Sometimes, having more than one career can be a huge benefit.
Robert Lester Folsom was the lead singer in a struggling rock band in a small town in south Georgia in the 1970s.
“My band, Abacus, had to play covers to make a living, as well as my originals," Folsom said. "When we went into the studio to record the originals, I paid for it myself. Mostly, I played mellow songs that the band didn’t even play. The engineer on the session liked my material and told other people in the music business about it.”
Robert Lester’s smooth voice and acoustic guitar were perfect for the soft rock of the time, like Peter Frampton, Bread, and Seals and Croft. His record, “Music and Dreams,” did get regional airplay, but it never sold many copies.
“We weren’t part of the international scene, or even the national scene, and I think people in the business just considered us local yokels,” he said.
Abacus broke up and Robert Lester moved to Jacksonville, where his first wife had a job waiting tables. He continued to write songs and worked in a record store. Then he landed a job as a house painter.
“I worked for another person for a few months, and realized I could do this on my own. I quickly got some regular customers, many of whom I work for to this day."
He returned to performing live, too, mostly in church bands. Then, in 2009, he got a phone call.
“It was my old engineer, saying that someone in California wanted to re-release ‘Music and Dreams’. I ended up signing three contracts – for the iTunes release, for a vinyl reissue with a specialty record company in Brooklyn, and for another company for a CD in Korea,” Folsom said.
He was invited to perform at a music festival in New York City, and suddenly, Robert Lester Folsom was an internationally known musician.
“I said, I’ve got more songs that the ones I recorded in the 70s,” he recalled. “We gotta get in the studio.”
Robert Lester released a second CD, “Beautiful Nonsense,” 35 years after his first one, and a third one in 2014. He and his new band play gigs around Northeast Florida. But Robert Lester Folsom continues to paint houses − not as a day job, but as a vocation.
“I have some very loyal customers, and I enjoy painting houses,” he said. “I take pride in doing it well. And it gives me the freedom to do my music the way I want to. I’ll paint houses and record any time.”