Jake La Botz
As a hard-luck kid wandering the streets of Chicago, young Jake La Botz chased the magic he found in stories. He volunteered in theaters as a boy to get closer to the stage, he haunted Chicago libraries picking up books and records, and he busked in the subway, learning from elder blues legends like Honeyboy Edwards and Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis who took him under their wing. All of this set him up for a life of storytelling, in streets, subways, juke joints, and eventually on the big screen and stages around the world. A noted film and stage actor, La Botz approaches music with an ear for the unusual, a knack for speaking for the fragile characters and half-mad sages he encounters on his own travels. His new album, They’re Coming For Me (out October 18 on Hi-Style Records), is a collection of tall tales and strange stories ranging in subject from a magic comb that can save the world, to a bank robber who moans gospel hymns, and a confessional from Bigfoot himself. The eclectic subject matter reflects La Botz’s own wide-ranging interests and unconventional career arc. He’s experienced the highest highs and lowest lows of life, and his own story is so unbelievable that it’s currently being adapted by La Botz and actor/writer Ian Barford as a stage musical for Steppenwolf Theatre. Some of these highs and lows saw La Botz racing across the Midwest in stolen cars, finding refuge in the early 80s punk scene, touring tattoo parlors for years because his music doesn’t fit in noisy bars, playing guitar in an all-Black church in LA, educating himself in public libraries, acting in Hollywood movies, and, most importantly, kicking a years-long drug addiction.
Jake La Botz is living in Nashville now, writing music and finding a place to rest from the road. He’s a man that exudes calm in the heart of a hurricane, but this calm is hard won. He turned to meditation after kicking heroin 20 years ago, and teaches meditation now at home and in prisons, trying to give a little back.
“I think this happens for people when things get really tough,” La Botz says. "There could be a possibility of meeting life in a new way. For me, meditation keeps that door open. It infuses my relationships, my music, any creative thing; it has this quality of opening the space and making experience, making life more available.”
Experience is the key word here. It’s what he was chasing as a kid on the road, it’s what he’s looking for now, and it infuses every part of his new album.
To record They’re Coming For Me, La Botz returned to Chicago with his old friend Jimmy Sutton, of Hi-Style Records and JD McPherson’s band. At Jimmy’s studios in Chicago, the two worked to meld Sutton’s background in the vintage sounds of American roots music with La Botz’s natural inclinations toward country blues, gospel, 60s pop, and 70s rock-n-roll.
“I’m of the school where you make a record in one day because you don’t have money for more than that!” La Botz says. “There was a lot of learning for both of us in our first record (2017’s Sunnyside). We learned to really appreciate and work together. This one was a lot easier for us; we took our time with it, and we were much more sympatico. If he had an idea, I was able to catch on right away.”
The result is an album that seems torn between the sacred and the profane, high art and low art, the dichotomy at the heart of all American music. But Jake La Botz brushes that idea away, saying simply, “In my opinion, sacred and profane are misnomers. Everything is sacred.”
For more information on Jake La Botz, please visit his official site.
Recordings by Jake La Botz from Free Dirt Records: