The "basement band" that John LaFollette, his brother and a friend formed in 1967 earned $25 for its first gig at a small party.
The host asked the trio to perform another set and doubled the fee.
Nearly four decades later, following a career in the heavy-equipment industry and performing with several central Ohio bands, LaFollette still gets a thrill from appearing before an audience. It's all due to the reception given the Greenfields in their inaugural show.
"I'm still looking around corners and opening doors, but nothing can replace the first time you played," LaFollette said. "We were able to get out of the basement and into a private party."
LaFollette, 67, is currently performing for the residents of 26 different assisted living centers and nursing homes, including a show he performed last week at the Mayfair Village Nursing Care Center on the Northwest Side.
"I'm pretty well at ease with that group," the Northland resident said last week. "There's no nervousness at all. I still get to play the stuff that I grew up with, or some part of that, and I get to go back and explore the classic tunes from the Big Band era."
He calls his enterprise Acme Music, and there is a silhouette of Wile E. Coyote on his website. LaFollette said he began a solo career in 2008 after being with such bands as JRB, City Heat, Speed Trap and One Night Stand, but he doesn't actually appear all by himself at nursing homes: Marcus, the Italian greyhound belonging to LaFollette and his wife, Sandy LaFollette, also performs.
"He does a few tricks and then he lies quietly by my side as I play the tunes through the hour," LaFollette said.
As much as he travels around to retirement communities and plays at festivals throughout the area, LaFollette admitted he's something of a homebody.
"I've always been probably not more than 50 miles from here," he said during an interview from his home in the Maize-Morse neighborhood.
LaFollette was born in Newark but his family moved to a farm near Alexandria when he was a baby. LaFollette's father was an ironworker, and his work brought them to Columbus when John was in the fourth grade.
LaFollette said he wanted to follow in his father's footsteps, but was encouraged to try his hand at other things. From 1975 until 2008, he worked for the John Deere Co.'s earth-moving equipment division, first as a truck driver, then a parts manager and finally in rentals and attachment inventory.
He retired five years ago when the jobs in the division were transferred to Florida.
"I decided I'd jump off and go into business for myself," he said.
While he puts in a few days a week at a repair shop, most of that business is for Acme Music. The singer and acoustic guitarist now has a repertoire of nearly 300 songs.
"I just kind of kept the hobby, but didn't have the time to pursue it and didn't really have a plan until I retired from Deere, and then just through word of mouth, I got calls, and it dawned on me to solicit assisted living centers and fairs," LaFollette said.
He wasn't sure what it would be like to play for people in nursing homes.
"Now that I've been into them, I feel like it's so much appreciated for people who are out of the mainstream," he said. "It's very satisfying, but it is a business. I'm proud of it. I've still got a long way to climb."
LaFollette, who also does volunteer work at the Helping Hands Health and Wellness Center free clinic in the Northland area, will return for the third straight year as master of ceremonies for the nonprofit organization's major annual fundraiser, the Oct. 20 Bowl to Help.
This will be the fifth annual event, held at Columbus Square Bowling Palace, 5700 Forest Hills Blvd.
"I strictly want to add to the event," LaFollette said. "I want to make it as enjoyable as possible for everybody. I'm just a small cog in all that goes on. It's satisfying, and it's so worthwhile. Everybody else works a lot harder than I do. I have the easy part, just announcing."
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