1965–72, 1978–80, 1990–present
John CowsillBill Cowsill (deceased)Barry Cowsill (deceased)Barbara Cowsill (deceased)Richard Cowsill (deceased)
Newport, Rhode Island, United States (1965)
Captain Sad and His Ship of Fools
Bubblegum pop, Psychedelic pop, Pop music, Rock and roll
Family band the cowsills story trailer
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 Cowsill; they shortly thereafter added their brother 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 Cowsill (née Russell), the group was the inspiration for the 1970s television show The Partridge Family.
hair by the cowsills
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 the 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. After Leonard Stogel took over management of the band, he got them signed to MGM Records in 1967. 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. 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.
In 1969, the band had another No.2 US hit and million seller with their 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.
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. 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 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. While he still 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. 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 2004, it was announced that the Cowsills had been asked to sing the National Anthem at Fenway Park.
Susan's first solo release, Just Believe It, was released in 2004 in Europe and 2005 in the U.S.
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.
On April 11, 2015 Susan Cowsill announced to an audience at their 50th Anniversary performance at The Cutting Room in New York City that the band will return to the studio in January 2016 to begin recording their first new album in 7 years.
During the summers of 2015 and 2016, the Cowsills toured the U.S. with The Turtles "Happy Together" tour.
Television and The Cowsills
The Cowsills also made many television appearances throughout the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. Their appearances included:
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 "The Rain, The Park, and Other Things". After a heated argument with show producer Bob Precht, Bud Cowsill cancelled eight out 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.
Barbara Claire Cowsill (née: Russell) (July 12, 1928 – January 31, 1985) Aged 56 years
The Cowsill family mother, Barbara Cowsill, died of emphysema while living in Scottsdale, Arizona.
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
The Cowsill family father, "Bud" Cowsill, died of leukemia while living in Mexico.
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
Richard Cowsill died at his home in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, after a battle with lung cancer.
The Rain - the Park & Other ThingsThe Cowsills · 1967
Indian LakeCaptain Sad and His Ship of Fools · 1968
We Can FlyThe Billy Cowsill Benefit Concert Featuring the Cowsills · 2013