The Cowsills in 2004. Left to right: Bob, Barry, Paul, Richard, Susan and John.
|Origin||Newport, Rhode Island, USA|
|Genres||Bubblegum pop, psychedelic pop, pop, rock and roll|
|Years active||1965–1972, 1978–1980, 1990–present|
|Labels||MGM Records, Polydor Records|
|Associated acts||Continental Drifters, Blue Shadows,
Beach Boys, Tommy Tutone,
Waddy Wachtel, Dwight Twilley
|Past members||John Cowsill
Bill Cowsill (deceased)
Barry Cowsill (deceased)
Barbara Cowsill (deceased)
The Cowsills is an American singing group from Newport, Rhode Island. They specialized in harmonies and the ability to sing and play music at an early age. The band was formed in the spring of 1965 by brothers Bill, Bob, and Barry; they shortly thereafter added John. Originally Bill and Bob played guitar and Barry was on drums. When John learned how to play drums and joined the band, Barry went to bass. After their initial success, the brothers were joined by their siblings Susan and Paul and their mother Barbara. Bob's twin brother Richard was the road manager. When the group expanded to its full family membership by 1967, the six siblings ranged in age from 8 to 19. Joined by their mother Barbara (née Russell), the Cowsills were the inspiration for the 1970 launch of the television show The Partridge Family.
Origins and early successes
The Cowsills' musical interest started while their father Bud Cowsill was stationed in Canton, Ohio, in the late 1950s as a US Navy recruiter. Billy and Bob taught themselves how to play the guitar. The boys developed their musical talent and harmonized vocals, and they performed at school church dances in Stark County, Ohio. The boys' first television appearance was on the Gene Carroll Show on WEWS in Cleveland.
After Bud retired from Navy he and his wife managed their children's career.
In late 1965, the Cowsills were hired as a regular act on Bannisters Wharf in Newport, where they sang Beatles songs hour after hour. A handful of singles were released on JODA Records and Philips Records in 1965 and 1966, to only modest success. The band was signed by MGM records in 1967, and Barbara, who would become known to their fans affectionately as "Mini-Mom" due to her diminutive stature, joined the group just in time to record the band's first album, including the hit single "The Rain, The Park & Other Things" . It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. Bill sang lead vocal on this hit. Shortly thereafter the band was expanded yet again, to include siblings Susan and Paul.
With the success of "The Rain...", the band quickly became a popular act in the U.S., and achieved significant airplay in England and other parts of Europe. "The Rain, The Park and Other Things" reached No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Bob Cowsill is quoted as follows on the band's early days:
"Although Bill and I performed at a very young age, and Bill, I, Barry and John did a lot of frat parties at Brown University and clubs in Newport ... the most memorable performance of what I would view as the precursor of what The Cowsills would be was at Kings Park in Newport (right at the foot of Halidon Hall) at some carnival. The family angle just evolved ... first Bill and me, then Bill me and Barry, then Bill, me, Barry and John, then Bill, me, Barry, John and Mom, then Bill, me, Barry, John, Mom and Paul, then later, me, Paul, John, Barry, Mom and Susan, then back to Bill, me, Barry and John (very briefly in the end) and then to me, Paul, John and Susan. Our first real break came when we were playing the MK Hotel in Newport (in the basement there) and a guy from the "Today Show" saw us and asked if we wanted to be on the "Today" show. We weren't famous or anything but we were young and we were related and we were quite good. So we went on "The Today Show" (I doubt a tape exists of that but if it did it would be priceless to see) and someone from Mercury Records saw us, which ultimately led to our signing with that label and putting out "Most Of All" (a great "school's out" song that should have been our first hit in my opinion), which led to Artie Kornfeld and Steve Duboff. Mercury dropped us, but Artie and Steve had written "The Rain, The Park and Other Things" and we went in and recorded that song at A&R studios in New York and took the whole package to MGM, who decided wouldn't it just be terrific if their mother performed with them and, voila, the rest, as they say, is history."
In 1968, the band scored another million-selling hit with the song "Indian Lake" which reached No.10 on the US charts.
From 1968 through 1972, the band played an average of 200 performance dates per year, and were among the most popular acts on the American concert circuit.
Breakup and reunions
According to the documentary, Family Band: The Cowsills Story, Bill was fired from the group by his father after they had an argument that ended with Bud being arrested. Now led by Bob, the Cowsills continued as a group releasing three more albums - two with MGM including a second greatest hits compilation, and then one with London Records. By 1972, Barbara, Paul and Susan had left the group and Bill returned, reforming the original quartet; they released one more single, "Covered Wagon", which failed to chart. Shortly afterward, The Cowsills stopped playing together as a band amid a series of internal personal squabbles. The individual members went on to various career attempts in and out of the music industry, but they did appear at Madison Jr. High school in Tampa, Florida as "The Cowsills" for one performance during the mid-1970s. Some produced albums and performed from time to time, albeit not as The Cowsills, during the remainder of the 1970s and up into the 1990s. One project in particular was a band called Bridey Murphy, which was formed in the mid-'70s and featured Paul, Bill, Barry, and Waddy Wachtel, and performed to varying degrees of success.
In 1978, several of the Cowsills—including Paul, John, Barry, Bob and Susan—recorded an album called Cocaine Drain with producer Chuck Plotkin. The album was never completed, and at some point the master tapes were lost (or stolen). For almost 30 years the album existed only as a scratchy acetate. In March 2008 a version of the album was finally released, remastered from that acetate under Bob Cowsill's direction. Several other previously unreleased tracks were included on the 2008 release. All six of the performing Cowsill siblings appear on the cover art of the album in shots apparently taken on stage around the time of the recording sessions.
After the Cocaine Drain sessions, the Cowsills did some reunion shows in 1979–1980 but returned to their separate careers after that.
The central four members of the group created the power pop tune "Is It Any Wonder?" in 1993, which was released in the critically appraised multi-artist collection Yellow Pills, Vol. 1: The Best of American Pop.
The most prominent Cowsill in the years since has been Susan, who was a member of The Continental Drifters, along with both her first husband Peter Holsapple (who is the father of her daughter) and her second husband, Russ Broussard. She was also part of Dwight Twilley's band in the mid-1980s, and currently has a solo career as the leader of her own band, the Susan Cowsill Band. Her first-ever solo album, Just Believe it, was released in late 2005 by Blue Corn Music. In 2011, she was featured in an episode of the HBO series, Tremé.
John Cowsill has also been prominent as a musician. Since December 2000 John has been a regular member of The Beach Boys touring band, playing drums and keyboards and singing lead on some of their tunes. In earlier years, he performed with artists such as Jan & Dean and Dwight Twilley. In the early 1980s, he was briefly a member of the band Tommy Tutone and his backing vocals and percussion can be heard on their hit "Jenny (867-5309)."
Bill Cowsill moved to Canada in the 1970s and did well in that country as a solo artist, and as a member of Vancouver, British Columbia's Blue Northern, before forming the nationally acclaimed Blue Shadows who recorded two albums for Sony Canada.
After working as a sound engineer for Helen Reddy, Paul Cowsill left music for a career in the construction industry. While he still performs with The Cowsills, his primary occupation is that of a farmer in Oregon.
Bob Cowsill has had a successful career outside of music in the software industry. He currently trains hospital emergency departments to use a software package called EDITS (Emergency Department Information Tracking System) that manages data capture and billing issues associated with emergency room accountancy. Bob was also part of the actual development and coding team for the software package. He is also still an active performer.
In 1990, Bob, Paul, John, and Susan again regrouped as The Cowsills. The original plan was to simply hit the "oldies circuit", but after some deliberation, they decided to showcase new material written by Bob and his wife, Mary Jo. This incarnation of the band started playing small clubs and showcases in the Los Angeles area and eventually spread out to similar venues across the country and into Canada. Their performances generated positive reviews from critics and fans alike, including a very well received performance on The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, where Susan voiced in mock frustration as to never being able to figure out which of the two girls on The Partridge Family was supposed to represent her.
The success of this reunion led The Cowsills back into the recording studio, which resulted in the album Global. This has also led to several reunions over the years in various forms, ranging from a few concerts to special feature performances at major events. Most notable of these events were "A Taste of Rhode Island in 2000", which featured all seven surviving Cowsills, and "A Family Thing 2", which was a benefit concert in 2004 for Bill's medical and financial difficulties at the time. This concert took place at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles and included an appearance by Shirley Jones, who introduced the band. It was the first time they had ever met. As the mother on the TV show inspired by the Cowsills, Shirley made a point of calling them "the real thing". Though she did not sing with them that night, immediately after her announcement, the Cowsills played "I Really Want To Know You", which is the one song that had been recorded by both The Cowsills and The Partridge Family. (Both bands recorded songs called "Hello, Hello" ; they were different songs by different writers.) During this period, Barry also released a solo CD, As Is.
In 2004, it was announced that the Cowsills had been asked to sing the National Anthem at Fenway Park.
Currently, Bob, Paul and Susan perform several shows per month as The Cowsills while still maintaining their separate lives and careers. In 2007 they toured as part of a package called "The Original Idols Live!", hosted by Barry Williams, who played Greg Brady on The Brady Bunch.
The Cowsills were inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame on Sunday April 28, 2013.
CD release 1994 by Razor & Tie #82037 with 2 bonus tracks:
"The Impossible Years" / "Love American Style"
CD release 2009 by Cherry Red #CRNOW13 with 8 bonus tracks
|1968||"The Cowsills plus The Lincoln Park Zoo"
8 tracks by The Cowsills recorded 1966-1967 plus 2 tracks by The Lincoln Park Zoo
|"We Can Fly"
CD release 2005 by Collectors Choice #612
|"Captain Sad and his Ship of Fools"
CD release 2009 by Cherry Red #CRNOW7 with 5 bonus tracks
|"The Best of The Cowsills"
CD release 1988 by PolyGram #344-2 with 2 bonus tracks:
"Hair" / "The Path Of Love"
CD re-released 1994 by Rebound #204-2 with different cover artwork
||"The Cowsills in Concert"
CD release 1994 by Razor & Tie #82038 with 4 bonus tracks:
(The 'Milk' EP); "The Milk Song" / "All My Days" / "Nothing To Do" / "The Fun Song"
|1970||"II x II"||MGM SE-4639|
|1971||"On My Side"
CD release 2010 by Cherry Red #CRNOW23 with 3 bonus tracks
|"All-Time Hits"||MGM GAS-103|
Recorded circa 1993
|2001||"20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best Of The Cowsills"||Universal/Polygram 549947|
|2006||"Painting The Day: The Angelic Psychedelia of The Cowsills"||EL/Cherry Red ACMEM69|
Recorded circa 1978
|1969||"The Cowsills Collectors Record: Presented by American Dairy Association"
4 Tracks: "The Milk Song" / "All My Days" / "Nothing To Do" / "The Fun Song"
|Year||Single : A-Side / B-Side||Label||USA
|1965||"All I Really Want To Be Is Me" / "And The Next Day Too"||JoDa 103|
|1966||"Most Of All" / "Siamese Cat"||Philips 40382||#118|
|"Party Girl" / "What’s It Gonna Be Like"||Philips 40406|
|1967||"A Most Peculiar Man" / "Could It Be, Let Me Know"||Philips 40437|
|"The Rain, The Park & Other Things" / "River Blue"||MGM 13810||#2|
|1968||"We Can Fly" / "A Time For Remembrance"||MGM 13886||#21|
|"In Need Of A Friend" / "Mister Flynn"||MGM 13909||#54|
|"Indian Lake" / "Newspaper Blanket"||MGM 13944||#10|
|"Poor Baby" / "Meet Me At The Wishing Well"||MGM 13981||#44|
|"The Path Of Love" / "Captain Sad and his Ship of Fools"||MGM 14003||#132|
|"Le Opere Di Bartolomeo" / "Vola Con Noi" ('We Can Fly')
|"The Impossible Years" / "The Candy Kid"||MGM 14011||#118|
|1969||"Hair" / "What Is Happy?"||MGM 14026||#2|
|"The Prophecy Of Daniel And John The Divine" / "Gotta Get Away From It All"||MGM 14063||#75|
|"Silver Threads And Golden Needles" / "Love American Style"||MGM 14084||#74|
|1970||"II x II" / "Start To Love"||MGM 14106|
|1971||"On My Side" / "There Is A Child"||London 149||#108|
|"You (In My Mind)" / "Crystal Claps"||London 153|
|1972||"Covered Wagon" / "Blue Road"||London 170|
|1993||"Christmastime (Song for Marissa)" / "Some Good Years"||Rockville 6139-7|
Television and The Cowsills
The Cowsills also made many television appearances throughout the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. Their appearances included:
- The Ed Sullivan Show (twice)
- The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (twice)
- American Bandstand
- The Mike Douglas Show
- The Barbara McNair Show
- Playboy After Dark
- Kraft Music Hall
- Music Scene
- The Johnny Cash Show
They starred in their own television special, called A Family Thing, in November 1968 on NBC, which guest-starred Buddy Ebsen. By 1969 Screen Gems approached the family to portray themselves in their own TV sitcom, but when they were told that their mother was to be replaced by actress Shirley Jones the deal fell through. Screen Gems later hired Jones' stepson David Cassidy to join the cast and the show went on to be called The Partridge Family, and to have a four-year run on ABC Television.
The Cowsills were also known as spokespeople for the American Dairy Association, appearing in advertisements promoting milk. They performed the theme for the David Niven film The Impossible Years (1968), and also sang the theme for Love American Style during the first season (1969).
On August 10, 2010, the documentary film "Family Band: The Cowsills Story" debuted at the Rhode Island International Film Festival. On March 6, 2013, the film made its network television debut on Showtime. The film, directed by Louise Palanker and co-directed / edited by Bill Filipiak, tells the behind the scenes story of the family, their rise to fame and subsequent fall due to their father's controlling and abusive nature. The film features interviews with Tommy James, Shirley Jones, and radio personality Cousin Brucie.
Barbara C. Cowsill (née: Russell) (July 12, 1928 – January 31, 1985) Aged 56 years
Her funeral was the first real reunion of all the family members since the band's breakup.
William "Bud" Joseph Cowsill (December 2, 1925 – September 29, 1992) Aged 66 years
Barry Steven Cowsill (September 14, 1954 – August 29, 2005) Aged 50 years
Both Barry Cowsill and his sister Susan were living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005. Susan and her husband left New Orleans, but most of her belongings at her New Orleans home were destroyed.
A badly decomposed body recovered from the Chartres Street Wharf in New Orleans on December 28 was identified on January 4, 2006, as Barry. He had a piece of paper with his name and phone number in his pants pocket. The official cause of death is believed to be drowning as the New Orleans coroner found no signs of foul play.
Two memorial services were held for Barry. One was held on February 18, 2006 in his native Newport, Rhode Island at the Hotel Viking. The second was held on February 26, 2006 in New Orleans.
Barry is survived by his two daughters, one son, and two grandsons, as well as a stepdaughter and two step-granddaughters.
William "Bill" Joseph Cowsill, Jr. (January 9, 1948 – February 18, 2006) Aged 58 years
Bill Cowsill died in Calgary, Alberta, on the day of his brother Barry's Newport memorial service. He had been in poor health for the last few years of his life, suffering from emphysema, Cushing syndrome and osteoporosis. He also struggled with heroin addiction.
- David Cassidy, C'mon, Get Happy: Fear and Loathing on the Partridge Family Bus (Grand Central Publishing, 1994)):51-52, 60.
- "The Cowsills: Discography 45s". Cowsill.com. 2006-01-13. Retrieved 2013-07-13.
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. pp. 218–219 & 256. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- "The Cowsills Web Page: Cowsill History". Cowsill.com. Retrieved 2013-07-13.
- Family Band: The Cowsills Story
- waddywachtelinfo.com Retrieved 24 April 2009.
- The BOB COWSILL Interview, www.guitarsam.com.[dead link]
- "THE COWSILLS: The Cocaine Drain Album...plus 6". CD Baby. Retrieved 2013-07-13.
- Thomas, Stephen. "Yellow Pills, Vol. 1: The Best of American Pop - Various Artists : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2012-11-10.
- Crossett, Kevin (October 2, 1999). "The Bob Cowsill interview". Stable Management Corporation. Retrieved 2009-02-09.
- 'A Family Thing 2' Cowsills Benefit Concert 2004.
- "RI Music Hall of Fame Announces 2013 Inductees". GoLocalProv.com. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
- Cowsills Web site TV Appearances page. Retrieved 3-13-09.
- "The Cowsills Photo Gallery: American Dairy Association". Cowsill.com. 2006-02-03. Retrieved 2013-07-13.
- IMDB Soundtrack page Retrieved 3-13-09.
- Family Band: The Cowsills Story, IMDb.com
- Bill Filipak, IMDb.com
- Barry Cowsill, 51, Missing Since Hurricane, Is Dead, January 7, 2006.
- Daniel J. Wakin (2006-02-21). "William Cowsill, 58, Leader Of Family Pop-Rock Band". The New York Times Company. Retrieved 2011-03-04.
- Heath McCoy (2006-02-20). "Rock legend Cowsill dies in Calgary home". The Calgary Herald / CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc. Retrieved 2011-03-04.
- [dead link]
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