos, as well as Mark Moore on the bass guitar, and Felix Amankwa on the maracas. This group, collectively known as the JT YoYos was playing songs ranging from the 1960s up to today. Although the melodies weren’t played in chronological order, the band played songs by the Beatles such as “Help” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Paul McArtney and Wings’ “Band on the Run” and “I Love You,” and The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.”
Later, the JT YoYos played songs such as Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary,” then segued into other tunes such as “Labamba,” “Twist and Shout” and then “Mustang Sally.” The group also performed songs by America, including “Tin Man,” “Horse with No Name,” “Sister Golden Hair” and “Ventura Highway.”
As the evening progressed, the band sang hits by the Eagles, such as “Hotel California” (José’s favorite song), “Take It Easy” and “Lyin’ Eyes,” Sting’s “Fields of Gold” and “I’ll be Watching You,” and Lionel Richey’s “Three Times a Lady”
The JT YoYos sang other tunes, too. Included in their repertoire of hits were Steve Winwood’s “Highlife Again,” as well as tunes by Rod Stewart’s “Have I told you lately?” and the Bee Gees’ “To love somebody.”
The band still performs at Tapatia’s many Fridays. And still, sometimes during the performance, the spirit moves members of the audience to dance. This is especially evident when the YoYos sings Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” as the women in the crowd jump out to the dance floor and gyrate back and forth. (Yeah, they really like to dance to this!) The ladies also enjoy dancing to, among other songs, Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.”
The YoYos also perform songs by Mike & the Mechanics, the Dooby Brothers, Jefferson Starship, Toto, the Police, Van Morrison and Santana, among others.
The band also performs more contemporary hits. Usually, they are performed later in the evening. Among these songs are, “Hey ho” by the Lumineers, and two of Leesburg’s Phillip Phillips’ hits — “Home” and “Gone, Gone, Gone.”
As the show winds down “Chicken Fries” is sung by Bell and, lastly, Eric Clapton’s, “You Look Wonderful Tonight” by Heldi.
Occasionally, when circumstances deem it appropriate, Jose is even gracious enough to sing “Happy Birthday to You” for individuals in the crowd that have birthdays. Also, when not serving as lead vocalist, Jose sometimes allows individuals from the audience to perform. For instance, Oxauna Berry, an aspiring young musician, occasionally sings one or two songs a night. When this young lady, who also sings at the Albany restaurant called Coaches, does that, Jose lends his voice as a backup, or dances in a very memorable way.
Regarding the audience, regular attendees include family members and friends of the band members, sometimes medical professionals and an assortment of other people.
Besides entertaining on a regular basis at Tapatia’s, the JT YoYos have lent their musical talents to a number of other functions. For instance, last year they performed at a fundraiser for Annette Bowling and Albany ARC: this function was held at Bob Brooks’ store on Broad Ave. across from the Chamber of Commerce. They’ve also performed at a fundraiser for the American Cancer function in Plains. President and Roselyn Carter were in attendance.
The quality of Jose’s music is such that one person who used to attend this Friday evening festivities regularly and who claimed to have connections to country musical powerbrokers in Nashville was even encouraging Jose to move to that locale so he could embark on a musical career there.
However, if Jose’s musical career never takes off, he probably is secure with his daytime job. This second youngest of 13 children works 8 a.m.-5 p.m. as an oncologist. Members of the audience include those of his informal fan club, as well as at various times his patients or former patients — plus ,sometimes even some of his colleagues and staff of his at Phoebe Putney Memorial Oncology (including from Phoebe Sumter) Center. Dr. Tongol performs regularly at Casa Tapatia’s 6:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Friday evenings
If one is interested in hearing the YoYos performing at a different venue, they will be entertaining at this year’s Albany ARC fundraiser again. It is to be held 6 p.m.-10 p.m. today at the same location as last year — Bob Brooks’ Tift Building, across the street from the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce. Tickets are $25, $75 and $100, and can be purchased at 2616 Point North Blvd. or online at www.albanyarc.org
Oh, yeah. If you’re interested in seeing the JT YoYos perform at Tapatia’s, you might want to ask Natalie for a quesadilla plate — that’s what Elena, Jose’s wife, usually has!
Tom Connelly of Albany is vice chair of the Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities, and is a member of the Albany Advocacy Resource Center advisory board and the Georgia Rehabilitation Association.