Newspaper Articles

'One of the great ones'
Dead at 58, his storied career began with the Cowsills family band
By Tom Harrison
January 21, 2006
The Providence
Vancouver, Canada

When Billy Cowsill is mentioned, which Billy Cowsill is meant? There is the Billy Cowsill whose private life was out of control and the Billy Cowsill whose onstage performance made him proud and was a sense of wonder to everyone else.

"He used to to say he was loved onstage and he gave love back,'" recalls Neil MacGonigall, Cowsill's last manager.

Billy Cowsill died on Friday aged 58, ganged up by several ailments -- osteoporosis, a chronic back problem, emphysema and the revenge of a rock 'n' roll lifestyle.

Just the next day, on Saturday, the Cowsill family gathered in Newport, R.I., for a memorial to brother Barry Cowsill, 51, who was a victim of Hurricane Katrina.

Knowing Billy's poor health and history of drug and alcohol abuse, anyone would be forgiven for thinking that Billy would go before Barry.

In a way, he was an enabler. Cowsill made everyone he worked with a better singer, a better musician. He boasted about the triumphs of his Cowsill brothers and sister. They were a hitmaking family that appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and were the model of TV's Partridge Family. He was a student of pop music who specialized in the details that brightened records and he understood harmony. After the Cowsill family grew apart and after a stint in Calgary, he came to Vancouver and worked with country-rockers Rocky Craig and Blue Northern.

In 1991, he was introduced to Jeffrey Hatcher, which gave birth to The Blue Shadows and Cowsill's most productive music. The Blue Shadows were together four years and made two albums.

"I'll never hear two people sing like that in my lifetime," said Dave Chesney, who was Blue Shadows' tour manager and worked closely with Cowsills/Blue Shadows' manager, Larry Wanagas.

Chesney fondly remembers that, as a result of showcasing in Austin, Texas, Hatcher and Cowsill were invited to headline a tribute to the Everly Brothers in Santa Monica, Calif.

"Jeffrey and Billy just brought the house down. It absolutely was one of those magical moments."

"I honestly start from the place of being such a fan," explains Wanagas, who met Cowsill in Calgary. "It goes back such a ways. I was a fan before I ever worked with him.

"Billy had his demons but if you put him on the stage he was one of the great ones.

"I'm certainly better for knowing him."

MacGonigill also knew him from his first time in Calgary.

"My dealing with Bill started as a friend and ended as a friend."

MacGonigill likens Cowsill to a gunfighter who often lamented that he was born 100 years too late and whose favourite TV show was Lonesome Dove.

When Billy's back problem drove him back to booze, MacGonigill got him out of Vancouver to Calgary. He cleaned up, formed a new group, The Co-Dependents, recorded, went to school and was happy. His health, though, deteriorated.

"I reached a point where I was championing his life, not his career," remembers MacGonigill.

"I knew the inevitable was coming," says Chesney. "He was very tired.

"There are a million Billy Cowsill stories," he concludes. "I really do believe he's in a better place."


Celebrated singer and guitarist Billy Cowsill at the Mecca Cafe in Calgary in 2002. Photograph by : The Canadian Press

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