Family music covers a lot of territory. It can be simple nursery rhymes or musically sophisticated, inventive original songs. Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band, a recent entry in the “kindie rock” field, falls squarely in the latter category.
Named 2010's “Best New Kids Artist” by USA Today, the Los Angeles-based band — newlyweds Lucky Diaz and Alisha Gaddis, plus a rotating crew of top-drawer professional musicians — will perform its exuberant, roots-and-rock music in a free concert for all ages on July 24 at 6 p.m. at Descanso Gardens in La Cañada Flintridge.
Part of Descanso's Family Tuesdays series, the concert celebrates the release of “Potluck,” the band's second full-length album. Its previous release, “Lucky Day,” earned a 2011 Parents' Choice Foundation Gold Award. (Note: I reviewed that album as music critic for the organization.)
Songs inspired by the couple's Silver Lake neighborhood, and crafted with the band's signature quirkiness and deft artistry, celebrate childhood and a close-to-home world.
A sampling: “Lemonade Stand,” with its eager “won't you stop, won't you stop” chorus, “On My Bike (“I'm a rocket ship, pickin' up speed”) and a raucous “Li'l Red Rooster.”
“Yes, our neighbors have ducks and geese and chickens,” said Diaz, a neatly bearded, mellow-eyed 34-year-old. “Silver Lake is incredibly diverse. You have everybody there: artists, hipsters, older residents who've lived there for most of their lives.
“We have this little back house where we recorded the album,” said Gaddis. “Lucky and I wrote or figured out all of the songs while taking walks around the neighborhood or sitting in our garden.
In concert, the band pulls the audience into the act with interactive lyrics and movement led by Gaddis, a professional singer, dancer, actor and stand-up comedian who performs in major comedy clubs.
“Kids have a reckless abandon in how they react,” Gaddis said. “It is the best, most fulfilling adrenaline rush to see kids get elated and moving and singing. I find it incredibly rewarding.”
Diaz and Gaddis, who postponed a honeymoon in Ecuador to do their “Potluck” release tour, met four years ago when Gaddis was performing at the Comedy Store in Hollywood.
“I saw this girl with the most beautiful smile I've ever seen,” Diaz said. “She has a tremendous quality of wonderment and she brings that element to this whole experience.”
Born in Miami, Diaz grew up in California's Central Valley. His childhood dream was to become a professional baseball player, until he heard Chuck Berry's “Johnny B. Goode” on the radio.
“It blew my mind,” Diaz said. “I wanted to make that sound.” The 11-year-old picked up a guitar that his mother had bought at a flea market (and that Diaz, uninterested, had stuck it in the closet). He began taking lessons from his dad's friend, an accomplished bar musician and blues fan.
His teacher's lessons tended to be fueled by Jack Daniels — “when he poured himself a third drink,” Diaz said, “I knew my lesson was over” — but they instilled in Diaz a love for the blues and a determination to keep pursuing music.
Diaz moved on to professional teachers and eventually to Boston's prestigious Berklee School of Music. He found his calling in family music the way many musicians do — he had a daughter, now 8 years old.
“I wanted to share with her a lot of the music that I'd listened to as a kid — Buddy Holly, the Beach Boys, the Beatles — all kinds of music that my parents would have playing on the radio,” Diaz said.
“In those days, the radio was a family experience,” he added. “Whatever was on the Top 40 was family music. I don't feel that's the case today. I like Lady Gaga, but I don't really want her more salacious work playing for my daughter in the back seat.”
Making up songs based on those vintage rock ‘n' roll motifs, Diaz began playing them for neighborhood gatherings at his daughter's request. Gaddis encouraged Diaz to record them.
The Lucky Diaz band's popularity has as much to do with Diaz's sophisticated musicianship as with the original way that he and Gaddis craft songs about family vacations, blue bears and potato sack-racing squirrels.
For his shows and recordings, Diaz draws from a pool of experienced musicians that include friends whom he met during his years playing in the former Derby Club's house band in Los Feliz.
Drummer Theron Derrick, who tours and records with high-profile artists, was the third core member of the band until recently and still joins in when he's available, Gaddis said.
Diaz plays several instruments himself and doesn't stint on his arrangements, layers of sound and thoughtful instrumentation. He enjoys recounting the time a dad came up after the band played “Pretty Princess,” Diaz's rock-out dance celebration of good-hearted princess power.
“He was a musician,” Diaz recalled, “and he said, ‘I liked that augmented fifth. That progression was very clever that you did there.' He knew what I was doing. That was really cool.
“I think that people generally think that children's music has to be simple,” Diaz said. “But complexity can be in the simplicity. Listen to the Beach Boys or any record that George Martin [the Beatles' famed record producer] worked on. Not that there's anything wrong with a three-chord sing-along about numbers or the ABC's.
“But there's something very beautiful about creating something for [children] who don't know that they're listening to something extremely complex.”
“The core of what we do is that we're a band,” Diaz said. “For a lot of kids, it's their first rock show. We want them to see that we play these instruments. We're just trying to do something honest and good. There isn't any gimmick.”
LYNNE HEFFLEY writes about stage and culture for Marquee.
Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band
Where: Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge
When: 6 p.m. July 24. Free.
More info: (818) 949-4200, www.descansogardens.org.