Mike LaPoint is not a human jukebox.
The 53-year-old singer, songwriter and guitarist has been playing music full time with bands for the past 30 years. In 1989, he set up his first solo show, and has continued to make a living playing the bar and club scenes in Lake George, Saratoga Springs and for a time, Key West and Fort Lauderdale in Florida.
At gigs like this, playing for late-night partiers and tourists, cover versions are a performer’s bread and butter. Up until the release of his long-awaited 2008 solo CD “The Return Home,” LaPoint played cover songs almost exclusively. But he doesn’t tackle Top 40 hits, preferring to stick to material he knows he can deliver authentically — classic rock and roots rock from the likes of John Mellencamp, Tom Petty, John Fogerty and, of course, Jimmy Buffett.
“I’ve made a lot of fans just because I do a lot of Jimmy Buffett, especially after living in Key West for a while,” he said recently from his home just south of South Glens Falls. “A lot of fans, when they hear someone doing Jimmy Buffett, they make it a point to come find that person. So Jimmy Buffett’s been good to me.”
When: 9 p.m. Friday
Where: Bailey’s Cafe, corner of Phila and Putnam streets, Saratoga Springs
How Much: Free
More Info: 583-6060, www.baileyscafe.com
LaPoint is no one-trick pony though — over the years, he’s amassed a repertoire of hundreds of songs ranging from newer country like Zac Brown’s “Knee Deep” to old Elvis Presley songs to a wide selection from one of his favorite bands, The Grateful Dead. During the summer months, he will play as many as seven days a week in Lake George, often doubling up on shows on weekend days.
Work is scarcer during the winter and early spring months, and he has been trying to break back onto the Saratoga scene more in recent years. He performs next at Bailey’s Cafe Friday night.
“Bailey’s is one place I’ve been able to get into down there, and they enjoy what I do,” he said. “I used to play Grey Gelding before it closed down. I used to do Saratoga a lot more than I do now — I play so much in the village [Lake George] that there’s no need for me to go out and find summertime gigs, so I kind of let that slide.”
The crowds have thinned considerably in recent years, even in his reliable haunts in Lake George. But he is still able to draw crowds and make money.
“We don’t have those wall-to-wall people all the time summers like we used to — everybody’s kind of sharing the crowd,” he said. “You still get decent weekends, but man, the village used to be packed.”
A Glens Falls native, he first picked up a guitar at age 14, but it wasn’t until he turned 20 that he began playing gigs with his first band, the acoustic folk group Bittersweet Harmony. In 1985, he formed the jammy Crispy Critters, which still performs today, with bassist Brian “Chip” Chevalier, guitarist Pete Jarvis and drummer Bill “BJ” Brace.
It was around this time that LaPoint quit working numerous part-time jobs to focus solely on music, both with Crispy Critters and another band, Opie Taylor.
“Opie Taylor was probably the biggest, quote-unquote, band that I’ve played with,” LaPoint said. “We toured the Northeast doing colleges, and while we didn’t focus on originals, we always included it in the show. It was a lot of Grateful Dead, southern rock, Little Feat jams, a very loose sound. Crispy Critters was similar, but we took jamming to another level — that started out just for fun and only on Wednesday nights, in a small backstreet bar in Glens Falls.”
Eventually, Opie Taylor split and LaPoint began focusing on Crispy Critters and his developing solo sets. Then in 1991, he and Chevalier took a vacation to Key West, and ended up staying there until 1998.
“We got stranded there because we were doing a duo act at Okemo Mountain [in Ludlow, Vt.] — they had a management change and then suddenly we had no gigs to come home to,” LaPoint said. “So we stayed right there and played whatever gigs we could come by.”
During the summer, he would return to Lake George. He moved to Fort Lauderdale in 1998 and continued his migratory existence back-and-forth between New York and Florida until 2004, when he resettled near South Glens Falls for good.
Today, he mostly makes his living from solo performances, where he utilizes looping devices to play back drums and bass (he calls his setup the “Plastic Tubb Band” due to its carrying case).
“When I was in a band, I would just play guitar and sing, so the hardest thing for me to get used to was actually being a personality onstage,” he said. “That took time, watching other people, seeing what they did and realizing that it wasn’t really that hard — it’s just talking to the audience like you know them. Finding friends — you find the first person smiling at your music, and ask them, ‘Hey, where you from?’ Let them be the catalyst for the rest of the show.”
The 15 songs on “The Return Home” come from his many different bands over the years, with the oldest from 1978. Recorded during the spring of 2008 solely by LaPoint backed with a drum machine, the album has helped to get his original songs out of the bedroom and into his setlists. He has plans for a second album, this time with a full band made up of his collaborators over the years.
“I’ve gotten very smooth with playing originals out and making them sound as tight as the cover material I’ve been doing,” he said. “And now I get audiences that come out and ask for my original material.”