Number one in heaven : the heroes who died for rock 'n' roll
by Luke Vibert
London Viking - 2006
Thursday 31 (January 1985)
(Barbara C Russell - Newport, Rhode Island, 12 July 1928)
Marked as a sort of real-life Partridge Family (before the TV group emerged to steal their thunder), the whiter-that-white Cowsills enjoyed two years of US chart success during the last few years of the sixties. The band was made up of five brothers, Bill and Bob (both guitars), Paul (keyboards), Barry (bass) and John (drums), sister Susan (percussion) and mom Barbara (lead vocals) - the wife and children of naval officer/singer Bud Cowsill. Barbara Cowsill had been encouraged to join the group at thirty-eight by producer Artie Kornfeld, who promoted her on the debut hit, "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" (1967). The single was a smash, selling over a million copies in the States, and was only prevented from hitting number one by The Monkees. More hits came in the shape of "We Can Fly", "Indian Lake" (both in 1968) and the theme from Hair - another million-seller (1969).
The Cowsills' career hit the rocks only when the group declined an offer from ABC to make a TV series of their activities - in the wake of the success of The Monkees. The company required younger singer/actress Shirley Jones to play Barbara's role - which the family were understandable upset by. It cost them dearly; Jones took the part of 'singing mom' in The Partridge Family - and the David Cassidy-starring group took the Cowsills' place as pop music's top family act. Declaring bankruptcy, The Cowsills split in 1972 Barbara Cowsill took menial work to make ends meet. Her death from emphysema in 1985 remained a secret for years, thought it now appears she passed away while working a shift at an Arizona nursing home.
See also Barry Cowsill (September 2005). Bud Cowsill survived his wife by seven years, while Bill Cowsill died early in 2006.
(Newport, Rhode Island, 15 September 1954)
As the toothsome young bassist with America's most wholesome family act, Barry Cowsill appeared the perfect antidote for parents 'concerned' by the activities of bands such as The Grateful Dead. When ambitious father Bud Cowsill bought him his first instrument Barry - one of six siblings - made his first tentative move towards stardom playing with his brothers in the earliest incarnation of The Cowsills when ten years old. Between 1967 and 1970, the group could do little wrong; two singles, "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" (1967) and "Hair" (1969) both raced to US number two, selling over a million apiece. The group had been touted as the next TV sensation after The Monkees, but the refusal of The Cowsills to play alongside actress Shirley Jones (as opposed to their own mother, Barbara, the erstwhile singer) brought their moment of fame to an abrupt halt. It's reported that MGM label boss Mike Curb dropped the group for its association with 'a musical that promoted drug use'.
Barry Cowsill's later life could not have been in starker contrast to that of his childhood. Divorce alienating him from his children, he slipped into depression and (genuine) drug abuse. Although he'd recorded a solo album in 1998 and six years later had reunited for a one-off-performance with his family (minus both parents, who had passed away some years before), the musician had clearly not shaken his problems, having been charged with make nuisance calls to a former partner. Cowsill had been due to re-enter rehab in September 2005 when his New Orleans home was among the thousands struck by Hurricane Katrina. While other noted musicians - Fats Domino and Alex Chilton among them - were found alive and well, Barry Cowsill's drowned body was finally identified by dental records on 28 December 2005. The date of his death can thus only be approximated - as can that of metal singer Glenn Rambo, the other noted musician killed in the cataclysm.