Born and raised in Chicago, Jake La Botz spent his early days learning from the last of the city’s pre-war era bluesmen, studying under the likes of David “Honeyboy” Edwards, “Homesick” James, and “Maxwell Street” Jimmy Davis. He began releasing his own albums in 2000 and worked his way up from playing street corners and tattoo parlours to sharing bills with luminaries like Ray Charles, Etta James, Dr. John, Mavis Staples, and Buddy Guy and Junior Wells.
At the same time as his music was taking off, he was also drawn to the world of acting. Already a fan of La Botz’s music, the actor Steve Buscemi wrote roles specifically for him in films like Animal Factory – which also featured two of his songs – and Lonesome Jim. When his touring schedule allowed, he also appeared in everything from True Detective to On The Road and even starred in the stage musical Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, written by Stephen King and John Mellencamp.
As both his musical and his acting careers blossomed, La Botz - who’d overcome a difficult heroin addiction in his younger years – also found his way into meditation as a means of opening up a new life for himself. His experiences with the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition were transformative, and his desire to share its benefits soon led him to begin teaching it to others around the country, many of whom were struggling with incarceration or addiction themselves.
Jake La Botz was teaching meditation in a northwest Georgia prison when something unexpected caught his ear. He wasn’t sure at first, but he could swear it sounded like a band was playing in the room next door. And not just any band, for that matter, but a genuine, bonafide, soul-shaking gospel band.
“I remember getting really excited because I could feel both of my worlds coming together in that moment,” La Botz recalls. “The two sides of my life converged into this one, beautiful experience, and it just stopped me in my tracks.”
La Botz felt something awaken that day in the Georgia prison, and he realized he could use the musical tools at his disposal — blues, rock, gospel, folk, and soul—to give voice to the lessons and revelations he’d come by in his 20 years of meditation.
‘Hair on Fire’, the rafter-raising title track to his forthcoming album is the song that perhaps best exemplifies this awakening and that somehow embodies the entire spirit of the new record. It's a kind of raw, spooked neo-blues reminiscent of The Cave Singers, Charlie Parr or the Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band.
Imagine the gospel fervour of Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth For Christ Choir mixed up with the energetic neo-folk of Arcade Fire and the contemporary rootsiness of The Lumineers and you might be getting somewhere close to the sound that La Botz has pulled together on ‘Hair On Fire’. It’s both heavily indebted and oddly anachronistic. A loose fusion of floor-thumping country, hand-clapping gospel folk and low down, dirty delta blues that lifts you up and shakes out your soul.
Watch the video for ‘Hair on Fire’ exclusively at Holler below.
“It’s is a mixture of musical influences, like 60s pop and gospel music”, La Botz explains. “It offers a perspective on a journey towards awakening which includes every aspect of a gritty and rugged human life. There’s a saying in Buddhism, that one should practice as if their hair is on fire, which means there should be an urgency towards using the tools of meditation to open up and see what is. The message is: life is short and, if you want to wake up and discover what it’s about, now is the time”.
“The director, Owl Martin Dwyer, came up with the concept for the video”, La Botz explained about the video. “It follows one person through different lifetimes and situations as he opens towards life, towards awakening, and towards all of the other beings playing in the pool!”
'Hair on Fire' is released on Friday 17th June. The album of the same name follows on September 9th.