The Free Design


The Free Design were a New York City based, mostly studio orientated band that did seven albums between 1967 and 1973. Chris, Bruce, Sandy, Stephanie and Ellen Dedrick were brothers and sisters and, as a result, they showed a tendency to sing in a similar manner.

They grew up in Delavan, N.Y., near Buffalo, surrounded by music. Their father, Art Dedrick, played trumpet and was chief arranger for Vaughn Monroe´s band and later had a band of his own until an attack of polio put him in a wheelchair. Since then he taught music and formed a pair of music publishing companies. Their uncle was Rusty Dedrick, who played trumpet with Red Norvo, Claude Thornhill and Ray McKinley. What a background!

Sandy played the keyboard instruments; Bruce was a master with guitar and trombone, and Chris showed supreme skills with guitar, trumpet and recorder. Ellen was also extremely talented in different facets. All of them studied music - All of them were granted with bachelor´s degrees in music education and master´s degrees at the Manhattan School of Music. They had a frightening amount of musical talent between them.

At the end of 1966, they had moved from upper New York State to New York City. Sandy´s apartment was a handy gathering place. There they started singing folk music together during the embryonic days. Chris, the leader of the group, recalls, "but we tried to make our own arrangements. People who heard us said, ´Boy, what a great blend.´ So I decided to try writing some songs of our own." His first effort was Kites Are Fun. After his father had heard it - and complimented him on it - he suggested that Chris try writing something with trumpets in it. The result was The Proper Ornaments. These two songs became their first single - and it hit the charts!

Within a few months of their signing with the Project 3 Enoch Light label, a reasonable collection of songs was ready to launch their first album (unimaginatively called) Kites are fun (1967). The first cover was really beautiful and it carried some sharp credits lines as -the new group-, -new, exciting and different! the fresh sound of The Free Design-. Certainly they achieved near perfection with exceptional songs as My Brother Woody (a song dedicated to their brother Jason), Never Tell the World (a rhythmic number with precise vocals and magic counterpoint) not to mention dazzling versions of Michelle, A Man and a Woman or 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy).

Since then their repertoire and reputation grew by leaps and bounds. Chris' original flair for vocal arranging and orchestration work and the God-given voices of all of them gave the world a sound that should always be remembered. Chris Dedrick did most of the writing and all the arranging. Once Chris had established a pattern for their songs, Sandy and Bruce joined in with songwriting of their own. Their source was, of course, the beat and feel of rock´n´roll. "I like it," says Chris, "because it´s got a young thing to it. It´s a different thing today, a thing that´s being done by young people who are saying what they want to say."

"But I want to take a more studied musical approach to rock´n´roll than just shouting. There are other ways of building excitement than to have the drummer get louder and louder. I´ve tried to incorporate more real expression in our songs from a musical standpoint." Chris wrote the lyrics of his songs first. "It´s important for the whole song to have an idea, like a novel or a poem, although it doesn´t have to be very profound. To start with, you need a catchy phrase. But after that phrase, a lot of songs don´t go very far. I spend a lot of time on the lyrics trying to make them say something and, at the same time, to make sure that they´re not so deep that nobody understands them." The group´s name came, Chris says, after they had gone through "a zillion suggestions."

"The Free Design," he explains, "had to do with our way of singing - there was a lot of counterpoint and individual lines going on all the time." With this background it is not strange that Chris Dedrick is at present one of the most remarkable composers in Canada. He has written in almost every medium including film, television, commercials, CD-ROMs and the concert hall. Recently he was the winner of the Gemini Award for best music. The golden sound of the Free Design was shown in a non-stop run of potential hits (Friendly Man, I Found Love, You Could Be Born Again etc) and a collection of gems dedicated to "very important people" (ie: children). Despite the almost unbelievable lack of chart success they had keen followers. With the contemporary rock air of the late 1960s early 1970s thick with the textures and attitudes of Led Zeppelin, Zappa, David Bowie and Sly Stone together with the arrival of the disco, a brothers and sisters act who struck no poses but sang melodic popular music was ostracized. The craftmanship of the Free Design's productions, the intricate arrangements, the timelessness of the songs and the purity and natural beauty of their voices were in contrast with the trends being set by their contemporaries.

The sound of Free Design is modern, rich orchestration with a choral approach to pop, simultaneously nostalgic and bracingly fresh. Although the band remained obscure and unnoticed by the media it is not strange that nowadays bands as Cornelius, Pizzicato Five, Blueboy, Gentle People, Louis Philippe, Tomorrow's World, have found a source of inspiration with the prolific career of the Dedricks.