The Cowsills In Magazines

Peter Holsapple's Six Degrees of Separation
by Kent Benjamin
September 26, 1997
Goldmine Magazine


(Note: This is a very long, detailed account of Peter's career to this point. I'm only going to add the Cowsill related parts.)

. . .

Now living in Los Angeles, Holsapple had got married to (and subsequently divorced from) Ilene Markell, bass player with The Seven Deadly Five (with great taste in music and bad TV, I might add). Busy doing a few solo gigs and playing sessions, Holsapple started to play keyboards occasionally with a transplanted New Orleans group, formed out of the remains of the original subdudes, and called Continental Drifters, that included drummer/writer/singer Carlo Nuccio, Mark Walton, Dan McGough, Gary Eaton, and Ray Ganucheau. Holsapple had also befriended a duo who called themselves The Psycho Sisters: singer Susan Cowsill (of the Cowsills) and singer/lead guitarist Vicki Peterson (formerly of the Bangles). Holsapple and the Psycho Sisters were part of the Continental Drifters by 1992 as a few original members had departed (as a footnote, there's an unreleased album by the original line-up in the can, which includes "When It Rains," "Mississippi," "Who We Are," "All Roads Lead To Dallas," "Invisible Boyfriend," and more). A Continental Drifters single was released on the Singles Only Label(SOL): "Mississippi" b/w "Johnny Oops"; Holsapple produced the a-side and is featured on the b-side.

By 1993, Nuccio had convinced the Drifters to relocate to his hometown of New Orleans, a town very familiar to Holsapple due to the Jeff Beninato/dB's connection. Both now single, Cowsill and Holsapple became an item, and were later married (and later had a daughter, Miranda). Cowsill is a really outstanding singer with a wacky sense of humor, which was certainly an excellent match for Holsapple's own talents and good sense of humor. Continental Drifters became known as perhaps the best unsigned band in America. The six-person line-up included an amazing five guitarists, and six singer/song-writers. The band consisted of: Carlo Nuccio, Robert Mache, Mark Walton, Vicki Peterson, Susan Cowsill, and Peter Holsapple. Holsapple mainly played keyboards on stage, due to the large number of guitarists in the band. With unbelievably tight vocal harmonies, talented multi-instrumentalists, and a cadre of excellent songwriters, the band wowed nearly everyone who saw them play. Highlights of the live sets included a brilliant Susan Cowsill song: "When It Rains," that has "hit" written all over it, and a spine-chillingly beautiful and flawless version of the Mamas and Papas "Dedicated To The One I Love" (who would have thought anyone could've equaled the harmonies on the original?). Showcased at SXSW in 1993, nearly everyone pegged them as sure to become stars. Various members of the band, including Holsapple, also appeared with Howe Gelb's band Giant Sand at two gigs during the conference.

By 1994, the band had signed to an indie label out of New Orleans, Monkey Hill, and released their eponymous debut album. Continental Drifters is a fine little album, although it only hints at the band's on-stage performances, and failed to include several of their live highlights. The album includes a fine new Holsapple original, "Invisible Boyfriend," and he also sings lead on a cover of Alex Chilton/The Boxtops'/Clarence Carter "Soul Deep." Other highlights include Mark Walton's "Get Over It," with a great vocal from Susan Cowsill, excellent covers of Gram Parsons' "A Song For You," and Mike Nesmith's "Some Of Shelly's Blues," and my favorite, Vicki Peterson's "Mixed Messages," which equals the Bangles' best work. The band appeared again at SXSW, where they were still known as the " unsigned band..." at the conference. The band also appeared on an excellent Hollies tribute record, from a little indie label, Eggbert, in Souther California; they contributed a brilliant cover of "I Can't Let Go" with note -perfect harmonies (one of the few bands on the record to really do justice to the original Hollies harmonies).

By 1995, Holsapple had secured a regular Sunday solo gig in New Oreleans at Carrollton Station. Continental Drifters toured the U.S., and recorded demos for a potential second album. The band appeared again at SXSW, and in addition, both Holsapple and the Psycho Sisters performed sets at the stage on the Convention Center (which typically draws only 20-50 people). In addition, there was 'a mini-reunion of the North Carolina Three: Chris Stamey, Mitch Easter, and Peter Holsapple, at a SXSW gig at Waterloo Brewery in Austin. The whole 40-minute set featured varying combos of Holsapple and Stamey together and solo, and Easter on two songs (possibly the first time the three had performed on one stage together since high school). It was both unexpected, and quite great, if not long enough and sadly unrecorded to the best of our knowledge (any tapers in the audience??).

Holsapple, Peterson, and Cowsill also appeared as panelists at SXSW: Holsapple participated in the now-legendary "Shit Happens" panel with Vicki Peterson, lan McLagan, Al Kooper, and Mojo Nixon, all telling their favorite stories about drugs and road disasters. All in attendance thought listening to the panel of unusually articulate and funny musicians was a highlight of their entire year! Holsapple told his Dylan story, a story about his most embarrassing moment (an onstage nosebleed at a high profile benefit), and a funny dB's on acid tale, among others.

In 1995, through his growing reputation1 as a session man, Holsapple had another fortuitous meeting. An old acquaintance, Tim Sommer, Hugo Largo's former bass player, was now head of A&R at Atlantic Records, and when Hootie and the Blowfish a Carolina band who'd just had one of the biggest selling records of the year with their debut album needed an additional musician on stage, primarily a keyboard player, Holsapple was introduced to the band. He toured with the band, and can be seen in the latter "live" videos from the album. He also played on their contribution to the Encomium Led Zeppelin tribute album. There's a funny story related to that tribute. Apparently the band were told that Atlantic would provide them with copies of any song they wanted to do on the tribute, so, being no dummies, they decided to do "Hey Hey What Can I Do," a non-LP b-side that was only available on CD on the boxed set.

The Continental Drifters included an amazing five guitarists - out of six members. Left to right: Carlo Nuccio, Ray Ganucheau, Susan Cowsill, Mark Walton, Peter Holsapple, and Vicki Peterson.
The Continental Drifters strike a pose. Holsapple is 2nd from the left.

While some would consider the Blowfish to be an unusually unhip band for an artist with Holsapple's hip cachet to be playing with, then bear in mind a few things: they were essentially homeboys with mutual friends, were genuinely nice guys and good musicians with a healthy work ethic, and let's be frank, probably earned Holsapple more money than all his years in The dB's.

He regards the Blowfish as being very good to him and to his family. In addition, his gig with the Blowfish was directly responsible for getting him more session work with Nanci Griffith and John Hiatt. As final bit of irony, he had the novel experience of playing keyboards with Hootie and the Blowfish on They Might Be Giants' song "Twisting," a song which mentions The dB's by name.

In early 1996, the longest-lived version of Continental Drifters came to an end when Carlo Nuccio and the Drifters parted company. Holsapple continued to play with the Blowfish until early in the year, and appeared at SXSW in Austin with Cowsill, where they did back-to-back acoustic sets, followed by a closing segment with both playing together. They started said they were only going to perform songs written by Holsapple or "a Cowsill," which meant they could include songs like The Cowsills lovely "Is It Any Wonder" (found on Yellow Pills Vol. 1); pretty soon everything they did, regardless of who wrote it, was being introduced as being by a cousin or relative, including a beautiful rendition of Ray Davies-Cowsill-Holsapple's "Days." The Drifters new drummer is Russ Broussard, who has played with Terence Simian and with the Bluerunners.

In late 1996, Holsapple completed work on what became his first ever solo record, released in February of 1997 as Out Of My Way. The record was actually begun all the way back in 1992, and worked on intermittently until its completion last fall. Guest musicians include Carlo Nuccio, Susan Cowsill, and Vicki Peterson of Continental Drifters, bass player Ilene Markell, and old prep school chum Benmont Tench. The album is excellent: arguably the best thing he's done in a career full of fine albums. Lyrically it's excellent, and musically, it runs the gamut from rockers like "I Been There," "Meet Me In The Middle," and "Don't Worry About John," to stripped down acoustic numbers that reflect his solo acoustic shows: "No Sound," "Pretty, Damned, Smart" (great title, that), and "Here And Now."

The album continues to reflect his new philosophy of production: you should only use what the song needs. In the early days of The dB's, both Stamey and Holsapple espoused the production theory that "'d better use all the tracks available (40 or whatever) because you were paying for them anyway..." This led to dB's records with cellos and bagpipes flying out of nowhere a technique Holsapple picked up from Stamey. Now, however, each instrument counts. One reason for doing a solo project as opposed to a band project was so that each song could be arranged according to what the song needed. With a band, there's a tendency to add parts for everyone in the band, even if a particular track might be best served without ten guitars, keyboards, and sax, so to speak.

The album is in many ways a full circle completion for Holsapple; returning to his own name as on his first "official" release (a solo record), featuring many of his current bandmembers, and a brilliant musical summation of the promise he's shown in the past. Ironically, he views it as being a one-off project, preferring to work in a band context (he in fact "celebrated" its release by going to New York with the Drifters for some gigs, not solo promotional things). Holsapple is simply more comfortable being part of a band; one of his main joys as a musician is being able to add things to other people's songs, which is why he's so at home as a session musician. He told me in June he never wants to "front" another band, but prefers to be just a player in a band.

Peter Holsapple is that rarest of things in the pop music business: someone who's in it only for the music, not for the fame and trappings of stardom. Not that it would hurt him at all if the new record sells a million. As he told me: "Music gives me a reason to live, and the Drifters give me a place in music. They put their career on hold while I did the Hootie stuff and the solo album, and now I'm devoting my time to our (The Drifters) career."

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