The Cowsills! Sounds like another one of those crazy rock groups that went out and found themselves a nutty name, right?
Wrong. In the first place, The Cowsills have always been Cowsills. Most of them, anyway, Bill, Bob Barry and John were born Cowsills. (Their mini-mommy Barbara, of course, wasn't a Cowsill until she married papa Bud Cowsill.)
In the second place, The Cowsills aren't "just another one of those crazy rock groups." They're something special - kind of an all-American group, so handsome and wholesome that you almost expect to see "commended by Parents" or "guaranteed by Good Housekeeping" stamped somewhere on their persons. (Actually, a "Discovered by Ingenue" label would be more appropriate. We thought they were wonderful when they performed at the hoopla doings that accompanied the selection of Miss Ingenue of New Jersey last year.) Not that they are squares - parents and Ed Sullivan may love them, but it's the teens who have pushed their single "The Rain, The Park and Other Things" (MGM) into the top ten.
Their success story is very much in the all-American tradition too. "Our music started as sort of a family group therapy," Papa Cowsill explains. "The boys started playing around with guitars and things. Barry was our first drummer." By the time Mr. Cowsill had retired from the Navy and moved his wife and seven children (there are three non-singing Cowsill children: Dick and Paul who keep the equipment straight and in order on traveling engagements, plus the baby of the family, Susan, whom the boys describe as "a brunette version of Twiggy") to a huge old Munster-style mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, the Cowsills were ben on a musical career.
Since there wasn't enough money for furniture and the necessary musical equipement - new instruments, sound systems, amplifiers - the mansion, like Mother Hubbard's cupboard, remained bare. Bad luck came to the Cowsills, followed by worse, and the family came very close to losing everything. The money ran out, the phones - in a home with three teen-agers - were disconnected. Even the oil for the furnace ran out. "Bill and Bob chopped up their dressers to make fire wood and everybody huddled around the fireplace," recalls Mrs. Cowsill.
Just when it looked as though the bank would foreclose on the mortgage and take back their dearly beloved house, rescue came in the form of an MGM recording contract and a hit record. It coudn't have happened to a nicer group.
The house is still with them, to everybody's delight, complete with ivy festooning the walls, grass growing three feet high on the lawns, and a 1917 vintage stove that takes matches and incantations to light it.
What next for The Cowsills? More records, of course, Bill, the oldest Cowsill brother and a student at Rhode Island Junior College, plans to teach eventually, "Either English or science," he says. "But this is after we've stopped singing, when I want to do something for a fun vacation."
Bob, the second oldest brother and the disappearing member of the Cowsill act ("Sometimes he's just gone - for hours," - laim the rest of the group) plans to go on to college next year, Bob is also writing a book - about his room.
Barry, the personality kid and most unserious member of an unserious group, has no career plans beyond show biz. John, like many another eleven-year-old boys, is bursting with ideas of what he might be. "I might be a baker," he says and is greeted with hoots of laughter and a lot of teasing from his brothers. "And someday I would like to own a motocycle. I'd also love to know how to fly a plane by myself."
How do friends react to The Cowsills' new-found fame? "Oh sometimes good, sometimes bad," Bill says. "Depends on how well they know us."
Mama Barbara has noticed more definite reactions. "The girls always ask for pictures now," she says. "And our take phone rings a lot more often."