Karen Ladd and her children Ryan and Sara often recite a Bob Marley quote because it reminds them of Rich Ladd, the father and husband they lost too soon when he unexpectedly died last September at age 56.
“The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively.”
“Our family likes that quote because it says a lot about Rich,” Karen said. “He transformed lives through music. People tell me how inspired they were by Rich not only as a musician and mentor to others, but also as a father and husband. He made other people want to change their own lives. He was the great encourager.”
To celebrate Rich’s positive influence, the Ladd family and Lakehills Covenant Church present Fizfest, a concert tribute to Rich Ladd, on Aug. 9.
As the middle brother in a musical family from Los Altos, Rich was a self-taught musician who loved playing Christian-based blues and could play just about any instrument though he specialized in the bass guitar and harmonica.
A 17-year member of Lakehills Church in El Dorado Hills, Rich joined the worship team as a bass player and his impact on young musicians there and in the community was far-reaching.
Rich was a mentor to his younger brother, Cameron, a gifted pianist, even as a child. “Rich encouraged him,” said Karen. “He was always taking his brothers around to different labels to get Cameron signed and encouraged him to go to singer/songwriter events.”
Later when Rich attended Chico State University, where he’d meet Karen, he was the chairman of Pioneer Week, “a big community event where Greeks got together and music was a big part of that; they’d put on big shows back then,” Karen said. The first thing Rich asked prospective musicians, “‘What instrument do you play?’” Karen remembered. “And if they didn’t play one, he’d see to it they did.”
The Ladds eventually moved from the Bay Area and raised their children Ryan, 20, and Sara, 17, in El Dorado Hills until they moved to Placerville seven years ago.
Though his day job was in marketing communications, Rich’s passion was always for his family.
“My dad was always there,” Ryan said. “He was active in everything we did.”
Rich was even team dad for Sara’s cheerleading squad at Union Mine High School. Sara graduated this spring and will attend Cal Poly this fall.
“Two days before he passed away was our first home game and there was Rich, setting up the snow cone machine for a fundraiser,” Karen said. “He was always there in the background. His love language was to do things for others. He’d never complain. He just enjoyed it and did it.”
Rich coached his kids in sports when they were little, but when Ryan was 10 Rich gave him his first music lesson, setting his son down a path from which he’d never look back.
Admittedly distracted in school and shy with his peers up until that time, Ryan explained how his own budding love of playing bass guitar and the knowledge he had a gift to share with the world gave him confidence and a new, positive direction.
“I will always remember my dad’s encouragement and love,” said Ryan, who currently studies music at Belmont University in Nashville and plays bass in the band Koa, which will perform at Fizfest.
Rich’s brother called him Fizard because he couldn’t say Richard, Karen explained, and the nickname stuck, sometimes shortened to Fiz throughout high school and college.
Soon Rich assembled Ryan and his friends to form a youth group band at Lakehills. Papa Ladd was the nickname the young people gave him. With his guidance and support that youth group, The Squires, played at the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk and many music festivals, including Joshua Fest and Spirit West Coast —a huge Christian music festival in Monterey —where they competed in the new artist showcase and won. Little sister Sara was even “the drummer in the Squires for about 20 minutes” when she was 10.
Rich never wanted to shine; he wished to see others in the spotlight. “From day one he wasn’t on stage with us,” said Ryan. “He’d stand behind the curtain and watch us muddle through with a big smile on his face. He wanted everyone to play a solo just once, even if it was just one note.”
The Squires were signed by a label when they were 13. “For years we took all the furniture out of the living room to make their practice room,” Karen said. “All of the kids from The Squires are really strong musicians to this day.”
Karen said Rich’s mentorship was pivotal at a time when the kids were growing up. “I’ve seen first hand how his work with young people and music has transformed their lives,” she said. “They’ve gotten the courage to perform in front of audiences, like at the Cozmic Café, for instance.”
What’s been most comforting to Karen during the past year are the stories of Rich’s impact on others.
“We want Fizfest to be a reminder we all have a gift to share, whether it’s teaching, encouraging or with music,” said Karen. “It’s also an opportunity to raise funds in partnership with Faithful Stewards, an outreach group serving underprivileged youth in the area, to bring music to young people by way of instruments, lessons, scholarships and programs like Rock of Ages.”
Rock of Ages is a six-week program Rich brought to Lakehills where kids learn how to play instruments, either their own or borrowed. Rich put the kids together in bands and at the end they’d played for their parents.
“That’s the program we’re hoping to get going in a big way,” said Karen.
“Rich invested in people,” Lakehills pastor of youth ministries Becky Reilly wrote in a statement to Village Life. “He took time to introduce music, and the love of music, to children. He took time to teach individuals and groups. If a musician had the heart and passion to perform or grow, Rich connected him or her with others in the business. His investment in people often led him to drive students long distances, to carry speakers, to clean after venues, to do whatever it took to provide support. He was quiet, often behind the scenes, and full of joy. It was a great honor to know him.”
Karen smiled to think about the young woman who recently shared a picture she still carries of Rich. “He encouraged her to sing, to lead worship at Lakehills, despite her being shy at first,” said Karen. “Rich just kept playing the guitar until she was ready. With Rich’s picture in hand she told me, ‘He’s still with me every week.’”
Sara believes her father made the best kind of teacher because, she said, “He didn’t want people to depend on him,” she said. “He supported people so they could do it themselves.”
She and Ryan will honor their father by continuing his legacy. “Even little things can affect people,” said Sara. “You never know the impact you could have on someone.”
And Karen will always remember her husband’s passion and the great example he lived everyday. “Rich didn’t live in the have-to’s of daily life,” she said. “He used every day to teach people how to live, including me. He lived according to joy and passion. He’s just missed every day.”
Besides Ryan’s band Koa other Fizfest performers will be Will Derryberry, Christian artist Ali K, local band The Westwards and more.
Fizfest will be held from 5 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 9 at Lakehills Church, 7000 Rossmore Lane in El Dorado Hills. All ages are welcome to attend. There is a $5 suggested donation for entry. Food and drinks will be available for purchase. For more information call (916) 939-9300 or (916) 220-8869.