William "Billy" Joseph Cowsill, Jr.
January 9, 1948 - February 18, 2006

Billy was a presence to be dealt with for sure. Here are some Billy stories taken from message boards, emails, magazine articles and various other places.


Thanks to Donna Shaw for sharing the following email:

Well first of all, Billy sang all of the vocals not just the harmonies and I am that Leon Portelance.

I wrote the song shortly after John Lennon was assassinated. He was one of my heroes and the song was meant as a tribute to him. It was originally called "December 8th, 1980" but I renamed it "Twenty Years Ago Today (A tribute to John Lennon)" when I re-released it on the 20th anniversary of John's death in 2000. I am now remixing it and it will be mastered at Abbey Road. It will be re-released very soon on the CD, "A Little Bit Crazy," by Vinny's Last Ride (my band) with Billy as the guest vocalist as it is as much a tribute to him now as it is to John. The original mix you have is good, but the remix is going to be awesome!

I met Billy in the early 80s at Bullfrog Studios in Vancouver, BC, Canada (I was a part owner). I played Billy the song and he loved it and told me he wanted to sing it. We stayed up almost all night in the office at Bullfrog, me playing every Beatle's song I knew on an acoustic guitar and Billy singing each one flawlessly. If I closed my eyes, it was like John and Paul were in the room with me. Billy had an uncanny ability to mimic other singers. He claimed he imagined what they felt like when they sang the song, how their throat felt, how they breathed.

A week or so later, Billy came into the studio and sang all of the vocals for the song in about 4 hours. I engineered and we both produced it as we went along. Billy was awesome to work with, so incredibly talented. I was very sad to hear of his passing. I wish I had of had the opportunity to do more music with him, but I feel privileged just to have know him.

Leon Portelance

After posting pictures from my Rock 'n' Roll days, I started to get a bit nostalgic... I looked up an old friend from back then to see what he might be doing these days only to find out he passed away in February.

A great musician, producer, incredible singer and friend, Billy Cowsill died on February 18, 2006. Only a couple of months earlier his brother Barry had drowned in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Billy was in Blue Northern and The Blue Shadows, but his greatest success was as lead singer with the 1960s family band The Cowsills with such hits as "Hair" and "Indian Lake." Appearances on Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson just a part of all that success!

In this picture I was working in the studio with Billy on a few songs for his friend Ray O'Toole. I worked off and on with Billy, a couple of years after this Ray and Billy had asked me to come on tour with them as sound engineer, but I turned them down because I didn't like being on the road all the time.

- alias jl


I was at work one day and had to wash up before I started the delicate job of splicing some old audio tape (the oil from your hands can ruin the stuff in a flash), I zipped into the mens room and someone was having a cigarette in one of the stalls. I remarked as I washed my hands that if they kept it up one of the smoke detectors was going to go off and force both the AM and FM off the air while the staff went outside until we received the all clear. NOT what you want to be doing during radio sweeps week!

All the voice said was "ain't nobody here", since I didn't recognize the voice I asked "aint nobody here but who???" and the voice replied "aint nobody here but Billy Bud Cowsill" and the door swung open and there he was standing with a big grin.

The interview was a guaranteed success from that moment on! He was in the studio to talk about his Blue Shadows project with a fellow Canadian named Jeffrey Hatcher. Both are A-1 guys, happy to talk to anyone... no ego's at all. I last spoke to him about 2 years ago, but since he's been single again he moves around a lot and its easier for him to find you than the other way around.

source unknown

I live in Calgary, Alberta (so did Billy) and when he started his latest band The Co-dependents I went to see them many, many times. At least ten times probably more. If you haven't heard the two cds they released buy them immediately they are sooooo good. My favorite live act to go see around town. I could bring anyone to these shows and they would instantly become fans. It was Billy's voice (the voice of an angel) that drew everyone in.

I met Billy a few times over the past few years and he was always very gracious and kind signing Cowsill cds, Blue Shadows cds and Co-dependents cds. Unfortunately with Billy's increasing health problems he became unable to play with the Co-dependents and they started doing shows without him (eventually calling themselves The Joe-Defendents) The band was still great without Billy (they are top notch solid musicians singers) but the real spark was missing.

Random Billy memory:
I saw one show they played at the Ship and Anchor pub during the Calgary Stampede a few years ago that was unbelievable. The first few songs were stellar but then in the middle of a song Billy fell backward and went down awkward and hard. He was clearly suffering from hip and back problems and was upset about it. He just left the stage and the band was forced to carry on without him. It was hard to watch but I can't forget how despite the physical and chemical problems he faced he always sounded so good.

Another story:
I have done some recording with local recording engineer Dave Alcock who runs a great local studio Sundae Sound. He shared a story about recording a few still unreleased Billy Cowsill songs that he wished to contribute to a songs-in-the-style of Hank Williams. The story is long but the short version is that he was blown away by Billy's vocal arrangement talents as he dealt out these complex parts to people and that when they were al laid down the results was beautiful. One thing that Dave shared with me that has stayed with me is that when recording this one song Billy sang the whole song except a section with some really high notes. Dave asked Billy why he skipped that bit and Billy said "that's the high note, we'll come back to it". They finished the rest of the vocal and it was time for the high note and Billy was in the vocal room and began to punch himself in the throat! Dave was freaked out and asked him on the talkback what he was doing and Billy said "just warming up and loosening up the vocal chords". Dave mentioned that he had recorded some aboriginal pow-wow and that some of the singers would also manipulate their throat to increase their range. Sure enough Billy's vocal had many in studio welling up with tears. A killer vocal and many had a feeling that Billy might not get too many more opportunities to record with his deteriorating health.

Final recollection and my personal favorite:
On Saturday January 21, 2006 I went to the Ship and Anchor pub where they were having their open stage jam. Tim Leacock (Bass player and vocalist in The Co-Dependents) was a special guest playing some of his own stuff and a few covers. In the front watching him was Billy Cowsill! Tim sounded great and Billy and everyone else was enjoying his performance. I live about a block away so after Tim's set I raced home and grabbed a few cds and went back to the Ship. I first approached Tim and got him to sign the new Co-Dependents cd"Live at the Mecca Cafe Volume 2". He was happy to sign and said "Do you know who is sitting over there?". I said yes, and I just wanted to see if it was cool to go and bug him for an autograph. I didn't want to bother or upset Billy and appear stalkerish. Tim said "I bet he would be honoured, if you don't mind him getting barbecue sauce all over your cd covers" (Billy was eating some pub snacks at the time). I asked Tim how Billy was doing (The news of his brother's death was pretty fresh and Billy's health was clearly not so great - he was hooked up to a small portable oxygen supply). Tim said "about as good as can be expected". Tim also asked if I wanted to play at the open stage and generously offered to let me borrow his guitar but I declined as I was feeling a bit nervous (another regret).

Anyway I went over sheepishly and introduced myself and asked if I could get an autograph and Billy smiled warmly and said "of course". I didn't want to mention his health or his brother so I just took out my Co-Dependents cd and he signed it "From Bill Cowsill". Then I took out The Blue Shadows - On the Floor of Heaven cd and asked him to sign that too. At this he really lit up and said "you have that?" I told him that I was a big fan and that I had seen him play with the Blue Shadows twice and with the Co-Dependents at least ten times. He signed it (he was a bit shaky and appeared to be medicated) To Rich Keep On Rockin From Billy Cowsill. I remember this exchange very well. I said "Billy, you have a voice of gold” he looked flattered and he gave me a hug. Tim was looking on and he smiled. I thanked both of them
Rich P.

In the late '70s, a teenage guitar player from Saskatchewan was standing in the pouring rain at a bus stop in downtown Calgary, wondering where his next meal and gig was coming from. As the story goes, a van being driven by a gentleman named ELMAR SPANIER noticed the guitar case by the young man's feet. He quickly jammed on the brakes pulled over through traffic, rolled down the window and yelled at this Opey-type kid, "Hey do you know how to play that thing?" The young man said, "Yes, of course I know how to play it." Spanier told the kid to jump in if he wanted a gig. Spanier was on his way to a music shop in downtown Calgary in search of a guitarist to fill the shoes of their recently fired guitar player. When they got back to the club, he told the kid to set up his guitar and he would go upstairs and get the "boss man" to see if the kid could cut it. The "boss man?" BILLY COWSILL. The young gun guitar slinger? COLIN JAMES. The rest is Canadian music history
Dave C.
Colin posted the following on Billy's Memorial Book:
I had the pleasure of calling Billy Cowsill my friend. I played guitar in his band for 2 years and have the fondest memories of his sense of humour and awesome talent.
He really was one of the coolest people I've ever met.
He was the serious $##@!
Dark(humour), funny,encouraing,impossible,talented....
I love you buddy....
Rock on! (I know you will)

One evening we were at the bar in Yesterday’s. We spent a lot of time there because we stayed at the Jailhouse Inn, and it was just a parking lot away. TRTPAOT was the only Cowsill song on the jukebox. We must have played it a hundred times. Billy was there in a booth somewhere across the room - maybe he was with Bob. I’m sure they were sick of hearing that song, and maybe we WERE doing it to annoy them. I don’t really remember. We had a few beers and decided to be cute and played the Partridge Family, afterwards adding as loud as we could that “The Partridge Family rules!” And he shouted “All right knock it off!” just like in “The Fun Song”. I don’t know if he was trying to be funny or he was serious – it really didn’t matter. We all got a kick out of it.
Tracy P.

He related a story to me that speaks volumes about his character. When Billy was living at 1835 Recovery Acres in Calgary he realized that it would be easier to kick his bad habits if he avoided the bars for a while. One day a friend asked Billy if he would like to accompany him to visit a boy in hospital who was in a coma. Billy brought along his guitar and although the lad was comatose, he played him some music. To everyone's amazement, the boy responded to Billy's music. For the next several months Billy played nowhere but hospitals and nursing homes.

I remember the day our son Josh was born, Billy was very, very excited and Suzie had a great pregnancy but a really tough labor and delivery and so I was in the room with her the next day and our GP had showed up and he’s holding on to Josh and you know kind of checking everything out. Checking that Suzanne is fine. Well Billy bursts into the room. He’s got a teddy bear and a bouquet of flowers and a balloon and I thought “Poor Holiday, our doctor” I thought he was going to keel over, this guy cuz he was such a bull in a china shop. “Give me that kid, doc.” And the doctor looks at me and I’m like “It’s OK.” He said, “Give me the kid. I got two of my own.” And he grabs him and he’s bouncing him around the room.

During the early eighties, I worked in the same Vancouver office as Billy Cowsill's manager, Maureen Jack. I was sitting at the reception desk one day when this guy walked up and, in an eastern American accent, asked for Billy. When I asked who he was, he said "Barry". I know they hadn't seen each other for some time, and don't remember if Billy was expecting Barry that day. The look on Billy's face when he saw his brother and they embraced was pure joy. Their love and affection for each other was obvious and touching. When I heard of Billy's demise, I thought of that moment over twenty years ago and truly hope they have, once again, joyfully reunited.
Naida G.

Im one of Billys backstreet friends yeah. Union Ironworker/Rig Weldor. He used to come with me after a gig at Darbys (4th and Mcdonald Van BC). Im from Alberta and come from a cowboy family on my mothers side Billings Montana. I always wore my right pant leg inside my cornkicker yeah lol. Billy was livin in the back seat of his caddy in those days. He loved riding around in my welding truck we would listen to JR Country and get whacked yeah. I always got the impression that he wished he could do my job. If he hadnt played guitar/sang im sure he would have been a good ironworker/weldor yeah lol
John U.

This text is taken from a video that can be found on youtube.com.

The Ghost of Billy Cowsill

Please check out this video. It is very beautifully done.


The Ghost of Billy Cowsill

this is a true story

when I was lost and broke and tired

and too high to knock on the few doors I had left

I would come here

and I would go to sleep

It was Billy Cowsill’s old car

He had died a few months before

in the house right next to this car

and even though he hardly knew me

He left me his ring

to remind me that I would make it out of here

so here I was sleeping in Billy’s car

with the windows too dusty for anyone to see me

and even though I was sort of lost in the world

I was happy sleeping in Billy’s car

I was OK

Billy’s ghost made me feel at home

and even though it wasn’t the best of situations

And even though I was a crack addict

in the car outside Billy’s house I felt hope

I didn’t know Billy Cowsill very well
but sometimes I really miss him


I had heard that he was unwell, but I had no idea what was involved. In fact, he was just coming back home from the hospital. I made my way over to the car as Billy opened the door. I introduced myself, and as he shook my hand I told him I wished him nothing but the best. He suddenly reached up and stroked the side of my face. I was stunned by such a loving gesture -- and particularly from "Wild Billy C."

Billy lived in the apartment above mine. I could hear him singing sometimes; Hank Williams songs mostly. It was amazing that a guy with only part of one lung left would use it to sing! What a spirit.

I would see him come and go from time to time as I sat getting some real air on the front porch. One afternoon he slowly got out of his friend's car and started to painfully make his way across the front lawn. With a portable oxygen tank over his shoulder, a clear plastic tube around his face, and with the aid of a walker he headed around the side of the house to his place. But as he passed me I said: "I don't know Cowsill...you don't look so tough. I think I could take ya'." He stopped in his tracks and with all his strength pushed himself up off the walker and balancing precariously rolled both his hands into fists. Then he looked at me as if to say: Come on, ya' miserable son of a _____! It was priceless, and we both laughed. He appreciated all the love and support he was getting -- and we should be so lucky to have the kind he had if and when we need it -- but he also appreciated having someone who'd joke around with him.

Several months later we both happened to get up early Christmas morning. As the house was a cracker box, you could hear just about everything...whether you wanted to or not. I heard his electric coffee grinder, so I knew he was up. I thought I'd give him a hour to enjoy his coffee. I then went upstairs and knocked on his door. He called me in and as I entered I said that I only wanted to wish him a Merry Christmas. He was happy to see me, and as we shook hands I told him how much I loved and respected him. He gestured me forward and hugged me. I nearly exploded in tears.

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