There’s a lot of music in the Cowsills from Newport, R.I., most of it still unsung. But after six years they’re getting there.
Their recording, “The Rain, the Park & Other Things,” is a top hit. They’ll be with Ed Sullivan on Christmas Eve and for the next five months they’ll cut a touring trail through America and Europe.
Bud and Barbara Cowsill and their seven kids enjoy each other. The kids say, please, thank you and sir to their parents as well as strangers. They’re a beautiful mob.
After 20 years in the Navy, Bud Cowsill retired, worked at remodeling houses around Newport, but always had this fierce idea that his kids could sing with the best of them. Billy, now 19, and Bob, 18, started it with folk guitars. It kept rubbing off down the line to Barry, 13, Joh, 11, Susan, 8, and even Mrs. Cowsill, a youngish 40, who has a full-throated contralto.
“The only things I play are the dishwasher, washing machine and stove,” she said. “But the kids play the guitar, piano, organ, drums, claves and baseball.”
No Songbird, He
Paul, 16, and Dick, Bobby’s twin, are the road managers, who drive the family truck with the equipment and instruments. Paul explained that “singing is not my stick.” And Dick?
“Sir, would you like a demonstration of my voice? If you hear it, you will know why I am a road manager.”
They all roared with daughter and the freckles on Barry and John laughed too.
Bud Cowsill said: “It’s a good thing our six performers need road managers or else Dick and Paul and I would be out of jobs.”
The three older boys are college students; the four youngest attend Childrens Professional School. They work on weekends and during the summer.
The family’s first performance was made by Bill and Bobby at the Professional Women’s Club of Newport. Pay: $10. Whereupon Barry discovered he had a voice and a handy bet with the bongo drums. So his father promptly bought him a complete set of drums, snares, bass, cymbals, wood blocks and even a top hat.
“John decided to be a drummer, too,” Mrs. Cowsill said, “and took over Barry’s drums. Barry moved over to the bass guitar – with the approval of Bill, our musical director.”
When they got their next job at a carnival, the boys bribed mom out of the kitchen with a dress and drafted Susan. They earned $80 for a week’s work.
“That was a lot of money,” Barry said, “until we started to divide it up night ways.”
Every weekend for three years, Bud Cowsill took the boys on the road, from Pennsylvania up to Buffalo, playing any place that would have them, even without pay. But nothing happened. So, he pained houses and his wife worked as a waitress.
Money? Forget It
“We owed so much we couldn’t get a stick of bubble gum on credit,” he said. “But I knew if anyone heard the kids, then they’d believe it.”
“We were so broke we bought a 23-room house with seven bathrooms,” his wife said. “An $80,000 white elephant nobody wanted. But we paid only the closing costs.”
When they couldn’t pay the mortgage money, they came here in desperation. Artie Kornfeld, a writer-producer heard their original folk-rock sound and got them a record contract and a manager. After their first hit recording, everything changed quickly: a cross-country tour, bookings for ten Sullivan shows and Europe and more records.
“The house on the hill in Newport was saved,” Mrs. Cowsill said. “True, there’s no furniture and the water pressure is so bad we shower at 3 a.m. But we’ll fix all that and we do have a little apartment here.”
“By the way,” Bud Cowsill said, “even at our lowest, when the phone was shut off and there was no oil in the furnace, we always knew where we were going.”