William Cowsill, 58, Leader of Family Pop-Rock Band, Dies
By Daniel J Wakin
January 21, 2006
New York Times
New York, New York
William Cowsill, the lead singer and guitarist of the Cowsills, a sweet-toned 1960's family band that inspired "The Partridge Family" television series, died on Saturday at his home in Calgary, Canada. He was 58.
William E. Sauro/The New York Times
The Cowsills in 1968, with William Cowsill, second from left. The Cowsills were the inspiration for the series "The Partridge Family."
No cause of death was reported, but a longtime friend and producer, Neil MacGonigill said yesterday that Mr. Cowsill had suffered from emphysema, Cushing's syndrome and osteoporosis.
The family learned of his death as they were holding a memorial service for another Cowsill brother, Barry, in Newport, R.I. Barry Cowsill, who lived much of the year in New Orleans, disappeared in the flooding after Hurricane Katrina. His body was recovered on Dec. 28 and identified a week later.
"He was heartbroken about his brother's death," Mr. MacGonigill said of Billy Cowsill, as he was known. "That ate away at him."
The Cowsills recorded several hits in the late 1960's and early 1970's, including "The Rain, the Park and Other Things," "We Can Fly," "Indian Lake" and "Hair" from the rock musical. Their wholesome image and sunny harmonies attracted television producers for a series about their lives. The show was never made, but the material became the inspiration for "The Partridge Family."
The band began in Newport in the mid-60's, when Billy Cowsill and his brother Robert took up the guitar. Barry was recruited to play bass, and John to play the drums. Robert also played the organ. Later, their mother, Barbara, joined the band, along with Susan, a sister.
In an account on a family Web site, cowsill .com, by Robert Cowsill, the brothers began by playing at clubs in Newport and fraternity parties at Brown University. A representative of the "Today" show saw them at a gig one night, and they were invited on the program. That appearance led to a contract with Mercury Records. The band later signed with MGM Records and received even wider television exposure on "The Ed Sullivan Show," "The Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson and "The Dick Cavett Show." They also served as spokesmen for the American Dairy Association.
But as their fame grew, so did tensions among the members, and the band broke up in the early 1970's. The siblings stayed in music, sometimes reforming in various configurations under different names or reuniting for special events. Barry and Susan released solo albums in recent years.
Billy Cowsill moved to Canada more than 30 years ago and spent the last decade in Calgary, where he formed a country-rock band, the Co-Dependents, and released three records on Mr. MacGonigill's label, Indelible Music. He also mentored young musicians on the local scene. "He was God in this town," Mr. MacGonigill said.
Mr. Cowsill is survived by two grown sons, Travis and Delaney, Mr. MacGonigill said.
In a radio interview in December 2004 with Tom Coxworth for CKUA in Canada, Mr. Cowsill compared himself to a bird who was born to sing. "You stop rockin', you die," he said. "That's the moral of my story."