The biggest singing discovery since the Rolling Stones began to gather Flowers, and the Beatles formed a Lonelyhearts' Club Band are the Cowsills. Yes, Love is In with the Cowsills. In fact, Love is so very In with the Cowsills that it could even be called tehir gimmick, their trademark, their idenity symbol. It's a well-known fact that in today's world of flowers, buttons, color and psychedelic lights, everyone must have a gimmick. But how can love be a gimmick? Love just is. If you're a Cowsill or if you've ever seen or head the Cowsills, the answer to this question is easy. Love is the tie that keeps this group working together, and love is the feeling that passes out beyond the foot lights when the Cowsills perform before an audience. But it is not the love shown by psychedelic lights and plastered on buttons. It is love with the naturalness of flowers and color.
"Right now, more than anything else," states Mr. Cowsill, "we want to be natural. Eventually we will grow and develop a style that will be ours and ours alone. We want to experiment together as a family in the musical world rather than being forced into a style that doesn't suit us." Mr. Cowsill is the head and co-ordinator of this musical family and is proud to see his family working together towards an end they all believe in—perfecting themselves as a musical group.
At the same time as it brought them fame and attention, the Cowsills' first hit song, "The Rain, The Park And Other Things," placed them centrally in today's generation as they crooned, about the flower girl they loved. Do the Cowsills see themselves as part and parcel of the Flower generation? Was that the motive behind these lyrics? Again, we arrive at the Cowsill "hang-up" on naturalness. "We didn't mean to ride the crest of the Flower Movement," states Mrs. Cowsill, a woman so tiny and petite that it's hard to believe she's the mother of seven. "In fact, we meant to move in another direction. Flowers have taken on an unreal number of meanings. I think it's time someone remembered that a flower is just that. A flower doesn't have to stand for anything or mean anything. A flower can just be itself, one of the beauties of nature, a living thing that appears with the leaves and springtime. Flowers, like love, don't have to be In. Flowers just are."
If naturalness were the only aim of the Cowsills, they could consider the struggle over and won. Nothing could be more natural than seven kids, each going about their own business, as they were the first time we saw them. Some were eating breakfast, some strumming guitars, some reading comic books, and some just wandering about the room. Numerically speaking, the appearance of the complete Cowsill family is a frightening thing. Imagine any number of hotels they entered during their fall crosscountry tour—two parents, seven kids ranging from ages 8 1/2 to 20, a tutor, and well over 10 pieces of assorted luggage. A scary sight? Yet, these are the Cowsills, and this is the way they travel.
The Cowsills are a complete musical group within the family. Bud Cowsill, the father, has the rather difficult job of coordinating and guiding the group, the usual duties of a father carried only a bit farther by the specialty of this particular family. Barbara Cowsill, mother to this tribe of seven little warblers, often sings with the group. Four children comprise the unchanging musical nucleus. Bill, age 20 and the eldest, co-ordinates them on stage, sings lead and plays the guitar. Bob and Barry, ages 18 and 13 respectively, play guitar and organ and sing. John is an 11 year-old rhythm-maker who could easily challenge Ringo Starr to his place behind the drums. Two other brothers, Dick and Paul, work as road managers behind the scenes for their concerts. The special added attraction of this musical group is Susan Cawsill, only 8 1/2 years old. Smaller than the smallest singer in the business, with a voice bigger than the biggest, Susan easily belts out rock and roll songs above her brothers who play and harmonize in the background. Move over, Petula Clark—another little girl with a big voice may soon be ready to fill your shoes!
The Cowsills hail from a Newport, Rhode Island, home that Charles Addams, even in his most totally bizarre moments, would have trouble imagining. The 22-room, three-story mansion is approached by a shady, winding road. The Cowsill home will suddenly come into view at the last turn. Although Morticia Addams will not be there to open the gate, lovers of the macabre will not be disappointed. Windows are broken, shutters flap and creak in the wind, ropes of ivy enclose every wall, and the grass is usually three feet deep. The interior of the house follows the same pattern. For the past few years most of the Cowsill finances have been invested in instruments, sound systems and amplifying equipment. These musical expenditures did not leave much money to use in furnishing their rather large home. The family room has a few chairs and a TV. The kitchen boasts a table, a sink, a refrigerator, and a 1917 gas range.
But if a visitor looks around closely in this house he will begin to see signs that he has not stumbled suddenly onto the set of Boris Karloff's next horror story. He will see that he is in the home of a family, a large family, but a family very much united by love, sharing goals and dreams. He will notice that the library has a ping-pong table, the dining room a pool table. Suddenly, out of nowhere, will bound Curly, the family dog, to issue a friendly greeting. The Cowsills like their home this way. A few complaints may be heard from its members, but these are usually not without a solution. One major annoyance is that with all these Cowsills using 7 bathrooms and 1 shower, water pressure isn't too strong. However, the solution can be found. Says Bob, "The best time to take a shower is about three o'clock in the morning!"
The Cowsill home has something for everyone. Mrs. Cowsill has even managed to find a secluded spot to escape for a few moments from the turmoil of such a large family. Common in houses by the sea is the Widow's Walk, a balcony facing the water from which the wives watched and waited for their husbands' ships to pull into harbor. Mrs. Cowsill never had to use it for this purpose when Bud was a naval officer, but now it offers the security of a retreat "far from the madding crowd."
Yet, in the case of this "madding crowd," the retreats need never be too long, for the family enjoys being together. The easiness of their relationship is reflected in the casual life of their Rhode Island home. They also enjoy working together as a musical group. Attending a Cowsill rehearsal is like sitting in on a family discussion. Bob may be a little slow coming in on the guitar, but the correction from Bill sounds more like an older brother chiding a member of the family than the lead singer instructing a member of his combo. Yet, it is effective. The final product of this family is as good as that of a group who hires professional instructors and spends hours in formal rehearsal schedules.
The Cowsills appeal to an audience in many ways. They sing every style of song imaginable, from wildly blasting rock and
roll to gentle ballads. Their favorite is what they feel a particular audience will want to hear. The Cowsills aim to please: to please their audiences by playing songs that will be appreciated and to please themselves by working together on something that they all enjoy.
The truth of the matter is that the Cowsills would appeal to an audience regardless of what they were singing. Their magnetism comes from something beyond the sound of their music. The audience responds to the Cowsills themselves — to their naturalness, to their warmth as they perform, and to the love which unites them as a family, and moves out to include their friends in the audience. "Love Is Our Bag" may well be the slogan of the Cowsills.
By MARTHA MASON