"Our kids are definitely not angels," says Bill Cowsill, father of the fantastically successful singing group The Cowsills. Well, actually he isn't father of the entire group — he's husband of part of it since Barbara Cowsill performs right along with her kids.
"I tell you, we're anything but a perfect family," Mr. Cowsill says, and the whole family agrees.
Take handsome 20-year-old Bill Jr. He's the tardy member of the family. "We were on a bus tour in Alabama," his mother remembers. "We told the kids we were leaving at 9 A.M., and Bill Jr. wasn't there."
A schedule is a schedule and the Cowsills have just had to learn that if they're late — they're left behind! Which is exactly what happened.
"We took off without him," Barbara continues, "but we stopped the bus three blocks
away when we looked out the window and saw him running after us."
The Cowsills all work up healthy appetites while performing. "We eat out a lot," Barbara says, "mostly in hotels. Once in a while people invite us over, but they don't invite us back. The kids eat like horses!"
In all there are nine Cowsills. Mr. Cowsill manages the group, but doesn't sing with them as his wife does. Bill Jr. is the oldest. Then comes Bob and Dick, the 19-year-old twins; Paul, 16; Barry, 13; John, 12; and Susan, the 9-year-old bass guitar player of the group. Dick and Bill Jr. do not perform, but act as road managers, keeping equipment straight and attending to other details throughout the family's travels.
John is the "collector" of the family. Now, you might ask, why can't a collector be an angel? He could be maybe,
if he didn't happen to collect hotel glasses and keys! "We made him mail them all back," his mother says.
While they're traveling, each member of the group is responsible for his own gear. Recently one of the boys lost his suitcase, but rather than admit it, he washed the clothes he was wearing every night.
Sometimes tempers flare — like the time during a recording session when one of the boys called another "stupid." But things like that happen in any family, which is just the point Mr. Cowsill makes when he admits his children are not angels. "If there's one thing we don't want," he says, "it's a mystique growing up around us. We've had our problems."
Bill Cowsill believes that love is a key word in raising a family, especially his. "When the kids do the right thing, they know it. And when they do the wrong things, they know it." It is difficult for any father to actually define right and wrong. The only constant is love. "If I slip in some area, love will cover it. It's crazy, but I think you read me." Mr. Cowsill has said on many occasions, "Whenever any member of the family has a problem, we do like all families — sweat, all the while helping it work itself out."
Mr. Cowsill, Mrs. Cowsill and all concerned live in a 22-room mansion on top of one of the few Newport, Rhode Island hills. As you drive up the winding drive, the first glimpse of the house takes your breath away. It seems as if you are dreaming. Ivy is growing all over the walls of the house, windows are broken, screens are hanging. It all has an air of the "unreal." The grass has grown to a height of 3 feet. Curly, the family dog and very much a member of the family, hunts rabbits and other wild things
in this amazing forest.
The interior of the house fits the outside. The family or living room contains one large sofa, two chairs and a TV set. Cooking of meals is done on a 1917 gas range stove, which requires a prayer to light it. The would-be library contains a ping-pong table and the should-be dining room contains a pool table.
There are seven bathrooms and one shower. "Water pressure isn't so great," explains Bob. "The best time to take a shower is around 3 o'clock in the morning."
For the past three years, all the money went into "tools of the trade" — instruments, sound systems, amplifiers. "So, there isn't any furniture — we're happy." In little John's room, there is a cage made of wire which used to house a miniature monkey. "I saved my allowance for six weeks to get Clyde," he said with great tears in his big brown eyes. "I waited for him to come and then, the next day after I got him, I woke up in the morning and there he was — lying in the bottom of the cage — frozen!" Clyde's grave is on the Cowsill property and is marked with a little white headstone.
Bill Jr., the oldest member of his family, is accustomed to having his brothers look up to him. He takes his work very, very seriously. In fact, everything he does, he does with enthusiasm. It is very difficult to pull anything on him including practical jokes because he can verbally turn you around in two minutes. He has a keen wit. Ironically, he just gets passing grades in his music courses at Rhode Island College. His forte is English. He writes creatively, such things as poetry, verse, etc. Of course, he also writes lyrics. There is quite a bit to Bill which probably will never be uncovered.
He is a mysterious person. Above all, he has an extraordinary ability to make people enjoy each other.
Bob is perhaps the only person in the world who could walk into the coldest room of people and warm every nook and corner.
He disappears occasionally. This happens despite his reputation for being always on hand when all the crazy things happen in the Cowsill household. Hours may elapse before anyone sees or hears Bob. He is probably reading. School-wise, Bob is all A's and B's Only Bob could pick out an atrocious bright red shirt for someone in a clothing store and convince them that they look like the greatest thing going in it. A truly "fun-to-be-with" guy!
If anyone was ever born a natural entertainer, it was Barry! "Hi! How are you," he'll greet you with enthusiasm. "When he laughs," someone said, "his freckles laugh too!" Barry was the original drummer for the Cowsills, until his now-drummer brother, John, took over when he became old enough to handle the job. Now Barry plays bass guitar and sings. Barry is an honor student.
John could win the Battle of the Drummers Contest with his eyes closed. Freckles are his trademark. He's loaded with them. They have become a part of him and you think that if suddenly gone, John would cease to be John and suddenly become someone else entirely. "I'm happy and I just want to be me," he says. If he could have anything in the world, it would be a motorcycle. He would also love to know how to fly by himself — and just maybe, someday John will!
They're a great family, all right. And a great group, but remember, they're not angels!