Musician, actor and meditation teacher Jake La Botz circles back to L.A.
By Bliss Bowen
For years Jake La Botz was a regular fixture at the Liquid Kitty, rumbling in the corner with his signature blend of hardcore blues, obscure gospel and garage rock. Then in 2010 he left Los Angeles in his rearview mirror, venturing upon travels that took him to New York, where he’s currently ensconced with particle physicist wife Zosia Krusberg in the Hudson River valley. This week he’s back in L.A. for a handful of shows, including one tonight at the Liquid Kitty with longtime compadre Jimbo Goodall manning sticks and drums.
La Botz, who moonlights as an actor and meditation teacher when not plugging in his guitar, originally planned to shoot a film here this month, but that production was postponed. The finished film you will likely hear him mention this weekend is “The Grace of Jake,” a character-driven piece starring Jordin Sparks, Michael Beck and La Botz, who performs his songs “Used to Be” and “The Hotel” alongside some gospel tunes in his role as an ex-con and wandering musician. Set in writer/director Chris Hicky’s native Arkansas, the film was discernibly influenced by La Botz, who first befriended a “very idealistic and excited” Hicky around 2002 while playing a weekly gig with Goodall at Sloan’s bar in West Hollywood.
“Chris had just moved to town,” La Botz recalls with a chuckle. “He came up to me one night after we met and said, ‘Dude, I’ve got plans. I’m gonna go places. I’m gonna take you with me.’ I thought, ‘What a nice guy, he’s new in L.A. Good luck, buddy.’ [Laughs] But I genuinely liked the guy. He was really earthy, really intelligent, very creative.
“At that time I was playing guitar with Willie Chambers from the Chambers Brothers at his family’s church, Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church in South L.A. Chris really related to me and the kind of music that I play, and coming to this church and hearing that music I think reminded him of home in the Arkansas Delta.”
La Botz recalls a table reading at Silver Lake’s Café Tropical in 2004 (“in the backroom where they used to always have 12-step meetings”), but not until last year did shooting of the Kickstarter-funded “Grace” finally commence. Beyond any personal connection, La Botz was drawn to its “not cookie-cutter characters” and storyline. Last week, it screened at the Little Rock Film Festival.
“In L.A. people are always trying to get things off the ground,” he observes. “People send you scripts. It’s so rare that things actually come to life. … The character was loosely based on me, and then it entered this whole other world of Hicky’s life.”
Music was also central to La Botz’s sly, critically acclaimed star turn in Stephen King and John Mellencamp’s gothic musical “Ghost Brothers of Darkland County,” which may eventually be revived on London’s West End. Right now he’s booking dates for his next Tattoo Across America tour — a hand-tooled club circuit of tattoo shops, listening rooms and bars. What makes that particularly intriguing is that, for all that he can grind and groove like Howlin’ Wolf on a midnight bender, La Botz’s lyrics have a more existential cast than standard blues.
The earthy protégé of the late David “Honeyboy” Edwards and Chicago’s Homesick James is well steeped in Hank Williams and the teachings of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche — and all those influences are discernable in his songs. La Botz finds unexpected linkages between blues and meditative traditions he shares as a senior teacher with the Dharma Ocean Buddhist community.
“I belong to a Buddhist lineage [whose] roots are in people who were practicing that were house holders,” he explains. “A lot of times we think of monks, but these people had regular lives; they were grinding sesame seeds or they were pimps. They found that by doing their practice at home and working in all the situations in their life there was possibility for great transformation. That’s what I find too. On the outside I’m actor guy, musician guy, I go around and do these jobs. But my practice makes me really curious about what’s going on with all of this, with me in my own mind and other people and how we can explore things more deeply. I think art in general, regardless of ‘spirituality,’ is exploration of human experience.
“What’s interesting about the blues is that it’s so expressive of the pain in our lives, and also the joy,” he says. “There’s even joy inside of the pain or melancholy, which is interesting; they’re kind of inseparable in an odd way. That expression can be a vehicle for creativity or life, rather than something that just shuts us down.”
La Botz performs at 9 p.m. Thursday, May 21, at the Liquid Kitty, 11780 W. Pico Blvd., West L.A. Call (310) 473-3707 or visit jakelabotz.com. He also appears Friday at the Standing Room (1320 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach) and Saturday at the Piano Bar (6429 Selma Ave., Hollywood).