Jake La Botz: True Bluesman
From the juiced-box: Jake La Botz – Hard To Love What You Kill (from the album I’m A Crow)
[Press ‘Play’ to hear how it all started]
First off, i gotta apologize to Jake for the title of this interview. In his defense, i’m sure that (humble sweet genius that he is), “My Interview with God” is likely to strike him as a little over the top. In my defense, “over the top” is my zone.
In my Booze Revooze of On The Road i told the story of how this interview came about, which is i heard a killer song during the film’s end credits and frantically scribbled down the lyrics (“It’s hard, hard, hard to love what you kill”) and ran home find out the conjurer of this dark magic. It wasn’t easy and i was amazed 1) that Jake La Botz isn’t more popular than bacon Jesus and 2) i’d never heard of him because this is exactly the kind of music that echoes in my soul when i’m better than i know how to be.
i found his Facebook page and, go fuckin’ figure, found out that he was coming to Yeaman in 2 days. i hit him up for an interview and he said sure so we had a sit down for about 20 minutes at a rickety table in this hole in the wall rebaptized Omar’s Honky Tonk before he went on. This, then, is my first ever real face-to-face interview for the Bar None, so, yes, if i fuck it up, that’ll be the excuse i go with.
Jake shows up wearing a plaid shirt and maybe boots, his hair greased down like a 50’s high school student and a chipped tooth so he looks like Howdy Doody with a swagger full of wood. i introduce myself and tell him about you guys and the Bar None and let him know i’m sober in AA.
Behind his easy grin lies a guitar wire smile made of acoustic mettle and beneath his relaxed nature resides a resolve that holds you like an anchor. He is the art, the pain and the beauty of any tattoo that evokes a deeper truth. He is a raven who’s survived the storm and flown out the other side with a sacred clarity so scarred it’s poetic.
He lets me use the recorder on my smart phone and i get down to it.
Al K Hall: i did some research and found out you were born in Chicago…
Jake La Botz: I was born in San Diego but I moved to Chicago when I was three.
Al K Hall: [i ramble on incessantly about where i lived as a child like a teenage girl who has lost control of her mouth and now the coffee i drank nonstop all day is beginning to sound like a bad idea. Eventually, i wrangle my tongue, taming it enough to whip out another question.] So, where in Chicago did you live?
Jake: The north side of the city. It’s near Wrigley Field, as a landmark for you.
Al K Hall: [i recommence babbling about when i lived near Chicago, and then i start talking about, swear to god, the fucking weather and Jake is now wondering if i’m maybe just interviewing myself.] Blah blah blahblah blah blahblah blah blahblahblah Blah!
Al K Hall: How long were you in Chicago?
Jake: Uh…’til I was old enough to steal a car.
Al K Hall: Yeah, i heard something about that. What was that about?
Jake: Well, you know, I dropped out of high school and I ran away from home at 14 and 15 years old. The time I split when I was 15, we took a car that wasn’t ours–me and a buddy of mine–went out to Colorado, we were trying to get to LA or California someplace. And then we ditched the car, because the car was hot, slept under a bridge with two guys named Danny and Cody for a while in a hobo camp, a couple of characters.
[There’s a beat in his voice betraying songs beneath the surface of his stories like blood tattoos clawing their way out.]
Al K Hall: So how’d you get into blues, then?
Jake: I think if you grow up in Chicago it’s almost inevitable. I don’t know why, but the first time I heard one guy playing guitar, and playing the real thing, I was just totally hooked. I heard a record, some guy playing guitar by himself, and I think it might have been David “Honeyboy” Edwards, and he became kind of my friend and mentor.
Al K Hall: [At this point of the show Celeste E Hall, my wife, joins us and i make the introductions.] Right, I saw that you played with him a little bit.
Jake: Yeah, we hung out together and became good friends over the years, played shows together…
Al K Hall: And how old were you when you picked up the guitar for the first time?
Jake: I suppose I was 16, 17, kinda late.
Al K Hall: You played a little bit in Chicago, like street musician kind of stuff, buskering [what, it’s almost a word] …
Jake: Yeah, that’s how I started, in the subway, playing in the streets then traveling around, playing on the streets in the South: Helena, Arkansas; Clarksdale, Mississippi, places like that.
Al K Hall: And then, was your big break hooking up with Steve? [Steve Buscemi, the actor, is a friend and fan of Jake’s.] Like he saw you and said, “I gotta have this guy in my movie”?
Jake: It was kinda like that.
Al K Hall: Had you recorded an album before that?
Jake: No… [There’s that one heartbeat he holds like a breath where he decides how far he’s going to let go]. I was a junkie living in LA, living in an SRO hotel, living above a punk rock bar that gave me a free room in the hotel for playing once a week in a place called Al’s Bar, downtown LA. I was strung out and I was, you know, hustling and playing gigs, trying to make enough money to stay loaded. But LA’s a funny place ’cause it’s like you’re in proximity to this big show biz thing, everybody’s rubbing elbows with everybody and people like to be around the grittiness, so I found myself meeting these different kinds of people in the show biz world.
With Steve–we had mutual friends. Steve’s a real music lover, he’s a guy who really knows music–particularly country music, really old country music–and he lives in New York but he was doing a movie called Escape from LA and they were premiering and I crashed the premiere. I met Steve in the line for the john and we hit it off. He came out to a couple gigs…he came out to this Armenian coke bar that was in the basement of a Super 8 Motel in East Hollywood. It was Western and Sunset Boulevard, I think, and called The White Horse.
Al K Hall: Of course, it was.
Jake: Yeah, it was so funny. You couldn’t get out of there without the Armenian selling you something. For example, he had a TV and he wanted to sell it to me, and I was like “Man, I don’t even have an apartment” and he said [in a very good Armenian coke dealer accent] “Ah, you need apartment, I get you apartment,” so, you know, he’s gonna find you an apartment just so he can sell you a TV.
So I met Steve. He came out to The White Horse, and he came out, I think, to some of my Al’s Bar gigs. He was tryin’ to get this movie off the ground called Animal Factory, a prison movie based on a book by a great prison novelist named Eddie Bunker. He started bringing Eddie Bunker around and some of his colleagues or, you know, ex cons that were in the Hollywood scene, Danny Trejo and guys like that.
He started coming out to the gigs and Steve said, “I wanna write you a part in this prison movie, you’d be really good in this thing,” and then Eddie Bunker said [in a perfect Eddie Bunker voice, i bet] “He looks just like my cell mate in 1958 in S’Quentin,” and that was it, you know, he wrote it in there.
So yeah, that was my first break in film. It wasn’t like the ball really got rollin’, it wasn’t like the phone started ringin’. I mean, that movie was not, at all…it did not make a big splash in the US, not right away anyway. It became kind of a cult sensation after a while, over time. You know, it opened in two theaters in America and then hit DVD or somethin’. But, over time actually, I had people e-mailing me about that movie and would I come play this place or that place so it started to help out with the music gigs. And so, you know, I’ve sung on camera in movies a few times.
Al K Hall: Yeah, you were in that Stallone film, Rambo [aka, Rambo 4]. You had that same kind of thing now with On The Road, a bit part and then, at the end credits they had, “It’s Hard to Love What You Kill”. So do you consider yourself a singer who acts or an actor who sings?
[Press ‘Play] for”Tiny”, the song he sang in Rambo.]
Jake: I…don’t know, man. I’m just a guy who’s been lucky enough to get some work doin’ creative stuff. My first love was acting, then I discovered music because I didn’t like actors. I’ve discovered I do like actors OK now, but when you meet a bunch of thirteen-year-old kids that wanna be famous and they’re all tryin’ to outwit each other all the time, it’s a little obnoxious. I went to a Fine Arts high school but dropped out after a year.
[We’re interrupted for a moment while the record producer who’s organized the gig offers to help set up a table to sell “merch”. i like this word. Merch.]
Al K Hall: So what was Stallone like? He’s a fan?
Jake: Yeah, Stallone hired me as an actor…I walked in and auditioned for this part he’d been trying to cast for a while. There was supposed to be a black dude and that didn’t work out so they were like, “Let’s try something totally different.” So I went up there and did this scene and they said, “Wait just a minute,” and they brought Stallone in and they showed him the tape and he asked me [in a perfect Stallone impression], “Hey, can you put on twenty pounds and carry a two hundred pound guy through the jungle? All right, here’s a script.” Literally, he hands me the movie script and walks out of the room and I’m like, “What just happened?” Then I was on a plane to Thailand a month later.
He figured out in Thailand I was a musician. I gave him…this is a kind of sneaky thing, but if you’ve been on a movie set you know that everybody has to go through hair and makeup and so you give them your CD if you want people to hear it. He had his own makeup person so I slipped it to that guy–that guy was also a friend of mine–but I gave a CD to the guy, he played it, Stallone says, “Who the fuck is that?” He says, “That’s your Reese,” so Stallone comes out and says, “Hey, I want you to sing a fuckin’ song in the next scene.” I was totally blown away.
Al K Hall: It was one or two songs off Graveyard Jones? [Here’s the YouTube video of Jake’s part in Rambo.]
Jake: Yeah, right. “Tiny” and…what’s the other one…”The Wishing Well”.
Al K Hall: Now, in On the Road, i imagine Sylvester Stallone is not the same as Kristen Stewart.
Jake: No! That’s…true.
Al K Hall: How was that? You were talking about these young teens that wanna get big and–
Jake: No, she was interesting. She’s really not like that type at all.
Al K Hall: She’s got a bad rap, though, i think. [Oh fuck you, if you were talking to Jake La Botz you would say any old shit too, so just shut up.]
Jake: Well, she’s really, really shy.
Al K Hall: Is she?
Jake: I mean, I think she would just kind of like to be alone with her pals. Like not be around a lot of people all the time, that’s all. She was super cool.
Al K Hall: How was the shoot? How long was it? Your part, i mean.
Jake: I was only there for a few days. They picked me up in New Orleans and dropped me off in Phoenix.
Al K Hall: So that was like filming, literally on the road, then?
Jake: Well, no, we filmed some stuff in New Orleans that was supposed to be Bakersfield, and then we filmed some stuff in Arizona that was supposed to be Arizona.
Celeste E Hall: Where was the Denver part? I was trying to figure out where they were filming in Denver.
Jake: That was probably in Canada.
Celeste E Hall: That’s what I was thinking.
Al K Hall: Denver in the 1960’s looked like Canada today.
Jake: Denver’s an interesting place.
Celeste E Hall: It is, have you played there?
Jake: Yeah…but my main memories are stealing a car and hanging out with this chick who used to book punk rock shows named “Razor”.
Celeste E Hall: OK.
Jake:Her real name is Jill but she was like, I don’t know–I met a bunch of the local people, you know, punk rock people, back in 1983. Before your time…
Celeste E Hall: No, actually it was very much time!
Al K Hall: [losing control of the interview…must shout out an interjection] Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter! What’s up with that?
Al K Hall: Sworn to secrecy, signed in blood, that you can’t talk about it?
Jake: I can talk about it, I think. I mean, you know, there’s not much to tell. I’m a Private in the Union Army, there’s vampires that help the other army. There’s a book that’s been out for several years, so the story’s known. I haven’t read the whole book, so I don’t know much about my character being in the book or not being in the book.
Al K Hall: How long is it? Major role? Minor role?
Jake: It’s a minor role. I had about 8 or 9 days in the movie. You know, it’s a reoccurring guy. He’s fighting in a battle here, he’s fighting in a battle there. Me and this General guy, you see us together.
Al K Hall: For the music… Like i said, i was listening to Spotify and i found like four of your albums there and then there’s some other ones i haven’t heard of. I’m A Crow is your latest one. Why, “I’m A Crow”? What’s the title from?
Jake: Well, I suppose I have an infinity for those birds. They’re…they’re more than birds, throughout different cultures, traditions, and throughout time, they’re considered to be magical and shape shifting and they are protectors. They’re very, very interesting.
Jake La Botz – I’m A Crow (from the album I’m A Crow)
But I had a friend who was trying to write a musical about animals who run a circus, and I thought I’d write her some songs. So I wrote this song. You picture everyone’s gone and in the big top, suddenly there’s a spotlight on this crow in a top hat who’s gonna tell his story to a big top full of ghosts. So it looks like it’s empty but by the end it fills up with spirits. But then she didn’t finish writing her play so I just kept my songs.
Al K Hall: It’s a little more produced than Sing This To Yourself. Conscious decision, are you making a change in your style?
Jake: Well, it’s a little less produced the Graveyard Jones, so it’s not really about that. It’s just however much money I can scrape together to make an album. When I did Sing This To Yourself, I had a thousand bucks, so that’s what the budget can afford for a solo album. And then when I had 8 or 9 thousand bucks, I hired some musicians.
Al K Hall: So, i got a list of this, kind of standard list of questions that i ask at the end of every interview, it’s called the “Bar None Questionnaire”. So the first
drink the first question is, What’s your favorite alcoholic drink?
Jake: Well, I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in 13 years. So, let me try to recall, I think it was Richards Wild Irish Rose wine.
Jake: I still get the emotional kind, sometimes.
Al K Hall: Do you smoke?
Jake: I haven’t had a cigarette in about the same amount of time.
Al K Hall: Your favorite swear word.
Jake: [Long silence.] Wiener! Nah, I’m kidding. Don’ put that.
Al K Hall: Nah, that’ll work.
Jake: Just trying to think of the lightest thing.
Al K Hall: And finally, what’s your favorite thing about me, Al K Hall?
Jake: My favorite thing about you? That you had an accent at the beginning of the interview now you’re back talking like an American.
Al K Hall: i’m freaky that way, yeah. i forgot to mention, that Tattoo Tour, that sounded fantastic! 2006 American Tattoo Tour, and you went around–i mean, i don’t want to answer the question–but you went around the country…
Jake: Yeah, I played tattoo shops every summer for like 5 years: 2006, 2007, 8, 9, 10.
Al K Hall: You’ve got some nice work.
Jake: Some of it. Some of it not so much. [Laughs.]
Al K Hall: All right, Jake, ‘preciate you taking the time.
Jake: Yeah, man. Thanks for coming out.
Al K Hall: It was nice meeting you.
Jake: Nice to meet you to. You gonna stick around?
Al K Hall: i am. i’m gonna try to get some of your merch. [Ooh, i was able to use it in a sentence.] And i may ask you to sign an autograph.
Would you like a copy of that interview in song form? Jake’s autobiographical “Hungry Again (Put Me In A Hole)” (off Sing This To Yourself ) covers a lot of the same territory i did up there, except his voice sounds better than mine.
Jake La Botz – Hungry Again (Put Me In A Hole)
Usually, this is the part where i confess that none of what i wrote up there really happened and that the whole thing was done by email. Not this time. Like i said up top, i actually sat down face to face with Jake and recorded this so what you see is what i got.
i also get to thank my lovely wife, Celeste E Hall, for letting me use some of her pictures, as well as Bob den Breeijen, Willem Wouterse and Bob Sarber who let me use the pictures that i snagged off Facebook.
Of course, for my biggest debt of gratitude i owe Jake La Botz a big thanks for taking the time out of his schedule to sit down and put up with my bullshit. i still can’t believe how lucky i was to fall in love with these songs and then, not only have the chance to hear him live, but to actually hang out a minute with him.
For those of you who might happen to wonder what i look like for reals, i promise to post the original version of the above if this interview gets to 500 hits.
If y’all are interested in the other The Booze Talkin’: Exclusive Interviews, just click on the link.