Music News & Reviews

Doowop group The Alley Cats rocks Cuesta College for a cause

The Alley Cats perform Saturday at Cuesta College's Cultural and Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo.
The Alley Cats perform Saturday at Cuesta College's Cultural and Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo.

When The Alley Cats take the stage, audience members know what to expect: smooth sounds, timeless tunes and big laughs.

“People always say, ‘You look like you’re having the best time up there,’” said second tenor Armando “Mando” Fonseca, the doowop group’s founder and president. “That’s not part of the act. We are genuinely having fun up there.”

The Alley Cats, who performed at Cuesta College’s Gleefull fundraiser last fall, return Saturday to Cuesta’s Cultural and Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo. 

Kicking off Saturday’s Doo Woppa Moolah$ fundraiser is Voce, Cuesta’s award-winning vocal jazz ensemble. Other event highlights include a silent auction, food, wine tasting and backstage tours of the performing arts center. 

In addition, the Alley Cats will present a mini-concert and clinic for area students on Friday.

Proceeds from the fundraiser benefit the Cultural and Performing Arts Center, with funds going toward repairs, parts replacements and personnel costs.

According to John Knutson, director of choral studies at Cuesta College, Voce’s nine members will keep the mood “fun and light” with a contemporary program. 

They’ll perform Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” jazz standards “All the Things You Are” and “Johnny One Note” and a medley of TV theme songs including the tunes for “Cheers,” “I Love Lucy” and “The Price Is Right.” They’ll also perform “Friendship” by Swedish a capella quintet The Real Group.

Although many of those songs predate the youthful singers, “My students are really into retro stuff,” 

Knutson said, noting the vocal jazz genre has been around since the 1920s. “Because they have YouTube, they have access to the entire 20th century (almost) by accident.”

It’s no wonder, then, that the Alley Cats were such a hit with his students last year.

“They’re insanely good at what they do,” Knutson said. 

The Alley Cats have been creating close-knit harmonies since 1987, led by Fonseca and Royce “The Voice” Reynolds.

A Norwalk native who started performing around age 4, Fonseca grew up listening to R&B and soul groups such as The Spinners, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. 

“I’ve always been a fan of the a cappella sound, just the sound of human voices (blending together),” said the singer, who lists The Platters and Dion and The Belmonts among his favorite doowop groups. 

So when his Fullerton College choir teacher organized a variety show, Fonesca assembled a quartet to sing Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time.” 

“The crowd went crazy after we performed (the song),” Fonesca said, and he, Reynolds and their bandmates were soon receiving offers to perform at parties and other events. 

The Alley Cats landed their first professional gig a year later with Blast to the Past, Disneyland’s tribute to the 1950s and ’60s. But it wasn’t until 2000, when they were invited to perform for then-President Bill Clinton at the White House, that the singers were able to focus on their musical careers full-time. 

Today, the Yorba Linda-based group boasts 35 members ranging in age from 23 to 50 and living in cities across the country. They perform as quartets at fairs, festivals, performing arts centers and schools around the globe. 

“It’s not uncommon to have two groups out every week,” said Fonseca, who will perform Saturday with first tenor Jeremy Bernard, baritone Frank Romeo and bass Greg Perkins.

Asked how the Alley Cats choose new members, the singer said a winning personality is as important as vocal chops.

“Someone who doesn’t handle the road well or who isn’t personable will take you out of (the experience) right away,” he said, noting that the singers pride themselves on their playful stage presence. 

“We always push our comedy. … That’s a big part of what we do,” Fonseca said, and an aspect that’s popular with the Alley Cats’ target age group.

“The baby boomers really do have a good sense of humor regarding their age and their place in the world.

“We can make jokes about our kids and we can make jokes about our parents and pretty much get away with anything on stage.”

Musically, the group focuses on hits from the golden age of doo-wop — 1949 to 1964. Selections include “Barbara Ann,” “Duke of Earl,” “Itty Bitty Pretty One” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”

“Everybody knows all the songs,” said Fonseca, adding that they have more staying power than today’s chart-toppers.

“It is highly unlikely that what’s on the radio today will be consistently (played) on an oldies station in 60 or 70 years.”

That said, “If we see a song that’s hot with the kids … we learn it immediately,” he said. For instance, the Alley Cats added songs by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons to its repertoire to coincide with the release of the movie “Jersey Boys.”

On occasion, the group will try out new material at concerts.

“Music is really created in front of the audience,” Fonseca said. “That’s how you grow and that’s how you learn and that’s how you keep your audience excited.”

If you go

Doo Woppa Moolah$

2 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. concert

Cultural and Performing Arts Center, Cuesta College, Highway 1, San Luis Obispo