The Cowsills In Magazines

The Cowsills Soundmakers
May 1968
TV Radio Talk Magazine

The Cowsills, fast becoming pop music's First Family, are (l. to r.) Bill, Bob, John, Mama Barbara, Susan, and Barry

There have been many show business families. There have been many musical families. Yet never before has there been a really swinging pop music family. A family with a groovy sound and a string of groovy hits, and best of all, the promise of a really groovy future. Not until The Cowsills, that is. But this remarkable group, who began by carving a very special niche for themselves with their smash hit, The Rain, The Park, and Other Things, have followed through with We Can Fly, their second riproaring success, and will soon be sending a third melody, In Need of a Friend, into the Top Ten Orbit. Which, in the fly-by-night hippie music jungle, just about makes them an institution.

The performing Cowsills include brothers Bill, twenty, on lead guitar; Bob, eighteen, on rhythm guitar and organ; Barry, thirteen, who plays bass guitar and drums; drummer John, twelve; sister Susan,


eight, on the tambourine and guitar; and Mama Barbara Cowsill. Dad Bud Cowsill manages the group. Behind the scenes, brothers Dick and Paul, who take care of traveling engagements and arrangements, also keep the equipment straight and act as stage managers for the group. The whole family is remarkable. They are all cute-as-a-button handsome (or pretty!). They are friendly. They are happy. And they are hip—in a genuine way.

For the Cowsills are not merely apple-pie-wholesome like certain other show biz families. They are not touted only by Ed Sullivan or by Good Housekeeping and the peaches-and-cream society. Their records were made popular—and kept that way—by the teenagers, the hippies, and the same pop music enthusiasts who put the Beatles, the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, and other groups at the top of the charts. The Cowsills have won wholehearted acceptance from everybody. Their tunes are joyful and catchy—but not too syrupy. Their musical arrangements, particularly the harmonies, are great. The music moves.

At rehearsals the older boys take over. Bill and Bob demand a great deal from their brothers and little sister. They are more relentless than any musical director. Mama Barbara sits on the sidelines. She and her husband do not interfere. She is with the group only because the boys and the group's manager, Lenny Stogel, want it that way. The younger boys, Barry and John, make jokes. Bill snaps them to order. Little eight-year-old Susan, who her brothers lovingly refer to as "a brunette version of Twiggy," becomes cranky. The hours of rehearsal are getting to her. Bill reminds Susan that if she doesn't pay attention, she can leave. There is tension. They are trying to make the track they're recording right. Perfect, if possible. They do it over and over. During a break Barry picks up his guitar, sits quietly in a corner and plays. The others munch on hamburgers and drink coffee. Then back to work. But suddenly everything jells. They sing as if they are one. It's right and they all know it. A smile slowly breaks across Bill's face. Then Bob's. Suddenly, they're all smiling, singing, and you know the music is surging through their bodies, their souls. They're alive—and loving every minute of it. And strangely, watching all this, you get a pang of jealousy. You secretly wish you could be one of them; that you, too, could share in this magnificent transformation. In a sense, you know that they know what it's all about. Life. Music. Magic. And you're on the outside looking in. And smiling. And loving every minute of it, too. You know you'll be a fan forever.

Without a doubt, the Cowsills have that Special Something. They are definitely here to stay. And what's more, as people they are as delightful as they are as performers. Hailing from Newport, Rhode Island, where they have a big old castle which they are currently refurbishing (they plan to spend the next two years living in New York City), the Cowsills have been playing music together ever since the boys were old enough to pick out and strum guitar chords. But since there wasn't enough money for furniture and the necessary musical equipment—new instruments, amplifiers, sound systems, etc. for them to continue their musical career, their beautiful old castle-mansion remained barren. Suddenly a streak of bad luck came, and the family was on the verge of losing everything, including their beloved house. The money ran out, the phones were disconnected. Says Barbara, "Bill and Bob chopped up their dressers to make firewood, and everybody huddled around the fireplace." But as luck would have it, when things seemed bleakest, and the mortgage on the house was about to be foreclosed, salvation presented itself via an MGM recording contract—and subsequently, their first hit record.

Much to everyone's delight, the Cowsills still have their marvelous old castle with its wonderful ivied walls, and their prized 1917 vintage stove that needs matches and many prayers to light it. In two years, when the renovation is complete, they plan to move back into it. Meanwhile, they are very happy making records.

Right now all the children are in school. Bill and Bob study at Pace College in New York, and both are considering the possibility of teaching careers someday. For Bill, it will probably be "either English or science. But," says he, "this is after we've stopped singing, when I want to do something for a fun vacation." Bob is not exactly sure of just what he'd like to teach, either. Known as "the disappearing member" of the Cowsills, sometimes he just goes off by himself, for hours on end. Barry, John, and Susan all attend grade school in the city. The family rehearses after school. Barry, probably the most "unserious" member of the group, has no plans outside of show business. But he is now, at thirteen, very aware of girls, and gets a tremendous amount of fan mail from enamored young ladies across the country which he tries to answer personally, if possible. As a matter of fact, Mama Barbara tells about an evening not long ago when Barry, having received two especially touching letters, asked if he might call these girls long distance and thank them for their notes. When he finally reached the girls on the phone, they were so happy, so disbelieving, so excited, that he too felt real gratification at being able to make them happy just by one simple phone call. "It's an experience he'll never forget," says Mama Barbara.

Eleven-year-old John, who is having a grand time, also has no concrete future plans, except that, "Someday I would like to own a motorcycle. I'd also love to know how to fly a plane by myself." Little Susan, with her big, soft brown eyes, is still too young to think about the future. Right now though, she is the apple of her brothers' eyes—and also her dad's. Handsome Bud Cowsill, the boys' manager, and petite blonde Mama Barbara are both pleased at how things have turned out, though Mama Barbara admits that secretly she'd be just as happy if she were not part of the group. For then she'd have more time for her hobby, cooking. Also, she confesses, she suffers from pre-performance nervousness while the boys don't seem to. They are too happy just performing, and they consider it too marvelous a lark to spoil by being nervous. "After all," they remind her as they make their usual pre-performance check and find her hands cold and clammy, giving away her tension, "why be nervous? This is what we wanted, isn't it? Why not enjoy it?" Nothing, she laughs, fazes the boys. But their secret wish, even now, is to meet the Beatles. Perhaps when this becomes a reality, as it well might (especially since the Cowsilis have become "international" via a recent trip to England and Italy for the San Remo Festival), they too will know that disconcerting feeling!

But meanwhile the Cowsilis are having too much fun making happy music (Note also their MGM albums, The Cowsilis and We Can Fly). And we, who are so eagerly sharing in their sounds, are also having fun. And we are grateful, too, that finally — but finally — pop music has found a really swinging First Family! —by Lana Fields

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