History 101

For a short answer to "Where are the Cowsills now?" or "Whatever happened to the cowsills?", click here.

The following is your "not so normal" history of The Cowsills. Yes, it has the basics, but I hope I've added some not as well known facts. See the end for a list of references. (Also some random facts have been added on a Did You Know... page.) You can relive the "old days" with some old 16 Magazine and Tiger Beat articles and A Family Thing tribute too. Now don't you agree The Cowsills Should Be In The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame !!

The Cowsills are a musical band comprised - in the beginning - of all family members. Upon returning from a stint at sea one year, Bud Cowsill presented Bill and Bob (7 and 8 at the time) with a 4-string guitar, which they taught themselves to play (after a man named Jack Johnson showed them a few chords). Bob recalled in Newport in 2000, the strange feeling it is now, to think back to those early days, as children playing guitars on Johnny Flanders porch. During the time they lived in Canton, Ohio, Bill and Bob were on a Cleveland show called, "Spotlight on Talent." The boys were used to singing in their local Catholic church where they were told they "sang like angels."

(Added 4/01/06)
But was "Spotlight on Talent" the FIRST Cowsills TV appearance? Humm not so sure. An email from Dan Fitzgerald shares the following story:
"It must have been about 1960 when the Cowsill's made their first television appearance and I will tell you the story.

My father was a violin/fiddle player and had his own band and radio show every Saturday on WHBC in the 1950's. Billy and I were the same age and both of our families lived at Meyers Lake in Canton, Ohio we were best friends. When we were kids we were in scouts and went just about everywhere together. Billy and Bob started getting interested in playing guitars and started having some 'sessions' with my dad at our home and they got pretty good.

Bud and Barb arranged for them to be on a local talent show that aired in Cleveland Ohio on NBC. It was called the Gene Carroll Show and was on every Sunday morning around 11:00 AM. Bud, Barb, Billy and Bob stopped by my house and picked me up on a Saturday and we drove to Cleveland for the taping. I remember that we were in a room that was only about 12 X 12 in the studio and we were all surprised how small it was. Billy and Bob sang "Your Cheatin' Heart" and if I remember correctly, they only had to sing it once to get a good tape. They wore suits and ties and looked really sharp. It was aired the following day, Sunday and can remember how thrilled we all were by the experience. That was the beginning and am guessing that it was about 1959 or 60 and I think we were all still in grade school. Just seems appropriate that they should end up in Cleveland if the induction takes place, doesn't it?

After they moved to Rhode Island, I used to go visit with them every summer. I came across an old picture of the first house that they lived in when they moved back. I remember being so impressed with the old house and location right on the ocean. No one is in the picture, it is just their house and white 1960 Ford station wagon that was their family car at the time."

The house Dan visited
(we think the Indian Ave house)
right on the ocean
Photo: Dan Fitzgerald

The famous Alligator Rock
at this house
Photo: Dan Fitzgerald

Susan responded to a question about the significance of Alligator Rock once as follows:

"Well....lets see, we use to jump off it, smash glass jars filled with live bee's on it, and then run like hell!!!!!....ummm,,,,I sleepedwalked out on to it once when I was five.....pick periwinkles off of it and then boil them in water and eat them with a straight pin...............find shelter from the wind after long luxurious days down on gray rock beach,,,,,and last but certainly not least spread our brothers Bill and Barry 's ashes there. I think that covers it. How lucky you are to have lived at such a beautiful place. It is one of my favorite places we lived. I would like to buy it someday. "

Barry joined the group around the age of seven playing drums. Once John had made it to the magic age of seven, Barry moved over to bass guitar to make room for John on drums. Their goal: To become the American Beatles. Their first performance as a foursome was at the Red Men's Carnival at King's Park in Newport, Rhode Island (In 1965 this carnival was held July 4-10th), just down the hill from their home of Halidon Hall. The four boys (billed as The Cowsill Brothers) started playing for fraternity parties and the likes at Brown University and Providence College, along with a host of clubs in the Newport area. The boys played Beatles songs for up to 4 hours a night, several nights a week. The M.K.Hotel, Bambi's, Dorian's and The Bastille were regulars spots to play. (Richard once told of one club where John was too young to play in, so they had to set his drums and microphone up on the second floor and run the chords down to the main room.) (Added 7/1/15-->) According to comments on garagehangover.com, The Cowsills also spent some time during those early years playing the Warren Canteen (in Warren, Rhode Island.) (Added 11/1/18-->) Another place that The Cowsills played back in those early days was a place called Rocky Point Amusement Park on Narragansett Bay Warrick, R.I. (according to newspaper and posts on artinruins message board)

The four Cowsill boys recorded a single on JODA (JOnny Nash and DAnny Simms) in 1965 with the songs, "All I Really Want To Be Is Me" along with "And The Next Day Too". The boys went on to record several singles on the Philips label, including, "Party Girl/What's It Gonna Be Like", "A Most Peculiar Man/Could It Be", and "Most Of All/Siamese Cat".

It was in one of these Newport clubs that a producer for The Today Show happened in one evening and inquired as to if the boys would like to be on TV. Jumping at the chance, this was the start of their national career. The Cowsills were, in fact, the first entertainers EVER to perform on The Today Show. Also during this 1966 time frame, The Cowsills were a part of a big show played in Yankee Stadium. Soundblast '66! was a show that included The Cowsills, The Beach Boys, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and others.

Mercury Records picked them up here, releasing The Cowsills Plus The Lincoln Park Zoo but soon dropped the group. Without a contract, they went into the studio and recorded an Artie Kornfield (one of the main folks in the original Woodstock)/Steve Duboff song, "The Rain, The Park and Other Things", and Lenny Stogel took the package to MGM who signed The Cowsills and added Barbara to the group. (By the way, Bob say the video of TRTP&OT with the little train was shot at Griffith Park in Los Angeles.)

The Cowsills were off and running. Success was all theirs. They appear on almost every popular show at the time and had their own NBC special, A Family Thing, which aired November 28, 1968. This was the only time The Cowsills worked with a choreographer. What the Cowsills boys found was happening was the music side being made less important to the producers, and the production side a greater priority. Susan had joined the group now and Bill and Bob, especially, found it hard to carry on their musical dreams. They represented the country at the San Remo Music Festival in 1968, stopping off in London, England on the way there where they placed at the Hachett's Club. The Cowsills were one of the first (if not THE first) celebrities with a million dollar contract for product endorsement, as they became spokespersons for the American Dairy Association. They released a 4-song EP for the ADA. (At the end of The Fun Song you can hear Bill yelling, "Alright knock it off" to his siblings.) Bill was caught smoking pot by his father in 1970 and was kicked out of the group. The Cowsills disbanded professionally around 1972 and went to solo careers for the most part. Then, due to bad management and investments, the Cowsills filed for bankruptcy in 1975. Bridey Murphy, (Paul, Bill, Barry and Waddy Wachtel) was formed in the mid 70's, but didn't last long.

Now, the burning question, what ever happen to Subar? In 1972, Bud, Barb, and John were living back in Narragansett, Rhode Island and Jo Malone, Kim (from MN), Jimmy (Jo's boyfriend) and Dyan (Jo's sister) went to visit. John offered the dog to them as Susan was off living in California. Subar lived back in Philly with Jo for two weeks, then Kim took her to Minnesota for a week and finally Kim shipped her to Florida to a penpal and Subar was never heard from again.

And remember the rumor of The Cowsills coming home one day in Santa Monica to find their instruments in the swimming pool? Bob says, "It was when we lived in the Santa Monica house. Some kids snuck in and broke into our rehearsal room and poured syrup on all the microphones and amps and then tossed all of the equipment into the swimming pool. When we woke up Saturday morning we looked out on that scene...all of the gear in the pool."

The Cowsills (Bob, Paul, John and Susan) reformed at one point and considered using several names. The Secrets (the secret being they were The Cowsills) The Orphans (since by now their folks had passed away), and The Critics were noted

The Cowsills were invited to join one of Dick Clark's Oldies tour, Caravan Of Stars, in 1990 and were all set to do that when they decided that they would rather do new music and turned the offer down.

The Cowsills were presented "Best Unsigned Local Band" Award by Barbara Eden at the Los Angeles Music Awards on February 19, 1992. John, in his acceptance speech said, "I'd like to thank all the record companies that didn't sign us this year, so that we could win this award."

The story finally come full circle when on September 23-24, 2000, all seven siblings, for the first time EVER, performed together at Newport's Taste of Rhode Island. It was a magical time that we'll never forget.

Click here for photos of some Cowsill homes.

Although not a complete list, the following are a few homes I know of:

The Cowsills lived on West End Ave. in Canton, Ohio from 1959-1961 (or 1958-1960). Also, they had houses on Smith Street and out on Myers Lake and attending St. Joseph's school.

In New York, the Cowsills lived in two apartments (Bill, Bob, and Paul in one and the rest the family in another after a stint where they all lived in one apartment) at 888 8th Avenue. They moved to New York in 1967. While living there, the Cowsill kids attended Professional Children's School.

The Cowsills lived in many places in the Newport area. Ones on 3rd Street, Forest Ave., and Indian Avenue (where you'll find Alligator Rock) come to mind. By far the one we most associate with the Cowsills, and the one they think of as home, was Halidon Hall, a 23-room Victorian house complete with a captain's walk, which was at 21 Harbor View Drive. There is a Cowsill Lane in Newport. Now it's classified as an easement. In the Cowsills glory time, the street sign was stolen as fast as one could be put up.

The Cowsills moved to California in September 1968. In Santa Monica the Spanish-styled house (torn down around 1989 to make way for a new one) was at 1837 La Mesa Drive.

The Cowsill family moved from the Santa Monica house in 1971 to one in Glendale, California, before moving back to Rhode Island.

The Cowsills and the Lincoln Park Zoo: The last two songs on this album were the group Lincoln Park Zoo

The Cowsills: The picture on the cover was shot on the lawn of Halidon Hall.

We Can Fly: The cover was shot at Palisades Park. The only song The Cowsills ever recorded in another language was "We Can Fly" (Voila Con Noi) in Italian. (Later found out this isn't true. "In Need" was also recorded in Italian)

The Cowsills In Concert: This album was recorded in Cleveland, Ohio (per Bob) and supplemented by studio work later on. HOWEVER, I believe this might have been a little farther west in Champaign, Illinois at the University of Illinois instead. Check out this newspaper article. This was the first record (with the exception of the JODA record) that The Cowsills actually played their own instruments on. Apparantly when recording the song "Hair", it took a few takes. John said back in 1998, "I, John Cowsill, single handedly tortured my older siblings on the Hair sessions. 52 times to be exact. That is what you are hearing evey time you hear it. Take 52." (Added 9/1/21-->) Also the photos on the cover of the albums were not shot at the recording site. Instead they were staged photos at the Troubadour in Hollywood. In the photos the C's are wearing clothes by Genie the Taylor.

Captain Sad and His Ship of Fools: Want to know who the clown captain on the cover is? So do we!! John posted back in 1999 that the guy was "the make-up man for the cowardly lion (Wizard Of Oz). He taught me how to cross one eye." By the way, THE Indian Lake (song written by Tony Romeo) was most probably one in upstate New York.

On My Side: Everyone wonders where the rock is that is on the front of On My Side. Bob says it's somewhere in the Malibu Hills in California off Malibu Canyon Drive. Another fact to be considered is that the photo was actually printed in reverse on the cover. John confirmed this in a interview confirming that close up inspection shows 14-year-old John looking like he's wearing a wedding ring. He says that although it was a ring from a girlfriend, it was on his right hand in reality.

Cast of Characters:
Barbara: Barbara C. Russell Cowsill was born July 12, 1928 and started smoking as a 12 year old. She died of emphysema in Tempe, Arizona on January 31, 1985. Barbara loved to sing, but she suffered from serious stage fright. Stories were that in the first days they had to promise her a new dress for every appearance.

Bud and Barbara were married in 1946.

Bud: William "Bud" Joseph Cowsill, Sr. was born December 2, 1925 and died of leukemia on September 29, 1992. Bud had an unusual childhood of his own. His father was an alcoholic and his mother had turned tricks. Bud left school in the 7th grade, however, he went on to have a long and successful career in the Navy retiring as a Chief Petty Officer in 1965 to manage the kids career. Bud spent his later years living in a small fishing village outside Rosarito Beach, Baja, Mexico. Bud had requested that his ashes be mixed with Barbara's and scattered in the ocean. Paul honored this request scattering them off the Baja coast, in Mexico .

Bill: (guitar/vocals) William "Bill" "Billy" "Bud" Joseph Cowsill, Jr was born January 9, 1948 in Providence, Rhode Island. Bill was booted from The Cowsills by Bud in 1969. Bill moved around some after that living in Tulsa and Texas before moving to Canada. A going away party was held August 31, 1975, for Bill and Barry as they left for Canada. Bill had a long bout with alcoholism and drugs which almost took his life. He became clean after moving to Calgary, Canada. Bill is so loved that several songwriters have written song around him. A Canadian, Jann Arden wrote a song called "Weeds", and Marilyn Manfra from the USA wrote one called "Don't Die Billy". Bill also did a little acting, appearing in the Canadian version of Lonesome Dove. Some of Bill's other groups include: Blue Northern, Blue Shadows, and currently the Co-Dependents. Bill is attending college working on his B.A. hoping to work with troubled youth as a counselor (something he can sure relate to). Click here for a little more info on Billy. Billy had a number of ailments and passed away in February 2006. He was cremated and his ashes taken back to the family home of Newport, Rhode, Island

Richard: (percussion/vocals) Richard "Rich" "Dick" James Cowsill was born August 26, 1949 in Portsmouth, Virginia and passed away July 8, 2014 in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Rich is the oldest of the fraternal twins by 19 minutes. Rich entered the Army in 1968 and service in Vietnam, where the song "Hair" was banned because of its parody of the "Star-Spangled Banner". He wasn't killed as rumors had it, and finally achieved a lifetime goal of performing with his siblings for the first time at Taste of Rhode Island in 2000!!! For the record, "Yesterday" is Rich's favorite Beatle song. Check out Rich's links.

Bob: (guitar/keyboards/drums/vocals) Robert "Bob" Paul Cowsill was born August 26, 1949 in Portsmouth, Virginia. Bob counted a regret that he turned down Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash's invitation to jam after being on Johnny's show in July of 1969. And don't we wish we could go back and see Bob's Dating Game appearance? Bob started playing at Pickwick's Pub in Woodland Hills in about 1984 (Bob said 15 years in July of 1999) and continues there on Saturday nights. "The best thing about being famous was the feeling that what you were about artistically meant something to someone." By the way, Bob's favorite Beatles song is "And You Bird Can Sing" and probably his least favorite is "Yellow Submarine". Bob worked - post Cowsill days - as an ER Tech and today works for a company that leases a charge/data capture program specific to emergency departments. Bob trains the trainers. Click here for a little more info on Bob.

Paul: (keyboards/percussions/drums/vocals) Paul Mitchell Cowsill was born November 11, 1951 in Portsmouth, Virginia. Paul is the funny man, who is 100% energy. Bob also say Paul is the great Cowsill whistler. Paul was in the Navy and once won a boxing round against Jay North (of Dennis The Menace fame) during basic training. Click here for a little more info on Paul. Paul moved up to Oregon in 2004 and still works construction along with being a farmer now!

Barry: (guitar/bass/percussion/drums/vocals) Barry Steven Cowsill was born September 14, 1954 at the Newport Naval Hospital in Newport, Rhode Island. Barry's favorite Beatles song is "She Loves Me". Barry has been known to use the name Elvis Franklin as Elvis Presley and Benjamin Franklin were people he looks up to. One of Barry's nicknames is Weezer. Barry has many funny saying including, "Flyin' Wamboozie." Click here for a little more info on Barry. Barry drown in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. He was cremated and his ashes scattered in the Newport Harbor, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River.

John: (drums/guitar/bass guitar/keyboards/percussion/vocals) John Patrick Cowsill was born March 2, 1956, in Newport, Rhode Island. We understand John was really impressed with Bobby Gentry ("Ode To Billy Joe") for more then her musical talent on the Ed Sullivan Show. Let's just say he started learning to appreciate women early in life. John can entertain in more ways than just his music. He has acted in at least one play and he's also known for his voices. He does a great British and German (Bob says this one is more funny) accent and we're still waiting to hear his 'Sector Nine' routine. John has worked as a studio musician for Jackson Browne and Bob Dylan and many more. He is also a wonderful finish carpenter. Bob says he can make a dining room table that would knock your socks off. Rumor has it that John's favorite Beatles song is "Norwegian Woods" and, of course, John sites Ringo as his inspiration. John once posted that his favorite Beatles LP was Revolver. John became a full time member of the Beach Boys in 2001. Click here for a little more info on John.

Susan: (guitar/drums/percussion/vocals) Susan Claire Cowsill was born May 20, 1959 in Canton, Ohio. Susan's first song with the Cowsills was "Sweet Talking Guy" and she performed it (playing tambourine) with the family on their first Ed Sullivan show on October 29, 1967. Susan's favorite Beatles song is "Get A Shot." Susan has made a good name for herself playing and singing with The Psycho Sisters, The Bonhoffs and The Continental Drifters. Susan's daughter has started off right, as she has a credit for playing tambourine on the Continental Drifters CD Vermilion. Susan released her first solo CD Just Believe It on Germany's Blue Rose Records in 2004 and on Blue Corn, here in America, in 2005. Click here for a little more info on Susan.

Cowsill Message board posts
"Shadowy Man" by Tom Hawthorn in Vancouver Magazine
TV interviews
FFWD Weekly
Stories heard myself from Cowsills
16 Magazine
Cowsill Fan Club Newsletters
The San Diego Union/Tribune
New Times LA
People Magazine
On The Town - by Joe Brown
Boston Herald - Inside Track
Barb Meade
Susan Montella Cowsill
Jo Malone
Dan Fitzgerald

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