Bob Cowsill would be the first to admit it: Anyone seeing his teen-pop band, the Cowsills, in their '60s prime would have howled over the clothes.
"The whole group would come on stage in bright orange Nehru jackets or matching purple tuxedoes," Cowsill says. "What was anybody thinking?"
Apparently the members of this family band had no choice. They were controlled by their dad, William "Bud" Cowsill, who served as their intolerant manager.
They also had no choice about his decision that their mom would join the group that previously consisted of six kids. "When you're 16 or 17, this is the worst news in the world," says Cowsill, now 65.
Indeed, the novelty of a real family cast as a teen act helped the Cowsills earn several Top Ten hits in the late '60s, including "The Rain, The Park and Other Things" and "Indian Lake."
It's that legacy the surviving Cowsills will celebrate Saturday with a special 50th anniversary show at the Cutting Room.
The rare situation of a group comprised of siblings with their mom provided the inspiration for the high-cheese, '70s comedy/music series "The Partridge Family," starring Shirley Jones and David Cassidy.
Initially the show's creators tested The Cowsills to play the kids of Jones, whom they had already cast in the show. "But we couldn't act," Cowsill says. "Also, my dad insisted they put my mom in the show, which wasn't going to happen."
Such tensions and controversies came to define the Cowsills, lending a sad edge to their story.
The group started on a happier note. Their use of seven voices allowed them to braid thick harmonies on their hits. At their height, they played The Ed Sullivan Show. But the money they made vanished in bad deals. Several members dealt with depression, including mother Barbara. She died of emphysema at 56. Father Bud died of leukemia at 66, while three sons succumbed young.
Despite all the tragedy, Cowsill insists that the music buoys those who remain. Now the act consists of Bob, Paul and sister Susan. They're rounded out by four of the members children. "Even now," Cowsill says, "we're still a family band."