The Cowsills at Abbey Road on the River in 2019; left to right: Bob, Susan, and Paul
|Origin||Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.|
|Genres||Bubblegum pop, psychedelic pop, pop, rock and roll|
|Labels||MGM, Polydor, Joda|
|Associated acts||Continental Drifters, The Blue Shadows, The Beach Boys, Tommy Tutone, Waddy Wachtel, Dwight Twilley|
|Past members||John Cowsill|
The Cowsills are an American singing group from Newport, Rhode Island, six siblings noted for performing professionally and singing harmonies at an early age, later with their mother.
The band was formed in the spring of 1965 by brothers Bill, Bob, and Barry Cowsill; with their brother John joining shortly thereafter. Originally Bill and Bob played guitar and Barry played the drums. When John learned to play drums and joined the band, Barry began playing bass. After their initial success, the brothers were joined by their siblings Susan and Paul along with their mother, Barbara. A seventh sibling, Bob's twin brother Richard, was never part of the band during its heyday, although he occasionally appeared with them in later years.
The band's road manager for most of their career was Richard "Biggie" Korn. 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 Cowsill (née Russell), the group inspired the 1970s television show The Partridge Family.
Origins and early successes
The Cowsills' musical interest started while their father, William “Bud” Cowsill, was stationed in Canton, Ohio, in the late 1950s, as a US Navy recruiter. Bill and Bob taught themselves how to play the guitar. As the boys' musical and vocal abilities developed they began performing at church school dances in Stark County, Ohio. These, and other performances, led to the boys' first television appearance on the Gene Carroll Show on WEWS in Cleveland.
After Bud retired from the Navy, he and his wife managed their children's career until 1967.
In late 1965, the Cowsills were hired as a regular act on Bannisters Wharf in Newport. The group performed many of the popular songs of the day including the music of the Beatles. A handful of singles was released on JODA Records, a label owned by Danny Sims and Johnny Nash (of I Can See Clearly Now fame), and Philips Records in 1965 and 1966, to only modest success. After Leonard Stogel took over management of the band, they were signed to MGM Records in 1967 through his efforts on their behalf. 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" with Bill on lead vocals. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold record. 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.
The Cowsills released five albums in all for MGM records between 1967 and 1970. Following the success of "Rain" and their eponymous album, the title track from their second album, "We Can Fly", peaked at #21 in the spring of 1968; by that time Susan was added to the group. Later that same year they scored another Top 10 hit with the song "Indian Lake", produced by Wes Farrell, which reached No.10 on the US charts. "Captain Sad and his Ship of Fools", the album it appeared on, was produced by Bill and Bob and had added Paul to the group.
In September 1968, after the group's summer tour, the family relocated to Santa Monica, CA. Shortly after arriving, they received a copy of the "Hair" soundtrack album in the mail from the famed writer-producer-actor Carl Reiner, who was putting together a special for television called "Wonderful World of Pizzazz". The special was to be a celebration of the hippie fashion and music of that time. Reiner wanted the group to appear on the show performing "Hair", the title track from the current hit musical, and indicated that their performance would also have a satirical edge thanks to the juxtaposition of the squeaky-clean family group performing a song about long-haired hippies. At that time, the group had not heard of the musical and considered the request from Reiner as more of an assignment.
Following rehearsals at their home, and demo sessions at SIR Studios on Santa Monica Blvd, The Cowsills' version of "Hair" was recorded over two days in early October 1968 at TTG Studios in Hollywood, where the TV company producing the special were regular clients. A key attraction of TTG was its custom-built 16-track recorder, the only such machine available in Los Angeles at the time, which attracted leading rock acts like Jimi Hendrix and Frank Zappa. Working with house engineer Angel Balestier, the track was arranged and produced by Bob and Bill, who made sure that each member of the group got to contribute an individual vocal part to the recording, both in lead and background vocals, ensuring that each of the group's members would feature on screen when they performed it for the TV special.
Interviewed in 2018, Bob Cowsill recalled the intensive recording process, which was complicated by the fact that the group has not been in a recording studio for several months. The basic rhythm track was laid down first by Bill, Bob, John and Barry, but John (who was only 12 at the time) had difficulty mastering the time changes in the song, especially during the bridge ("Oh say can you see") section, and it reportedly required over 100 takes to achieve a satisfactory version. The group then proceeded to record the elaborate backing and lead vocal tracks, which were intricately arranged and engineered. The backing vocals were all double-tracked, and Balestier added additional "sparkle" to each vocal pass by sending the signal from the vocal microphone first through a Leslie speaker, then to the TTG echo chamber. The clean vocal signal, the "Leslie-ed" vocal signal and the Leslie-plus-echo signal were then all separately fed back to the console and mixed onto one track of the master. Each section of backing vocal was then double-tracked onto a second track, using the same setup of Leslie and echo, creating a very dense and lush sound. Another notable feature of the arrangement was dictated by the purpose of the recording - the network was concerned that some lyrics in the song might be problematic for viewers in the more socially conservative areas of the United States, so the group omitted the original final verse (which mentions God, Jesus and the Bible) and replaced it with a repeat of the first verse. 
Balestier mixed the mono track for the group to use during the filming of the special at the end of the final day of recording, but MGM records had no interest in releasing the song at that time. Bill had an acetate of the song cut at DCT Recorders which ended up being played for a DJ at WLS (AM) in Chicago where it generated significant attention. The TV special was taped on January 5, 1969, in San Francisco. As the air date of March 18 approached, MGM changed their minds and released the single. At this same time Bill and Bob were working on a live album, "The Cowsills in Concert" (released May 3), which included a stereo mix of "Hair" and became the group's best selling album. The band had a No.2 US hit and million seller with this version of the title song from the musical Hair.
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.. They even had their own comic book published by Harvey Comics in 1968.
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 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. 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.
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 praised multi-artist collection Yellow Pills, Vol. 1: The Best of American Pop.
In the years following the group's split, Susan continued her musical career as a member of The Continental Drifters, along with both her first husband Peter Holsapple and her second husband, Russ Broussard. She was a member of Dwight Twilley's band in the mid-1980s, and currently leads her own band, the Susan Cowsill Band. Her first 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 continued his performing career. 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 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. He worked as a landscaper on several movies and television shows including the Twilight series and Grimm. While he performs with The Cowsills, he primarily works as 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 "Emergency Department Information Tracking System", or EDITS. The software is designed to manage 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 after the family appeared in concert for the syndicated radio show, "The Lost 45s with Barry Scott". 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. On that show, Susan said in mock frustration that she could never 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"; it is the one song recorded by both The Cowsills and The Partridge Family. During this period, Barry also released a solo CD, As Is.
In October 2004, Bob, Paul, Barry, Susan and Richard reunited to sing the National Anthem at Fenway Park before Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
Susan's first solo release, Just Believe It, was released in 2004 in Europe and 2005 in the United States. Susan Cowsill continues to play live in New Orleans with her husband Russ Broussard and their band, playing "Covered In Vinyl" performances that have featured classic rock albums played live in their entirety. Some of these performances have been recorded at New Orleans venues like Carrollton Station and Chickie Wah Wah.
Susan Cowsill's second solo album, "Lighthouse" was released in 2010 with support from the New Orleans musicians' organization Threadheads. It is a concept album in which she reflects on her losses, mainly through Hurricane Katrina and the deaths of brothers Barry and Bill. The album features harmonies from her surviving brothers (Bob, Paul and John) as well as appearances by Jackson Browne and Vicki Peterson, and was released May 18, 2010.
Currently, Bob, Paul and Susan perform several shows per month as The Cowsills while still maintaining their separate lives and careers and have been joined occasionally by their brother, John. 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.
During a 50th Anniversary performance at The Cutting Room in New York City, on April 11, 2015, Susan Cowsill said the band planned to return to the studio in January 2016 to begin recording their first new album in 7 years. No release date has been announced.
CD/Cassette 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/Cassette release 1988 by PolyGram #344-2 with 2 bonus tracks:
"Hair" / "The Path Of Love"
CD/Cassette re-released 1994 by Rebound #204-2 with different cover artwork
Italy release compilation
||The Cowsills in Concert
CD/Cassette 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)
Both sides from same album except where indicated
|1965||"All I Really Want to Be Is Me"
b/w "And the Next Day Too"
|JoDa 103||Non-album tracks|
|1966||"Most of All"
b/w "Siamese Cat"
|Philips 40382||118||81||The Cowsills Plus the Lincoln Park Zoo|
b/w "What’s It Gonna Be Like"
|1967||"A Most Peculiar Man"
b/w "Could It Be, Let Me Know"
|"The Rain, the Park & Other Things"
b/w "River Blue"
|MGM 13810||2||4||2||1||The Cowsills|
|1968||"We Can Fly"
b/w "A Time for Remembrance"
|MGM 13886||21||42||4||We Can Fly|
|"In Need of a Friend"
b/w "Mister Flynn"
b/w "Newspaper Blanket"
|MGM 13944||10||3||1||3||Captain Sad and His Ship Of Fools|
b/w "Meet Me at the Wishing Well" (from Captain Sad and His Ship Of Fools)
|MGM 13981||44||47||22||The Best Of The Cowsills|
|"The Path of Love"
b/w "Captain Sad and His Ship of Fools"
|MGM 14003||132||71||Captain Sad and His Ship of Fools|
|"The Impossible Years"
b/w "The Candy Kid" (from All-Time Hits)
|MGM 14011||118||89||Make The Music Flow|
b/w "What Is Happy?" (from We Can Fly)
|MGM 14026||2||1||1||1||The Cowsills in Concert|
|"The Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine"
b/w "Gotta Get Away from It All" (from We Can Fly)
|MGM 14063||75||82||37||II X II|
|"Silver Threads and Golden Needles"
b/w "Love American Style" (from All-Time Hits)
|1970||"II x II"
b/w "Start to Love"
|1971||"On My Side"
b/w "There Is a Child"
|London 149||108||On My Side|
|"You (in My Mind)"
b/w "Crystal Claps"
|London 153||Single releases|
b/w "Blue Road"
|1993||"Christmastime (Song for Marissa)" / "Some Good Years"||Rockville 6139-7||Global|
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, see below)
- 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
- Wonderful World of Pizzazz
The Cowsills were originally booked for ten appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. However, for their first appearance on October 29, 1967, there were technical difficulties as they could not be heard for the first 20–30 seconds of "The Rain, The Park, and Other Things". After a heated argument with show producer Bob Precht, Bud Cowsill cancelled eight out of the group's nine remaining scheduled performances. The Cowsills' second and final appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was on December 24, 1967.
Game show appearances included The Generation Gap with Barbara and Bob, and To Tell The Truth in which the panel had to identify the real Barbara Cowsill, which was #2; she received two votes while one of the two "imposters" also received two votes. During game play, the siblings stood behind the three contestants.
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 TV show cast, which 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.
In 2019, Bob, Paul, and Susan Cowsill were interviewed by freelance journalist, Rod Labbe, for RetroFan magazine (https://twomorrows.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1519). Entitled "Meet the Cowsills," it's a no-holds-barred conversation in which the Cowsills discuss the ups and downs of their career and lives together and apart.
Barbara Claire 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, Sr. (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 19, 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 before 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's syndrome, and osteoporosis.
Richard "Rich" "Dick" James Cowsill (August 26, 1949 – July 8, 2014) Aged 64 years
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