2018 – a New Year and, for many, a promise to take a fresh look at life and make new goals for themselves – for the first few hours of January 1, anyway.
But while the main objective of New Year’s Eve celebrations is clearly about welcoming the future, the song that is so closely linked with the holiday reflects on the past and “old acquaintances.”
There are many “old acquaintances” that briefly brightened the Santa Clarita social scene, then left to pursue new goals. There was none more charismatic and closely tied to the celebrations of the ‘70s and ‘80s than the homegrown family band “Cindy and Co.” The group, comprised of father, John, and siblings Cindy, Andy, and Jack, specialized in mixing the smooth sounds of the era with plenty of rock, and then playing to the mood of their audiences.
Though originally from Dunkirk, Indiana, the Kress family moved to the Santa Clarita Valley in the late 1950s. Parents John and Jean were both musically talented. Jean played the piano and once sang with bands in Indiana, and John played various instruments in many different bands, but his instrument of choice was the saxophone.
When the couple’s four children came along, it seemed most natural that a family band would someday be formed. Yet, up until junior high age, eldest son Andy did little more than toy with piano lessons; Jack was more interested in sports; and Cindy memorized piano pieces by watching her mother play, and could read very little music.
For the boys, playing in junior high bands got them seriously thinking about music. Andy, the blond, outgoing drummer, received his first set of drums when he was 12. According to Cindy in a 1974 newspaper interview, “There hasn’t been a quiet moment at the Kress household since.”
Andy’s greatest learning experience with the drums came when he was in seventh grade and signed up with the summer school band. He was the only drummer and found himself inundated with percussion instruments, spending every spare moment pounding out rhythms. That gave him the valuable experience he needed to step into the professional arena at the young age of 15.
“Dad had a group called the “Mellow Men” and they played for dances and parties on weekends,” explained Cindy in 1974. “One night the drummer got sick and Andy stepped in to take his place. Dad has never used another drummer.”
Dark-haired and soft-spoken, Jack Kress seemed to be the one most likely to pursue a career in sports, with music as a minor diversion. However, he did dabble in off-the-cuff lessons with the bass guitar player in his dad’s group. One night the guitarist was laid up with back trouble and couldn’t make a gig. Jack was recruited for the job and became a permanent fixture.
It seemed like a pattern was emerging, but blonde, beautiful Cindy delayed joining the group by studying education at the University of California at Santa Barbara. She played the flute and piano and tended to prefer classical music.
Following graduation, Cindy applied for a job in the Saugus Union School District and was soon teaching at Highlands Elementary School. Playing with her brothers and fathers seemed unlikely, yet she did sit in on practice sessions occasionally.
Then one night the piano player in the group was stranded in the San Fernando Valley and Cindy immediately became a permanent member.
The family adopted the name Cindy and Co. in 1971 when they answered an ad to play at the Big Oaks Lodge up Bouquet Canyon. They were an instant hit, and were soon booking gigs from a variety of organizations, not only in the SCV, but Simi Valley, Los Angeles, and the San Fernando Valley.
Up to this point, Jean had efficiently combined motherhood with a full-time job. But she determined that the job would have to go when she found herself juggling the band’s costume fittings and bookings with her youngest son’s school and baseball schedules. While 12-year-old Bobby’s extracurricular attentions centered on baseball, he did play the guitar, so there was always the possibility that the group might have another member sometime in the future.
But as of the ‘70s and ‘80s, Cindy and Co. was a four-member group interspersing outside hobbies and daytime jobs with the nighttime demand for their music. As the group’s popularity grew, the family branched out in larger pursuits. One of those involved buying the Big Oaks Lodge and hosting Sunday afternoon jam sessions with guest musicians who came from all over Southern California.
As rewarding as local success was, the family was always looking for ways to grow and stretch their talents. Sadly for their followers in our valley, one of those ways involved leaving California for a chance to join the burgeoning music scene in the Midwest.
Though the siblings returned from time to time for visits, most of their SCV fans lost track of the Kress family. Only their closest friends and family know the details of the family’s ultimate career paths and the new dreams they had found to pursue after they left our valley. As for the rest of us, we were saddened when news filtered down recently about Andy’s and Cindy’s deaths, but we can smile remembering the nights we danced and sang along with Cindy, John, Andy, and Jack to the most popular music of the time – everything from the Beatles and the Beach Boys to Elton John and Billy Joel, as well as the rock sounds of performers like Michael Jackson, Ike and Tina Turner, and Dire Straits.