Dennis Cowan (*6 May 1947, + 1975) was a British musician. He played the electric bass and is noted as having contributed to records by the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, Vivian Stanshall and Neil Innes.
When he was eighteen, he joined the Band ‘Devil’s Disciples’ as a rhythm guitarist; a band consisting of Peter Banks (later in ‘Yes’) on guitar, John Tite on vocals, Ray Alford on bass and Malcolm "Pinnie" Raye on drums. They used to play covers of the whole of the first Rolling Stones album, in the same order that the tunes were on the record. They played covers of Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters without even knowing who these people were, as Banks later stated in an interview. Dennis was a big blues fan and actually had records of black musicians from America. The Disciples lasted for about a year before disbanding. During their time, they spent three months for gigs in Hamburg; they recorded two songs on an acetate: Arthur Alexander's ‘You Better Move On’ and Graham Gouldman's ‘For Your Love’. There are files that state the tracks were recorded in 1964, but this is unlikely, because the Yardbirds didn't have a hit with it until early 1965. The tracks can be found on Banks' archival album ‘Can I Play You Something?’.
After disbanding, Banks joined The Syndicats, replacing their guitarist Ray Fenwick and Dennis Cowan joined ‘The Tribe’ with John Neighbour (voc, hp), Frank Torpey (lg), Martin Slavenic (org) and Malcolm Wolffe (dr); Dennis himself had switched to bass.
The Tribe played quite often in Ealing before they were signed to Shel Talmy’s Planet Label to record the single ‘The Gamma Goochie’ (backed with ‘I’m Leaving’). They later went to Paris and Scandinavia and spent about a month in Copenhagen.
After the failure of the single, they moved to RCA to record another 45er called ‘Love Is A Beautiful Thing’ (backed with Steel Guitar And A Glass Of Wine’), released in May, 1967. At the time of release, they had a three-month residency at the Marquee.
For a short time after that, they changed their name to “The Dream” before breaking up in October 1967 after a few gigs only, including a further month at the Marquee. Torpey later would become co-founder of glam rock band “The Sweet”.
In 1968 the Bonzos had dropped the Doo-Dah from their name and made a further step from jazz and vaudeville into the pop or rock direction. Unhappy with these changes, Vernon Dudley (who wasn’t friends with the electric bass) and Sam Spoons left the band. “With Vernon gone we needed a bass player and ….. got Dave Clague and then Joel Druckman on bass……Either we had bass players who were frustrated and wanted to get up and do something or it wasn’t in tune with what we were doing. Dennis Cowan though, was quite happy to go ‘dum dum dum’ in the background and put a mask on or something and have a custard pie stuck in his face… - he was quite happy” (quote from Bob Carruthers’ book ‘Jollity Farm’)
Dennis’ first Bonzo job was an appearance in the John Peel Show to promote the Urban Spaceman single (though he had not contributed to the recording). As a full-time member of the band, he took part in the sessions of the `Tadpoles´ recording, though some tracks still feature Dave Clague or Joel Druckman respectively on bass. He played on it successor, `Keynsham´, and made all the further live or TV appearances.
After the Bonzos called it a day in 1970, Dennis stayed close with Neil Innes and Vivian Stanshall. He was member of the band “The World” with Neil Innes (v, g, p), Ian Wallace (dr) and Roger McKew (g). For this album, he co-wrote ‘Not The First Time’ with Neil. At the same time he played with Vivian’s different bands like BiG Grunt, Gargantuan Chums or the Sean Head Show Band. In 1971, he played guitar on a track of Roger Ruskin Spear’s “Rebel Trouser” EP, on which one of his predecessors in the Bonzos, Dave Clague, played bass.
For the Bonzo reunion album ‘Let’s Make Up And Be Friendly’, recorded and released in 1972, Dennis was also part-time bass player, Dave Richard playing on some tracks.
After this album, Dennis had some short stints with other bands but without any recordings. There was “Abednego” with John Etheridge, Lynton Naiff and John Altman. Another short-lived act was “Ramshackle” with trumpeter Dave Caswell, drummer Phil Lyttle, Lyle Jenkins on sax and other players that are not remembered.
At the end of 1972 he found himself in a band called “Darien Spirit”, one of many brief, bright sparks in the Lindisfarne mood of melancholy pop-folk, who recorded one album, called ‘Elegy to Marilyn’, memorable for its gimmick cover showing 3D parts glued on it changing lips on a picture of Marilyn Monroe. Dennis played bass and sang, the other members being Alan Waterson (dr, voc) Harry MacDonald (g, k, v), Jack McAllister (g, v, hp) and Frank Ricotti (pc, vib). The band dissolved after the album, Charisma released on more track as a single in 1974.
In late spring 1973, Dennis’ part was the bass player in the Rocky Horror show musical which went into rehearsal and after two previews was premiered at the Royal Court's 63-seat Theatre Upstairs on June 19th, 1973 and ran until July 20th. Record producer Jonathan King saw it on the second night and signed the entire cast to make the original cast recording over a long weekend that was rushed out on his UK Records label. In an interview, Peter Moss later explained that “Dennis was the first bass player in the show, but he was very ill and had a terrible drug problem. I was propping him up in the Rocky Horror show, a lot of the time he couldn’t make it and I was doing more nights a week than he did in the end.” In spring 1975, Dennis sadly died of peritonitis.
Vivian and Neil were particularly close and very strongly hit by this tragic event. Neil later dedicated his “Recycled Vinyl Blues” CD to him and Vivian wrote “Vacant Chair” in Dennis’ memory; the song was recorded by Steve Winwood.