The Cowsills In Books

The Da Capo Book of American Singing Groups: A History, 1940-1990
by Jay Warner
DaCapo Press; 1 edition April 4, 2000


on Page 37:

"The phrase "keeping it in the family" applied to numerous singing groups, including the Boswell Sis of the 1930s the THE JACKSON FAMILY in the '70s. Some families who took it even further than the brother and sister level acts were THE RONETTES (two sisters and a cousin), THE COWSILLS (a mother and seven children), THE STAPLE SINGERS (dad and the four kids), and of course the King Family, which at one time included a near battalion of relatives."

on Page 345:
The Cowsills
Proponents of the late '60s "good time" sound in rock and roll, the Cowsills were the quintessential American family group, consisting of five brothers, a sister, and their mother. To round it out, dad managed the Newport, Rhode Island, septet. Bob (17), Bill (19), Barry (13), Paul (15), John (11), Susan (7), and mama Barbara began their odyssey into entertainment doing local shows and landing a one-shot record deal with recording artist Johnny Nash's Joda label. The only single with Joda, "All I Really Want To Be Is Me" never got off the ground, but performance-wise they were becoming regulars on the New York City club circuit.

The Cowsills, who probably the widest age gap between members (Susan was 7 in 1967 and mom was 38) since the Pop Staples and his Staple singing daughters, were spotted by MGM Records, who soon had them in the studio recording their first of eight LPs.

Artie Cornfeld was producing and writing with songwriter Steve Duboff when they hit upon the ideal vehicle for the septet. "The Rain, The Park, and Other Things" was recorded that summer and ascended to number two on the Billboard Pop charts the week of December 2. Only The Monkees "Daydream Believer" kept it from the top chart position.

Their lively and youthful harmonies along with their fresh-scrubbed good looks set them up as immediate teen idol material, and their top 20 second hit "We Can Fly" kept the image alive and thriving in early 1968. ("We Can Fly" was similar to THE 5TH DIMENSIONS "Up Up and Away" from the summer of 1967.) Bright, energetic ___ on their first 2 LPs by such industry pros as Jimmy Wisner, Herb Bernstein, Charles (FOUR SEASONS) Calello, coupled with the surprisingly tight, high, up-front harmony, gave the Cowsills an upbeat identity. Add that to a collection of teen-dream contempary songs and you had a nitch carved that one reviewer called "____ (psychedelic??) pop.

"In Need Of A Friend" (March 1968) paid homage to the sound of THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS, but the Cowsills' writing and production effort ran out of steam at number 54, prompting MGM to look for an outside producer. They came up with the boy wonder Wes Farrell, who had just turned a band from Greenwich Village into a top 10 success for MGM with "Come On Down To My Boat" (#6, July 1967). Farrell put songwriter Tony Romeo on the case and he came up with a delightful piece of hook-laden pop titled "Indian Lake." The Farrell-produced "trip to the country" was an instant radio favorite in the summer of 1968, reaching Billboards #10 position. From teen magazine and milk commercials to Las Vegas and their very own special on NBC, the Cowsills had in less than a year became a phenomenon.

With the groups' Bill and Bob back at the production helm in early 1969, the Cowsills recorded the title song from the nationally acclaimed Broadway musical Hair. The song, alternately stirring, driving, and bouncy, was perfectly suited for the Rhode Island family. Hair locked into the chart on March 15th and reached number two the week of May 19th. Ironically the record keeping them out of the number one spot was another song from Hair, "Aquarius/Let The Sun Shine In" by the 5th Dimension.

There was talk of a TV series based on their lives, but the group nixed it when TV honchos wanted to us an established star to play Barbara.

By mid-1969 the groups recordings were becoming less and less commercial as indicated by their titles "The Prophecy of Daniel and John The Devine", "Six, Six, Six" (#75), and "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" (#74).

In 1970 that TV show was made, with Shirley Jones (as mom) and David Cassidy leading the Partridge Family through three years of pop hits and high ratings.

In 1970 the Cowsills became tired of touring, and with no chart singles to carry their clean-cut image into the emerging anithero '70s, the act disbanded.

Barbara died in 1985 while working on a night shift at a nursing home in Rhode Island. By the late 80s, Susan was living in Burbank, California, doing backup singing for Dwight Twilley and Tom Petty. Bob was also living in California, married with five kids and performing in local clubs. John was performing with Jan & Dean. Paul, married with two children, was Helen Reddy's roadie and then entered the construction business. Bill was living in Canada and performing. Barry was in Monterey, California, with his wife and two children. The Cowsills finally felt it was time to regroup when a deejay at WZLX-FM in Boston did an interview with Bob in 1989. They had turned down numerous offers to reform as an oldies act in the '70s and '80s but on July 3, 1990, the Cowsills played their first concert in 20 years at a club called Zanzibar in Boston. The group consisted of original members Bob, Paul, John, Sue, and bass player Cecil Duke. The night was enhanced by the presence of fans such as the Beach Boys and Paula Abdul. Buoyed by the experience, the group began work on original material for a comeback LP.

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