Q: Sandy, let me start by saying I actually saw Free Design at the 1967 Auto Show here in Syracuse, New York, held at the Onondaga County War Memorial.
A: Oh, my goodness.
Q: I don’t get to say that to many people.
A: That’s amazing!
Q: I remember seeing and hearing a girl singing “Kites Are Fun”.
A: Yes, that was our song. That was me and my two brothers.
Q: I thought at the time that’s a rather strange title for a song. Did you write that song?
A: No. Actually Chris wrote it, my brother. It’s the initials of his girlfriend at the time, who he married after that. Her name was Kathy Ann Fabian. So, it was her initials.
Q: I see. How long did it take Chris to write that song?
A: I don’t know exactly, but not very long I don’t think. He was pretty quick when he was inspired. (laughs)
Q: And that song went to number one in Buffalo (New York)?
Q: It did.
Q: Nationally, did it ever crack the Top 40 market?
Q: It never cracked the Top 40. It cracked the Top 100.
Q: The song received airplay, but didn’t sell all that well?
A: That’s right. Actually it did have airplay in New York. I remember I was teaching in Long Island and driving in a car pool and hearing it on the radio and having to drive off the road, we were so excited. (laughs) And then I heard my brother’s voice on the radio. He had called in to thank them for playing it. They put him on the air right away and they kept asking him questions. Yeah, it was pretty exciting. We didn’t expect that. (laughs)
Q: Why didn’t the airplay translate into sales for the record?
A: Well, we signed with Project Three, which was Enoch Light’s company. His company was more middle of the road. He signed us on wanting to get into this younger market. He was used to putting out albums I think more than singles, more than following through on this kind of thing. I think that’s what happened. But we signed with him because he was incredible. He gave us artistic freedom. We were offered contracts from RCA Victor and a couple of other companies, but realized they would tell us what to sing basically. We opted to sign with Enoch Light and we never regretted it really. We couldn’t have recorded all the original songs we did if we hadn’t.
Q: Did you get your royalties?
A: Eventually. (laughs) We got our royalties in the last ten years actually. My sons have been working on it, straightening out everything. Enoch Light passed on. The masters were bought by my children’s father, my ex-husband, at the that time. That was back in the ’90s. Then he started getting re-issues happening. I think people in Japan were already interested. So, he started pursuing getting compilations and re-issues happening. And then he passed on and it fell to my sons and they’ve been doing an incredible job, actually getting royalties out and different things happening with the songs from our albums.
Q: Are your sons lawyers?
A: My eldest son is a lawyer. He’s in to intellectual properties and copyright. So he knows the business very well. My younger son is a banker and he’s taking care of the financial part of it. So I feel pretty lucky.
Q: How did you get that booking at the Syracuse Auto Show?
A: I don’t remember. I honestly couldn’t tell you that. It’s so long ago.
Q: Were you well-known in Syracuse?
A: Well, I think we were well-known in Buffalo because we came from a small town forty miles south of Buffalo. Therefore, Rochester and Syracuse, that whole area, really all the way down to New York City where we lived at the time knew about us.
Q: – As I recall, there wasn’t much of a stage for your Syracuse appearance. You were all sort of crowded together in one tiny space.
A: You’re probably remembering it better than I am. I remember we sang on the same stage as Roy Orbison. I think that was the show in Buffalo.
Q: Wikipedia describes your music as both “Sunshine Pop” and “Baroque Pop”. Do you like those terms?
A: I don’t see where Baroque Pop comes in. There is a lot of counter point. Chris actually arranged everything we sang that was written down. We started out doing things for fun, a Peter, Paul And Mary repertoire and so forth. But when we got a contract, it was all written out and there was a lot of counter point and not Baroque in the sound of Baroque music, but just that style of writing. It doesn’t sound like those titles. I don’t know what you would call it really.
Q: I’d call it a Pop group.
A: Pop group for sure. Soft Rock I guess.
Q: Other than the car show in Syracuse, did you ever play any other venues?
A: Not that I remember.
Q: How long was Free Design together?
A: 1967 until 1972. We recorded in those years.
Q: You recorded seven albums in those years?
A: Yes, we did. We did six albums with Project Three and one with Ambro Type.
Q: To support those records, did you do a lot of road work? Did you tour?
A: We opened for other acts. I remember we opened for Sonny And Cher. We did some touring, but not too much because I was married and having children. We sang a lot on television actually.
Q: What TV shows did you appear on?
A: We started out with The Tonight Show, which was rather amazing, after “Kites Are Fun” came out and we were on Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett, Mike Douglas about thirteen times.
Q: – He must’ve liked you.
A: – He did. He was a family man and he liked our style.
Q: You were on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson?
A: Yeah. Right.
Q: Do you remember the year?
A: Probably ’68.
Q: He was where? New York? L.A.?
A: New York.
Q: You must’ve met Johnny Carson then.
A: We did, just on the air. We didn’t meet him before or after.
Q: What songs did you perform?
A: We played “Kites Are Fun”. I can’t remember if we played a second. “Kites Are Fun” for sure.
Q: How is it you and your brothers got interested in the music business?
A: Our Dad was a trombonist with Vaughn Monroe. Then he got polio and couldn’t continue. He was a big encourager. He taught us all the instruments and encouraged our singing and made a demo for us. That’s how we got the contract. Then he was managing us, published us ’cause he had a publishing company. It’s a real family story basically.
Q: I guess I can say with a fair amount of certainty that “Kites Are Fun” was your only hit?
A: It was the one and only one that made the charts, let’s put it that way. I know there were several others that Chris wrote that should’ve been hits, for sure. There was one called “One By One” and one called “I Found Love”, which was used on The Gilmore Girls program. There was one I wrote with my husband when my sons were born called “Love You” that was put on a children’s album. Just recently that’s kind of re-surfaced along with all the other Free Design things and used in a movie and some Toyota commercials. It’s just so interesting what’s happening! Light In The Attic has done the re-issues. It’s a tremendous company out in Seattle, Washington and because they re-issued all of the albums on CD and vinyl as well, I think that’s where all the interest in getting songs for movies and commercials is coming from. That’s a wonderful thing.
Q: What keeps you busy these days?
A: I’m a retired music teacher from the public schools. My brother Bruce is still teaching in the public schools. I’m teaching privately and have choirs. I’ve stopped singing for awhile, but just lately started singing in an opera company just for the fun of it. A lot of fun actually. My brother Bruce has a group where he is down in Long Island. Chris, as you know, passed on in August (2010). Our main focus up until ’72 was recording. We recorded at A and R studios with Phil Ramone, who as you know was one of the greatest engineers and now producers. He was incredible. Enoch Light hired the very best studio musicians, just a line-up of Who’s Who on our albums that make me keep listening to them. The musicians are so fine.
Q: You probably didn’t spend a lot of time in the studio in the ’60s, did you? Everything was done relatively fast, wasn’t it?
A: Pretty quickly actually, but mostly because everything was written. Chris made the orchestrations and the vocals. We practiced the vocals before we went into the studio so we could do two or three songs in one session.