Rock ‘n’ Roll
From Banister’s Wharf in Newport, The Cowsills carried their glorious pop harmonies to the world. Along the way, they garnered three Top Ten hits and another nine Billboard chart entries, making them one of the most successful Rhode Island acts of all time.
Bud and Barbara Cowsill were living In Middletown, RI, while Bud was serving in the US Navy. Of their seven children, three, Bill, Barry and John were born in Rhode Island. As with many teenagers, the appearance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show early in 1964 added momentum to the development of their Rock ‘n’ Roll band. Bud encouraged this, even supplying a couple of guitars – an event described by the band in the song, “Father,” on their 1970 LP, “II x II.”
The earliest line-up, which is featured on the group’s “Most Of All” picture sleeve was Bill, Bob, Barry and John. They made appearances around the state, playing, inter alia, at frat parties at Brown University and at gigs on Bannister’s Wharf and in the Muenchinger-King (M.K.) Hotel, then on Bellevue Avenue in Newport. (The website Cowsills – Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame at http://bapresley.com/silverthreads/ features some cool posters for the Cowsills’ appearances at a club named Dorian’s, on Bannister’s Wharf.)
Their first recording contract was with Johnny Nash’s Joda label. Looking back, it appears to have been a strange choice. Johnny Nash – who in 1965, still had not had his breakthrough hit with the reggae styled, “Hold Me Tight,” was more R&B. Indeed the label’s biggest hits, “For Your Love” and “Fly Me To The Moon,” both by Sam & Bill, bordered on deep soul. Nonetheless, of the label’s ten or so releases, Joda 103 featured The Cowsills with “All I Really Want To Be Is Me” b/w “And The Next Day Too.” Currently only available in scratchy 45 format, “All I Want” has a nice ’65 punk attitude, while “And The Next Day Too” could have been sung by The Beatles on the train that took them from Liverpool to London in the film, “A Hard Day’s Night.”
They caught a break when a one-off 1965 appearance on the “Today” show caught the attention of Mercury Records label executive Shelby Singleton. He signed them to Mercury’s Philips subsidiary, then home of the hit making Four Seasons, Brian Hyland, and The Changin’ Times, a duo who would soon have an impact on the Cowsills’ career. Philips issued three 45s and if you like beat-group generated harmony pop, this part of the Cowsills’ history is totally worthwhile. The recordings feature songs from some of the best writers of the day, as well as one self-written gem. Gary Geld and Peter Udell, who wrote Brian Hyland’s “Sealed With A Kiss” and the Carpenters’ “Hurtin’ Each Other,” provided the opener, “Most Of All.” Issued with a picture sleeve, the 45 climbed to #118 in July, 1966 and bubbled under for 4 weeks. Former “Hawaiian Eye” star Connie Stevens also recorded a version. “Party Girl” was the follow-up, a revival of a Tommy Roe hit (#85) from 1964. (Tommy Roe, you may recall, had a #1 hit with “Sheila” in 1962.) The Cowsills’ version of “Party Girl” was arranged by Sammy Lowe, a veteran R&B arranger who had worked with many artists,including The Tokens, Sam Cooke, Brook Benton, The Platters and James Brown. In fact, earlier in 1966, Mr. Lowe had arranged James Brown’s worldwide smash, “It’s A Man’s Man’s World.”
However, it’s the Cowsills’ B-side that deserves the interest as “What’s It Gonna Be Like” is one of their best compositions. Credited to Bill and Bob, the song is now highly prized by sunshine pop collectors. Bob has since revealed that he wrote this song alone in his bedroom on Indian Avenue in Middletown when he was in the 10th grade. “We like this recording a lot.” he says. He’s not alone! It did not chart, however, and neither did their final Philips’ 45, a very credible version of Simon & Garfunkel’s “A Most Peculiar Man” (from the duo’s chart topping “Sounds Of Silence” LP).
This 45 saw the entry of a key player into the group’s life: 24 year old Artie Kornfield who was the song’s producer. An accomplished songwriter, with titles such as Jan & Dean’s “Deadman’s Curve” and The Shirelles’ “Tonight You’re Gonna Fall In Love With Me” among many others to his credit, Artie, along with Steve Duboff, had formed the aforementioned Changin’ Times. They scored with the infectious “Pied Piper” which became a big worldwide hit when covered by the UK’s Crispian St. Peters. Kornfeld-Duboff’s “Could It Be Let Me Know” appeared on the other side of “A Most Peculiar Man.” It is a very strong song with a fuller backing track than on the first two 45s. “Psychedelically” speaking, things were beginning to take shape.
Fortunately, all of these Philips’ sides are now available on a well packaged CD from the UK reissue label, Cherry Red/Now Sounds, where they have added the tracks as bonus items on a reissue of the group’s first MGM album, “The Cowsills.” Back in the day, Mercury rounded up the tracks, added two more from a group named Lincoln Park Zoo and issued them on an LP titled “The Cowsills Plus The Lincoln Park Zoo” in an attempt to mop up any dollars the fans may have had left over after shelling out for the MGM sides. As to why this excellent clutch of Philips’ singles did not make the Hot-100 – well, let’s just say that if we had to choose a year in which to launch a new band, it would not have been 1966! The competition was fierce. The Beatles and The Beach Boys each had up to 4 singles out, with The Rascals, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Mamas & The Papas, The Kinks, The Monkees, The Turtles, etc., etc., all in pursuit. Not to mention a couple of Rhode Island bands, The Tradewinds and The Innocence! There was, however, some solid local reaction to these 45s as evidenced by “Party Girl” appearing at #37on the WICE All Star Survey for November 18, 1966, shown under our section on The Ascots who were at #35 on the same chart with “You Can’t Do That.”
And so, Philips dropped the band. Undeterred, Artie Kornfeld paid for a recording himself which yielded a second Kornfeld-Duboff song, “The Rain The Park And Other Things.” Lyric-wise it was right in there. Recorded in August during 1967’s “Summer Of Love”, the girl with “flowers in her hair” was a neat segue from Papa John Philips’ and Scott MacKenzie’s anthem “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair).” From the opening chords, everything seemed bigger, particularly the harmonies (augmented by Mom, Barbara) and the backing track. Talent manager Lenny Stogel recalled how The Cowsills arrived at MGM in Cash Box magazine (11/25/67): “Artie Kornfeld the producer and writer brought them to us. They were about to lose their home in Newport, Rhode Island, and they just didn’t know where to turn. I knew what they sounded like and I believed in them 100%.” Mr. Stogel helped place the group with MGM, home to another one of hits acts, Sam The Sham & The Pharoahs. MGM put some money behind the group and this time The Cowsills outdid the competition as they took “The Rain, The Park And Other Things” to #2. Well, most of the competition – the above mentioned Monkees denied them the #1 slot with their “Daydream Believer.” However, the compilers over at Cash Box magazine were more sympathetic and the Cowsills’ disc topped their Hot 100 on November 25, 1967.
The disc went gold and the trade publications featured pictures of the Cowsills being presented a gold disc by MGM Records President, Mort Nasatir.
An LP simply entitled “The Cowsills” followed the release of the 45 and reached #31 on the album chart. It came in a gatefold sleeve featuring pictures taken at their then-home at Halidon Hall in Newport. The sleeve notes were supplied by Lenny Stogel’s wife, Myrna. The tracks, which were composed by Bill, Bob and Kornfeld-Duboff, were mostly in the sunny, uplifting vein of the hit and two stand out: a tasteful ballad, “(Stop, Look) Is Anyone There?,” which was one of Bob’s earlier lead vocal outings, and a very competent version of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles’ hit from the prior year, “(Come ‘Round Here) I’m The One You Need.” As Bob notes, “Bill could really sing Motown”. The other Cowsills’ rendition of the Miracles’ back up vocal parts is pretty spiffy too!
The album was arranged by the multi-talented Jimmy Wisner and produced by Artie Kornfeld. That same year, 1967, Jimmy Wisner was the arranger on, inter alia, Tommy James & The Shondells’ “I Think Were Alone Now,” The Tokens’ “Portrait Of My Love” and Spanky & Our Gang’s “Lazy Day.” He also worked with Pete Anders and Vini Poncia arranging “Mairzy Doats” for The Innocence, “To Be With You” for Vince Edwards, and “Marryin’ Kind Of Love” for The Critters. But that’s where it ended for both Artie Kornfeld and Jimmy Wisner. Artie left after a business dispute with father, Bud. He went on to help organize the famed Woodstock Festival in 1969. Bill and Bob took over the production duties for the Cowsills.
Although there was a big studio sound evident on their first album, The Cowsills were still accomplished live performers. Billboard magazine noted in September 1967, that “the group has a repertoire of more than 500 songs ranging from easy listening to hard rock. They write their own material as well; everyone can sing, everyone can play instruments.” Billboard’s review of one of their late 1967 performances underscores this:
TALENT IN ACTION
Most pop concert performers use their hit record as the capper of the evening but MGM Records’ Cowsills lead with “The Rain The Park And Other Things” and continued to reach peak after peak with each following number.
The Cowsills are the latest of MGM’s stable of clean-cut rock groups…but when the embellishments are shed, as they were in the second half of their concert, Thursday Dec. 28 at Town Hall, the group’s natural talents rocketed to the forefront.
The four boys, John Barry, Bill and Bob settled down for some man’s business in the second half of the show as Barbara Cowsill and Susan left the stage and this is where the real show began. The group’s “momism” was cast aside for some blues and hard rock with songs such as “Come On Up” and “Anyone Who Had A Heart,” a slow bluesy song backed by a powerful accompanying electric organ.
In a tribute to what they called their “inspiration” the four Cowsills performed medleys of songs made popular by the Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, The Beach Boys and The Beatles. Here is where the group’s versatility rang clear as a bell. It is rare for a group to ever approach the original performer’s hit recording but with almost devastating resemblance, the Cowsill boys sang and sometimes improved upon songs such as “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter,” “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “The Last Time” and “Paperback Writer.” For the most part, it was early ’60s rock, which is what the group does the best. Bill Cowsill’s solo (the second to closing number) of “Buddy Can You Spare A Dime?” was a standout dramatic performance.
The Cowsills closed the show (one of their two performances) with their new single, “We Can Fly” – a show which is one of the year’s best pop concerts.
– Billboard, January 13, 1968
The Cowsills began work on their second MGM LP, “We Can Fly,” towards the end of 1967 with Susan and Paul now in the band. The LP featured arrangements by Artie Schroeck, Herb Bernstein and Charlie Calello, all of whom, as arrangers, had made a big impact with The Four Seasons. The title track, another Cowsill-Cowsill-Kornfeld-Duboff song, is probably one of the most uplifting records ever made. To this day, everyone should play this before they leave home in the morning! Released as a 45, it narrowly missed the Top-20, peaking at #21. The slower paced “In Need Of A Friend” was pulled from the LP for the third single but charted lower at #54. Nonetheless it was the first Cowsill song written without co-writers to enter the Hot 100.
Another standout track on the LP was “Gray, Sunny Day” co-written by Bill and Bob with Tony Powers, one-time collaborator with Ellie Greenwich and, at the time, hot with “98.6” for Keith and “Lazy Day” for Spanky & Our Gang. It would have made a perfect 45. And it did! But in the UK, they were beat to the punch when Linda Kendrick released a version on the UK Philips label, backed, surprisingly enough, by The Cowsills’ “In Need Of A Friend.” The Cowsills got another cover from their second LP when trumpeter Al Hirt released a medley of “We Can Fly”/”Up Up And Away” on RCA in 1968.
INDIAN LAKE AND MORE HITS
The “We Can Fly” LP charted lower at #89 and this, together with the declining chart positions of the singles, prompted MGM to make some changes. Wes Farrell was 28 years old when he was enlisted to produce the 45s but he already had longevity in the business. In 1960, he and Luther Dixon wrote “Boys” for the Shirelles. Three years later, this became one of the very few non-Lennon/McCartney songs that The Beatles recorded when they included it on their debut UK LP, “Please Please Me.” Later successes for Wes Farrell came with Jay & The Americans’ “Come A Little Bit Closer” and The McCoy’s “Hang On Sloopy.” By 1967, Wes Farrell’s production company, Coral Rock, had a #3 hit with “Come On Down To My Boat,” a song he co-wrote for Every Mothers’ Son on MGM. Songwriter/arranger Tony Romeo (Lou Christie’s #10 hit “I’m Gonna Make You Mine” was one of his) was also brought on board. He and Wes Farrell had been involved with two relevant albums on Farrell’s Senate label: one by Good And Plenty, the second by The Bubblegum Machine. Tony Romeo wrote many of the songs on these albums and the style and sound were not unlike those of The Cowsills.
Wes Farrell produced another New England band, The Beacon Street Union. They, along with the Ultimate Spinach and Orpheus (not the alter-ego of Rhode Island’s Ken Lyon on Red Bird records), formed what MGM promoted as the “Bosstown Sound.” The LP, “The Eyes Of The Beacon Street Union,” was released the same week as The Cowsill’s “We Can Fly” LP and it charted at #75. Wes Farrell also gave the Everly Brothers a Cowsills’ sound with a one-off recording on Warners in 1968 – the Tony Romeo song, “Milk Train.”
However, Bill and Bob produced most of the third MGM album, “Captain Sad And His Ship Of Fools,” with Herb Bernstein arranging. The album contained songs written by Bill and Bob and outside writers such as Graham Nash (then on the verge of leaving The Hollies to form Crosby, Stills & Nash) and David Gates (later, leader of the ’70s hit group Bread). It is another fine and balanced set of ballads and up-tempo songs with the whimsical “Meet Me At The Wishing Well” especially well-worth checking out. Paul was now in the group and so we saw a lot of faces in the gatefold LP pictures. The outside photo shows everyone in theatrical masks and a very sad looking Captain. Inside, there is virtually the same picture but now, everyone is smiling – and so, this is the side of the album cover that we show. Unfortunately the LP missed the Hot-100 album charts, settling at #105 in October 1968. It had been the group’s third long-player in a year!
The Wes Farrell produced singles fared much better. Tony Romeo’s “Indian Lake” landed in the Top 10. The German picture sleeve for the disc featured the group in front of a lake. New England rock and roll fans have long thought that the “Indian Lake” in question was the one just off Rhode Island Route 1 near the URI campus in the South County area. So let’s make it so! (Even though there are many Indian lakes throughout the US and the Cowsills do not share a writing credit with Mr. Romeo.) At least two further versions of “Indian Lake” followed, one by Doctor Wishbone’s Revival, which was essentially the Cowsills’ backing track issued on Wes Farrell’s Senate label, and a second by Freddy Weller (who had just left Paul Revere & The Raiders for a solo career as a successful country singer) on Columbia in 1971.
The second Tony Romeo song, “Poor Baby,” was the more outstanding (even though it only peaked at #44). With its organ intro, layered harmonies and strong melody, it is a clinical and comprehensive demonstration of how to record four part harmonies and “a one-way ticket to happy!” “Meet Me At The Wising Well” graced the B-side and gave singles buyers an opportunity to hear a very poignant ballad. Bill’s perfect diction weaves its way through a whimsical set of lyrics in Bill and Bob’s tale of lost romance – or maybe it was more than that:
I’m tossing all my pennies very carefully
Hopefully I’ll see a brighter day
And maybe if we all sat around the wishing well
The world wouldn’t have to go away
MGM tried their luck with a third Tony Romeo song from the album, “The Path Of Love” (from the “Captain Sad” LP), which was issued as a solo 45 by John Cowsill, but this stalled at #132.
OTHER MEDIA INVOLVEMENT
By this time, The Cowsills were touring extensively and getting much exposure in teen magazines, as well as the music industry publications. They appeared on TV shows, such as The Tonight Show, American Bandstand, The Ed Sullivan Show and The Mike Douglas Show. They starred in their own television special called “A Family Thing” in November, 1968 on NBC which guest-starred Buddy Ebsen, “Jed Clampett of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” They were clearly beginning to branch out.
As 1968 came to a close, The Cowsills were recruited to sing the theme song for a film starring David Niven and Ozzie Nelson, “The Impossible Years.” “The battle of the ages! The undergraduates vs. the over-thirties!” read the tag line. Not a bad song, though, written by The Tokens and arranged by Charlie Calello. The flip, “The Candy Kid,” was another Tony Romeo song and that side charted, reaching #118. The theme for a TV show was also in the works, as we will see below. Meanwhile, MGM released a “Best Of” album and it got as high as #127.
Thus Wes Farrell and Tony Romeo’s involvement with the group came to end. The duo still had other irons in the fire. As 1968 came to a close, the Wes Farrell production of the Jim Web song “The Worst That Could Happen” started to climb the charts for The Brooklyn Bridge (led by Johnny Maestro, former leader of The Crests). It peaked at #3. He produced their LP (which charted at #54) together with the first LP by Elephant’s Memory, a group later produced on Apple by John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Two of Farrell’s Elephant’s Memory tracks were used in the film “Midnight Cowboy” earning the group a gold disc for their contribution to the soundtrack. Farrell worked with Paul Anka, helping resurrect his recording career. The Tony Romeo song, “Happy,” recorded in 1969, was Paul Anka’s last chart entry on RCA.
We may be biased – but of all the acts produced by Wes Farrell in the late 60s, The Cowsills were certainly among the strongest musically. It was an association that Wes Farrell was able to use to his advantage later. Sadly we lost Wes Farrell, who was at one time married to Tina Sinatra, in 1996 at age 56. Tony Romeo passed away the prior year, also aged 56.
The American Dairy Association, realizing that the Cowsills were highly marketable, hired them for a campaign to promote milk. A 4-track disc was issued on a mail-in basis. The songs, all group compositions, were made available in the early ’90s by Razor & Tie when they added the tracks to a reissue of the group’s “In Concert” album. Two of the four tracks, “The Milk Song” and “The Fun Song,” were certainly strong enough to have made a great double-sided single.
The “tribal” rock musical “Hair” opened on Broadway in April, 1968. It ran for 1,750 performances and was brought back in 2008, when a Time magazine theater critic noted that “today Hair seems, if anything, more daring than ever.” Back in 1968, it certainly had everything: “sexual experimentation, an openness to drugs” – you get the idea – and for record men, looking for hits, the show was a treasure trove. The 5th Dimension catapulted to #1 with “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” while Oliver, Three Dog Night and The Happenings charted with, “Good Morning Starshine” (#3), “Easy To Be Hard” (#4) and “Where Do I Go/Be In” (#66) respectively.
The Cowsills opted for “Hair” and it became another #2 hit for them in May, 1969. The disc preventing them from reaching #1 was the aforementioned, “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” from the 5th Dimension. It was definitely a “good hair” day! Over at Cash Box, the compilers awarded the #1 slot to The Cowsills. For the tie-in LP, the Cowsills went with a live album recorded at one of their shows and tidied up in the studio. This was their first album without original material but it gave them an opportunity to show more of us how well they could handle songs originally recorded by others. The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer”, The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and The Mamas & The Papas’ “Monday Monday” were all there, as was a version of Peter Paul & Mary’s “The Cruel War” (from 1962), ably sung by Mom, Barbara. It was easily the group’s highest charting album, landing at #16.
THE END OF THE MGM YEARS
With a #2 single, a #16 LP, TV appearances and concert dates, The Cowsills would appear to have been riding high, but their chart success rate began to decline – and rapidly. The next 45, “The Prophecy Of Daniel And John The Divine,” may have been an attempt at a more progressive sound, but the fans were not buying as the disc stalled at #75. The group reverted to more cheerful sounding material for their next 45 which was the theme for the TV show, “Love American Style.” Written by Charles Fox (he later wrote the intro to “Happy Days”), the Cowsills’ theme was used for the first series but then was replaced by a version by the The Ron Hicklin Singers, a group of Los Angeles studio singers, experienced in providing background songs for films, TV shows and jingles. Two key members were John and Tom Bahler, who were also in a group named “The Love Generation” – sounding much like The Cowsills and releasing three LPs on Imperial in the late 60s. Their third album included a cover of Pete Anders and Vini Poncia’s “Sunrise Highway”.
For the “Love American Style” flip, the Cowsills went back to 1962 by reviving a US hit for the UK group The Springfields (home at the time to Dusty Springfield), “Silver Threads And Golden Needles,” which charted at #74. It was their last entry on the Hot 100.
Such a reversal seems ironic at a time when family groups were starting to make a big impression. The Jackson 5, The Osmonds and The Carpenters all stressed their family ties and each had a Top 10 record in 1970. Then there was The Partridge Family, a fictional family group assembled for a TV show that was based on and inspired by The Cowsills. It appears that there was some discussion as to whether or not the Cowsills were going to be recruited to play TV versions of themselves. In any event, the producers had already lined up Shirley Jones to play Mom and filled out the cast with trained actors including Shirley’s stepson, David Cassidy. John and Tom Bahler along with others were hired to provide the music, their vocals were backed by the finest of the West Coast session players, nowadays referred to as the Wrecking Crew. A short while later, Wes Farrell became the show’s music producer bringing Tony Romeo along with him. The first show aired in September 1970 and was an immediate success, eventually being shown in over 70 countries. Tony Romeo’s song, “I Think I Love You,” became the Partridge Family’s first 45 and a #1 hit. Within a period of 18 months, The Partridge Family had amassed four Top-20 albums and five Top-20 singles.
By contrast, The Cowsills’ two 1970 LPs, “II x II” and “All Time Hits,” failed to make even the Top 200. The title track of “II x II” was issued as a 45 but that did not chart either. The album featured “Silver Threads And Golden Needles” and “I Really Want To Know You,” a song written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, which was also on the first Partridge Family LP. “Don’t Look Back” and “Start To Love” were trademark Cowsills’ ballads, while “Anything Changes” came across as a rocker with a “Proud Mary” styled beat. All in all, there was no deterioration in the group’s music.
At this time Bill left the group, supposedly as a result of his father objecting to his marijuana use. MGM had Bill cut a solo LP, “Nervous Breakthrough,” which contained excellent revivals of Betty Everett’s “It’s In His Kiss” and Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want To Be With You”. However, it did not fare any better than the Cowsills’ last two LPs. MGM and the group parted ways.
Meanwhile Bud Cowsill had identified a band named Twice Nicely, whom he thought had potential and offered to manage them. Two of their members, Waddy Wachtel and Judi Pulver, began to play an increasingly important part in the musical life of the Cowsills. Waddy disbanded his group and became a guitar player for The Cowsills. By 1970, he was the producer and arranger of their hit 45, “Silver Threads And Golden Needles.” He also contributed greatly to Bill’s solo album. Judi Pulver collaborated with Bob Cowsill to write two of the cuts on the “II x II” LP.
After MGM, The Cowsills were signed by UK Decca’s US subsidiary, London Records. “On My Side” was the title of the first crucial 45 and album both released in 1971. The song, written by Waddy Wachtell and Judi Pulver, was a driving pop item deserving of a higher place than #108 on Billboard’s singles chart. It was the strongest cut on an album which was a mix of Pop and C&W with one sax-driven rocker, “Good Ole Rock & Roll Song” (written by former Brian Wilson writing partner and producer in his own right, Gary Usher). The rich harmonies were still there. In this regard, one entry stands out: “The Mystery Of Life,” a song written by Bob with the group harmonizing on the chorus line, “Who knows the answer” to great effect. Although the whole family sang on the album, mom Barbara was absent from the group photo on the album cover, as the band tried to reposition themselves. The group strikes a cool looking pose for a shoot that took place in one of the canyons behind Malibu in California.
But it was not to be, as the album peaked at a lowly #200. Two further 45s were issued – one of which, “You (In My Mind)” was written by Warren Zevron – and then London dropped the band. Within a year, The Cowsills had disbanded.
The 1960s was a fast changing decade musically, but you have to wonder why the Cowsills’ slide was so swift and deep. Their vocal harmonies were still among the best out there and they could have killed then-contemporary Top 10 hits such as “Sugar Sugar,” “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye,” “Out In The Country” and “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again.” The aforementioned “I Think I Love You” would also have been a natural for them and, ironically, the Cowsills include this song in their act today.
Musically they were, surely, the equal of the likes of Three Dog Night, The Partridge Family, The 5th Dimension, The First Edition, The Osmonds and The Carpenters. But all these bands had very strong producers such as Bones Howe, Rick Hall, Wes Farrell and Gabriel Mekler – gentlemen who were hip to then-current trends and sought out material by writers such as Laura Nyro, Elton John and Roger Nichols. The Cowsills had not worked with an external producer since they dropped Artie Kornfeld five years earlier. In addition, all of their hit singles were written by (or with) outside writers but the Cowsills – notwithstanding Waddy Wachtel’s late involvement – appeared to turn their back on them, thereby nixing a hit-winning formula of strong external songs (from, say, Artie Kornfeld or Tony Romeo) augmented with their own material.
THE LATER YEARS
The group filed for bankruptcy in 1975, but they continued making music. Bill, Barry, John, Paul and Waddy Wachtel formed a band named Bridey Murphy but only issued one 45, “Be Your Mother’s Son”/”The Time Has Come” on Capitol in 1974.
Of maybe more interest were two 45s on Warners that Susan issued as a solo singer, “It Might As Well Rain Until September” and “Next Time That I See You” in 1976/77. The former added a contemporary feel to Carole King’s self-penned hit from 1962, which, along with “Next Time,” showed that Susan was in there with such ’70s hit makers as Carole, Olivia Newton-John, Linda Ronstadt and Melissa Manchester. “Next Time” also sounds like something UK singer, Sheena Easton might have recorded on her way to “9 To 5 (Morning Train)” stardom in 1980.
As The Cowsills, they released a 45 (with a picture sleeve), “Christmastime (Song For Marissa),” in 1993. An album entitled, “Global” followed with an eventual release in August, 1998. All of the tracks were written by Bob and his wife, Mary Jo. With its obvious power pop credentials, “Global” received solid reviews from members of the rock media with Goldmine Magazine describing one of the tracks, “Is It Any Wonder,” as being “one of the best pop songs of the 1990s.”
Sadly, we have lost family members as mom Barbara passed on in 1985 at age 56 and Bud in 1992 when he was 66. Then, tragically, in 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Barry was found dead in New Orleans, which had become his new home. The pain continued when Bill, who was then living in Canada, passed away on the day of Barry’s Newport memorial service in February 2006. Barry and Bill were aged only 51 and 58 respectively.
But the music continues. Group members have toured with and/or recorded with other bands or as solo artists. Barry has released two full CDs. “As Is” was released in 1998 and “US 1” posthumously in 2009. With those impressive harmony-pop credentials, John began playing keyboards with The Beach Boys and signed on as their full time drummer in 2007. Prior to this, he had played with The Bel Air Bandits (a back-up band for Jan & Dean) in the 1980s, The Surf City All Stars and occasionally with Jan & Dean themselves.
Prior to his passing, Bill, who had moved to Canada in the 1970s performed as a solo artist, and as a member of a Vancouver band, Blue Northern, before forming Blue Shadows who recorded two albums for Sony Canada. Their recordings from 1992 to 1996 (including a revival of Arthur Alexander’s “Soldier Of Love” from 1962) were released in 2010 as a double CD, “On The Floor Of Heaven,” which sports a description, “The (Blue) Shadows are the world’s premier exponents of Beatlesque country and western; their vocal harmonies are uncannily like early Beatles, while their songs have the deep-fried southern twang of vintage Hank Williams.” There is a strong country bias, but excellent tracks such as “Think On It” would have slotted in well with “Peaceful Easy Feelin’” on the first Eagles LP in 1972.
But the lion’s share of recording activity (certainly in recent years) belongs to Susan, who also maintains a diary chock full of recording and tour dates – overseas as well as in the US. Starting with Dwight Twilley’s band in the mid-1980s, she formed the Pyscho Sisters with Vicki Peterson (formerly of the Bangles) in 1992. Both became members of The Continental Drifters, along with Susan’s first husband Peter Holsapple (of the dBs) and her second husband, Russ Broussard. She currently has a solo career as leader of her own band, The Susan Cowsill Band. Her first-ever solo album, “Just Believe It”, was released in late 2005 and she followed through with “Lighthouse” in 2009. The songs here are mostly written by Susan and Russ with one interesting exception, “Galveston,” a Jim Webb song with which Glen Campbell entered the Hot 100 forty years earlier on March 1, 1969. Two weeks later, Susan entered the Hot 100 as a member of the Cowsills as they began their 15 week chart run with “Hair.” The Cowsills had moved to California by this time, so we wonder if another entry on this same Hot-100, “To Susan On The West Coast Waiting,” was not a tribute by Donovan to a very fine artist who was then a member of Rhode Island’s most famous group, The Cowsills.
COWSILLS’ CAREER CELEBRATED – AND FAMILY LIFE SCRUTINIZED –
AT PREMIERE OF DOCUMENTARY FILM
by Rick Bellaire
The extraordinarily bright and shining career of Rhode Island’s first family of music was celebrated and the dark side of their domestic turmoils was revealed, all in the space of 90 minutes, during the world premiere of “Family Band: The Cowsills Story.” The screening took place at The Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence, Rhode Island, on August 10, 2011 at a showcase presented by Flickers 15th Annual Rhode Island International Film Festival.
Directors Louise Palanker and Bill Filipiak (with the guidance and insight of Bob Cowsill, the family’s primary motivator for the documentary) have assembled a truly wonderful, all encompassing picture of life at the top of the music business in the 1960s as well its pitfalls and aftermath. Along with Cowsill and Director of Photography Ian Broyles, the directors assembled a comprehensive collection of historical footage of the group and drove the narrative with contemporary interviews with all seven of the Cowsill siblings and members of their extended family. (Manager/dad Bud and singer/mom Barbara are deceased.) Shot and edited over the course of seven years, the family and directors were most lucky to have in-depth interview footage with Bill, the band’s original leader and driving force, and Barry, both of whom have passed away since production was begun.
Other highlights of the evening included a Q&A session with performing members Susan, Paul and Bob as well as Richard, the only Cowsill family member who was not actively involved in the band. (The fourth remaining sibling band member, John, was not available for the occasion due to commitments with his regular “day job” – he is the full time drummer for The Beach Boys!) The audience participation segment was followed by a terrific acoustic set with the three vocalists backed only by Bob’s acoustic guitar. The evening was topped off by a “meet and greet” reception.
Update March 10, 2013
The film won the Best Documentary Grand Prize at the R.I. festival and has since been screened to great reviews at several other festivals. Thanks to the overwhelmingly positive response to its festival screenings, the film will enter general release with 14 airings on Showtime and affiliated stations during March, 2013.
Update April 21, 2013
At the time of their induction into the Rhode Island Music Hall Of Fame on April 28, 2013, “Family Band: The Cowsills Story” had been released on DVD which includes a second disc with 90 minutes of outtakes and bonus material.
To listen to the Cowsills’ music on CD, please try the following, although some may now be out of print:
The Best Of The Cowsills: The Millennium Collection (Polydor)
Best of The Cowsills (Universal)
Best of The Cowsills (Collectables)
The Cowsills (1st MGM LP + Philips’ 45s) (Now Sounds) UK
We Can Fly (Collector’s Choice)
Captain Sad And His Ship Of Fools (LP + bonus tracks) (Now Sounds) UK
Painting The Day: The Angelic Psychedelia Of The Cowsills
(II x II LP + bonus tracks) (El Records) UK
In Concert (LP + tracks from”Milk” EP) (Razor & Tie)
On My Side (LP + bonus tracks) (Now Sounds) UK
The Rain The Park And Other Things (Universal International) UK
For more information on the Cowsills and the various group members, including information on newer recordings, please consult:
THE COWSILLS DISCOGRAPHY: Original Releases
by Mike Edwards & Rick Bellaire
All I Really Want To Be Is Me b/w And The Next Day Too (Joda 103)
Most Of All b/w Siamese Cat (Philips 40382)
What’s It Gonna Be Like b/w Party Girl (Philips 40406)
A Most Peculiar Man b/w Could It Be, Let Me Know (Philips 40437)
The Rain, The Park And Other Things b/w River Blue (MGM 13810)
We Can Fly b/w A Time For Remembrance (MGM 13886)
In Need Of A Friend b/w Mister Flynn (MGM 13909)
Indian Lake b/w Newspaper Blanket (MGM 13944)
Poor Baby b/w Meet Me At The Wishing Well (MGM 13981)
The Candy Kid b/w The Impossible Years (MGM 14011)
Hair b/w What Is Happy? (MGM 14026)
Prophecy Of Daniel & John The Divine b/w Gotta Get Away From It All (MGM 14063)
Silver Threads And Golden Needles b/w Love American Style (MGM 14084)
11 x 11 b/w Start To Love (MGM 14106)
On My Side b/w There Is A Child (London 149)
You b/w Crystal Claps (London 153)
Blue Road b/w Covered Wagon (London 170)
Christmastime (Song For Marissa) b/w Some Good Years (Rockville 6139-7)
The Path Of Love b/w Captain Sad And His Ship Of Fools (MGM 14003)
When Everybody’s here b/w Wish I Could Say The Same Thing About You (MGM 14166)
It Might As Well Rain Until September b/w Mohammed’s Radio (Warner Bros. 8232)
The Next Time That I See You b/w I Think Of You (Warner Bros. 8333)
The Time Has come b/w Be Your Mother’s Son (Capitol 3975)
The Cowsills Collector’s Record presented by
The American Diary Association (MGM PEP-1/Mail Order)
The Milk Song
All My Days
Nothing To do
The Fun Song
The Cowsills (MGM 4498)
The Rain, The Park And Other Things
La Rue De Soliel
Thinkin’ About The Other Side
Dreams Of Linda
Gettin’ Into That Sunny Feelin’ Again
That’s My Time Of Day
(Stop, Look) Is Anyone There?
How Can I Make You See
(Come ‘Round Here) I’m The One You Need
A Most Peculiar Man
Most Of All
What’s I Gonna Be Like
Hold On Tight
I Know, Know, Know I’ll Never Love, Love
Love Theme From Haight Street*
If You Gotta Go (Go Now)*
*performed by The Lincoln Park Zoo
We Can Fly
Gray Sunny Day
A Time For Remembrance
Gotta Get Away From It All
What Is Happy, Baby?
In Need Of A Friend
One Man Show
Captain Sad And His Ship Of Fools
Make The Music Flow
Ask The Children
Who Can Teach A Bird To Sing
The Path Of Love
Meet Me At The Wishing Well
The Fantasy World Of Harry Faversham
Painting The Day
Can’t Measure The Cost Of A Woman Lost
Captain Sad And His Ship Of Fools
Gotta Get Away From It All
Gray Sunny Day
In Need Of A Friend
The Path Of Love
A Time For Remembrance
We Can Fly
The Rain, The Park And Other Things
Walk Away Renee
Please Mr. Postman
The Cruel War
The Sunshine Of Your Love
Reach Out, I’ll Be There)
Good Golly Miss Molly/Devil With A Blue Dress On
II x II
I Really Want To Know You
Start To Love
Silver Threads and Golden Needles
The Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine
Don’t Look Back
The Rain, The Park And Other Things
We Can Fly
The Candy Kid
In Need Of A Friend
Love American Style
The Path Of Love
On My Side
Once There Was A Time
If You Can’t Have It – Knock It
Can You Love
The Mystery Of Life
There Is A Child
Cheatin’ On Me
Down On The Farm
Good Ole Rock & Roll Song
When Everybody’s Here
Take The Gun
The Same About You
I Only Want To Be With You
End Of The World
The Shoop Shoop Song (In He Kiss)
II x II
What About Love
Under The Gun
She Said To Me
You’ve Got No Time
Cross That Line
What I Believe
I Be Low
Is It Any Wonder?
Some Good Years
Palm of My Hand
Just Believe It (For Kelly)
I Know You Know
Who Knows Where the Time Goes (For MC)
White Light of Winter
Crescent City Snow*
previously released independently (Susan Cowsill, 2004)
and in Europe (Blue Rose 338, 2005) without the last two tracks
Lighthouse (Threadhead 12)
Avenue of the Indians
Sweet Bitter End
You and Me Baby [for Miranda]
River of Love
Could This Be Home
The Way That It Goes
Crescent City Sneaux