Billed as "the first family of pop," the Cowsills started when navy man William "Bud" Cowsill brought home guitars for his oldest sons, Bill and Bob. The two learned to play and sing Everly brothers tunes and also played in surf bands around the Newport, RI, area. Eventually, younger brothers Barry and John were added to the group on bass and drums, and they began gigging at school dances, church socials and Brown University frat parties. Given their gift for harmony and uncanny covers of Beatles tunes, the four brothers earned a regular bar gig on Bannisters Wharf in Newport.
Bill and Bob were developing into songwriters as well, and soon they were recording on the Joda and Philips/Mercury labels. Still, the big hit song eluded them until 1967, when producer Arnie Kornfeld (who later went on to become the concert promoter of Woodstock) took them into the studio to record a song he had co-written with Steve Duboff called "The Rain, the Park, and Other Things," known to many as "The Flower Girl." Released on MGM, the song arrangement featured lush orchestration that included a harp, prominent stacato organ chording, and rain and thunder sound effects. Center stage in the mix was the harmony singing that now included the boys' mother, Barbara. Ironically, one thing the song did not feature was the boys' instrumental prowess. Studio musicians were brought in for the recording, a practice that continued until1969, when they made their best-selling In Concert lp.
The addition of their mother to the band ended much chance of the Cowsills ever being thought of as a true rock band, and soon the brothers' 7-year-old sister Susan and one more brother, Paul, joined the line-up. The image of a wholesome family of pop singers was reinforced by such top ten hits as "We Can Fly" and "Indian Lake." The Cowsills dominated the teen magazines, appeared on Ed Sullivan and numerous other TV shows, and were heavily featured spokespersons for the American Dairy Association.
Their biggest hit was a cover of the title song of the rock musical "Hair," which they recorded for use in the Carl Reiner TV special "The Wonderful World of Pizazz." Produced and performed entirely by the family (including instrumentation) the psychedelic pop anthem scared the bejeezus out of the suits at MGM, who at first refused to release the song because it didn't fit the Cowsills' squeeky clean image. But the band was handing out dupes of the song to deejays during their concert tour, and they got so much response that MGM relented and released it as a 45 and on a live concert lp.
The band's decline followed soon after. Bill, who had taken to hanging out with the Beach Boys at Brian Wilson's house, was kicked out of the band by their manager father when he was caught smoking marijuana. Bob made a valiant effort to keep the band going without his songwriting partner and older brother Bill, and the band continued for two more albums on MGM and the London label.
In what has become perhaps their biggest claim to fame, the Cowsills were considered for a sit-com version of their own lives. That show, the Partridge Family, gave birth to one of the biggest selling non-existent bubblegum bands of all time.
The Cowsills have continued to perform and record off and on over the years, and in their adult years have produced some of the best power pop ever, including a '90s CD entitled "Global" that has drawn comparisons to Fleetwood Mac. Check them out at Cowsills and www.robinrecords.com
Keith Osterberg (Special to The Classic Bubblegum Music Page)
COWSILL FOUND DEAD IN N.O.
Posted Jan 06, 2006 12:00 AM
Barry Cowsill, member of real-life Partridge Family, died in Katrina's wake
The body of Barry Cowsill, one of the singing Cowsills, the family band that inspired the Partridge Family, was discovered on December 28th on a wharf in New Orleans. Local authorities believe Cowsill, 51, died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the city on August 29th. Cowsill reportedly left phone messages for his sister Susan on September 1st, and was not heard from again.
Billed as "America's First Family of Music," the well-scrubbed Cowsills helped make flower-power music palatable to the mainstream during their brief run in the late 1960s. They had two Number Two hits, "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" and the title track to the hit rock musical Hair. They were nearly reality-television pioneers, as well: The filming of their daily life together was briefly considered for a TV program, before producers decided to fictionalize the story as The Partridge Family.Newport, Rhode Island's Cowsills were formed in the early Sixties when their father, Bud, gave his two oldest boys, Bill and Bob, guitars. Barry, born in 1954, took up the bass, and younger brother John became the drummer. Later, the group would be joined by brother Paul, on keyboards, and their kid sister Susan, on vocals. Their mother Barbara performed with the group as well.
The four original band members recorded their first single, "All I Really Wanta Be Is Me," in 1965. Playing a weekly residency at a Newport lounge called Bannisters Wharf, the group was discovered by a producer for NBC's Today show. Their television performance led to a contract with Mercury Records, which recorded a string of singles to little notice. Producer Artie Kornfeld brought the group a song he co-wrote, "The Rain, the Park and Other Things," and he convinced Barbara Cowsill to sing with her children. That song, a dreamy, heavily orchestrated pop nugget, became a smash for MGM in 1967.
In the wake of the single's success, Paul and Susan Cowsill were soon added to the group. "We Can Fly" reached Number Twenty-One in 1968, followed by "Indian Lake," a California pop song influenced by the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas, which made Number Ten later that same year. By now a pop sensation, the Cowsills hosted their own television special and made appearances for Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson.The group had one last moment of glory in early 1969, when their recording of "Hair" spent thirteen weeks in the Top Forty. But despite the success of The Partridge Family, which debuted in 1970, the Cowsills' 1971 album On My Side yielded no hits; the group would soon dissolve amid financial and personal difficulties.
Bill Cowsill, who was once considered as a possible replacement for Brian Wilson in the Beach Boys' touring band, was the first family member to release a solo album, 1971's Nervous Breakthrough. Some of the siblings eventually fell out of the music business; Bob, John, Susan and Paul briefly reunited in the late Seventies, recording a set of songs that went unreleased. It was the first of the Cowsills' periodic comebacks, most recently in 1998, when they released an Internet-only album. Barbara Cowsill died of emphysema in Tempe, Arizona in 1985.
Through the years the Cowsills retained some ties to their native New England. In 1988 Barry contributed a cover version of "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" for an album called Boston Does the Beatles. In 2004 the Cowsills reunited to play at Fenway Park before a Red Sox-Yankees playoff game. They sang the national anthem and "Hair."During the 1990s Barry and Susan both became involved with the New Orleans music community. Susan joined her then-husband, former dBs frontman Peter Holsapple, ex-Bangle Vicki Peterson and others in the L.A.-New Orleans band the Continental Drifters. Barry Cowsill released an album, Barry Cowsill: As Is, in 1998. He was said to have been preparing to record another album in New Orleans at the time of his death.
COWSILLS FRONTMAN WILLIAM COWSILL DIES
Monday Feb 20, 2006 9:00am EST
STEPHEN M. SILVERMAN
William Cowsill, lead singer of the '60s bubblegum family band The Cowsills, which inspired the TV series The Partridge Family, died Friday after a series of illnesses. He was 58.
Cowsill, who was suffering from emphysema, osteoporosis and other ailments, passed away in Calgary, Alberta, according to his family and Canadian record producer Neil MacGonigill. He had been in deteriorating health for some time.
From 1967-70, The Cowsills, who were first spotted by a show scout in Newport, R.I. (the morning TV gig landed them a record deal), had hits with "The Rain, The Park and Other Things" and "Hair."
Four Cowsill brothers played in the band: Barry on bass, William on guitar, Bob on guitar and organ, and John on drums. Their mother, Barbara, and little sister, Susan, eventually joined the group.
Barry disappeared after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans on Aug. 29. His body was recovered Dec. 28 from the Chartres Street Wharf, reports the Associated Press.
The band broke up in the 1970s. William, the oldest brother, moved to Canada about 35 years ago, where he continued his music career with Blue Northern, The Blue Shadows and the Co-Dependents.
Two sons survive Cowsill.
Keith Osterberg (5-12-06)
Billy Cowsill's most recent recordings with his band Co-Dependents are available at www.indeliblemusic.com
Susan Cowsill has embarked on a solo career and has a new CD of singer/songwriter music that is getting high critical praise. The CD "Just Believe It" is on the Blue Corn Music label and features guest vocals by
Adam Durst of the Counting Crows and Lucinda Williams.