Providence (RI) Evening Bulletin
NEW YORK – Bill Cowsill describes their music as “popular. It’s a little of everything – the interesting sound of the Beatles, even Schubert. Everything influences us. If you take the techniques and modify them, it becomes yours – it becomes a sound.”
You can hear their sound on Ed Sullivan’s show Christmas Even, the second of 10 appearances they will make. The Sullivan contract is only one of the results of a 30-day nationwide tour in September.
The tour started in Boston, then Hartford, Philadelphia, Maryland, Norfolk, Atlanta, Birmingham, Miami, New Orleans, Texas, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
MGM, with whom they have a recording contract, provided a driver and a bus with four bunkbeds, bathroom, 16 seats, a radio and air conditioning. They wanted to travel by bus so the children could see the country. The Cowsills never forgot that they are a family and they seem to have successfully made their career their family life or their family life their career. If they sit down to sing for a guest, it become a working session. Or at a recording session Bud dances with Susan and John.
“These were private performances on the tour to introduce us to the record distributors, promotors, disc jockeys, radio, TV and newspaper people. Talent is important, but it’s nothing without these people in back of you,” Barbara said.
“Susan was the show-stealer. She doesn’t have the greatest voice but she feels that she’s a part of it and she has such a good time. Several told us after the shows that they came to put us down but that they really enjoyed us.
“We’ve done this for so long that we were thrilled to death to share. The kids are pros. They’ve done TV in Rhode Island, Jay Kroll’s and Salty Brine’s T shows.
“I’m usually very nervous. Barry always feels my hand before we go on and he says Mom, you said you wouldn’t be nervous. My hands get very cold. Ed Sullivan’s do, too. He gets very nervous before a show. But that night I wasn’t nervous. It was their big night; I’d only been working with them three months. I was proud and so happy and thrilled for them, I wasn’t nervous.”
They had no time for nerves now. This week they are recording the theme for the movie “The Impossible Years” which will be heard in the movie. On Jan 19 they will give a concert at Philharmonic Hall in New York. On Jan 26 they will appear at the Opera House in Chicago and Jan 23-31 they will appear at a music festival in San Remo, Italy, singing in Italian one of the 22 songs to be presented.
“It’s a great honor. We’ve got the record to listen too, and a pronunciation records and the words in Italian and then an English translation,” Barbara says.
And they will sing at the MGM sale convention in the Barbados. Barbara puts down the mimeographed lit of their appearances.
“We had to move to New York. MGM has invested a lot of money in us, and we have to be available for recording dates and appearances. They’ve advanced money against the royalties for the records and music. We have our own publishing company for the songs the boys write.
“If we go to the west coast to do movies we’ll rent the house in Newport – we’ve 6 ½ acres and three houses on it; it’s an investment for the kids. And we own a teenage club in Newport.”
They are now able to think about financial security for the future. They have established a trust fund for each child; Bud and Barbara draw salaries. Paul and Dick are the road managers and are responsible for the equipment instruments. Bud is their manager. The others sing.
“We each have a job and we share the profits; nobody can say to the other look what I’ve done for you.”
“These recording contracts are for three years. My husband always says this isn’t a lifetime deal. The children don’t have to be in it if they don’t want to,” Barbara says.
(To be continued in tomorrow's Evening Bulletin.)
Providence Evening Bulletin
By Susan E. Smith
IT’S 9 A.M. and John is stirring a brimming skillet of scrambled eggs and bacon pieces with a pancake turner. Barbara pours orange juice for Susan and Barry and John and when the eggs are done she puts a saucer full in front of each child. Every time anyone passes the toaster he punches it down to make more toast.
“You’re at home with Mr. and Mrs. William Joseph Cowsill and their children: William Joseph Jr., 19 (Bill); Robert Paul (Bob) and Richard James (Dick), the 18-year-old fraternal twins; Paul Mitchel, (Paul), 16; Barry Stephen (Barry) 13; and John Patrick (John), 13 and Susan Clair, 8.
Barbara takes her coffee through the door to the living room and stretches out with her feet on the coffee table.
Bill and Bob knock as they push the door open. “Can we come into our mother’s house?” The three older boys live in a three-room ground floor apartment that the whole family shared when they moved to New York City.
“Apartments were had to find and so they made one for us out of storerooms behind the elevators. Nine of us in three rooms. There wasn’t even a decent place to have an argument. And we are a violent family. Four months in three rooms. And we have a 23-room house in Newport.” Barbara looks at the ceiling and shakes her head.
Now they have a third-floor apartment with a view of the gray buildings of Eighth Avenue. No rugs. No curtains. A puzzle on a sheet of cardboard in a corner. A filing cabinet, two Danish modern sofas; two chairs, the big oak table from their Newport kitchen.
“I haven’t had any time for shopping. I think I’ll get burnt orange carpeting; it would be so warm.”
But she has a book of color samples and is picking out colors for their rooms at home. “I’m having the kitchen done over with birch paneling; everything modern, the only room in the house that will be modern. And when we took out that old gas stove, you know the one on the cover of the record album, we found a beautiful flagstone fireplace. And I’ll have a triple sink and two ovens and a dishwasher. Do you know I never had a dishwasher until we got this apartment?
“And furniture. We don’t have any furniture except odds and ends that people have given us. Our furniture just wore out. We are going to have very big, very comfortable things. The living room is 50-feet long. Furniture with a bright floral print. And lots of big pillows on the floor; the kids love to sit on the floor, and Father does most of his thinking on the floor with his hands under his head.
“I want a long, long table for 20 people in the dining room – We’re always having extra people at mealtime. Last Thanksgiving we had to put two ping-pong tables together so we could all sit down.
“Father and I bought a king-sized bedroom suit, but we don’t like it; we get lost in it.”
There is noise because everyone is doing something – Susan making an entrance from the hallway singing a Christmas carol; Barry playing the cello in the bedroom; Dick and Paul talking while Paul loads the dishwasher; Bill and Bob singing “Grey sunny day, sun shinin’ down in Cranston.”
Bud, who has just gotten up, walks through holding his socks, “They’re a weir bunch of people. I don’t know where they come from.
“People look in the studio and say those poor kids. But you turn them loose and the first thing they do is pick up an instrument. What are you going to do?”
(To be continued in tomorrow's Evening Bulletin.)
Discipline Shows Through
By Susan E. Smith
AFTER ANY time with the Cowsills, you begin to see the discipline – the discipline parents give children and the discipline of professional performers. Because the Cowsills perform as a family, the two are inseparable.”
“Today parents are afraid of their teenage children. They don’t want to deny them anything; they don’t want to create any disturbance so they pacify their children.
“We’ve always been strict. It balances out love and a child expects it. It’s not healthy not to have discipline. You have to teach them there are certain things they can’t do,” Barbara Cowsill, who is small than her 13-year-old son, is quick to clout any of the children who step over the bounds established in their family.
“It works very well; we give them the love that goes with discipline. The older boys still kiss their father goodnight and they aren’t embarrassed. Our principal business is still raising a family.”
Susan comes around the end of the big oak table wearing a raspberry pink hat, her favorite possession, and puts her arm around her mother.
“Are you going to be unhappy today Susan; I just want to know ahead of time,” and she hugs Susan.
Barbara and Bud have been married 21 years. And she gives a quick life history with a augh. “Before I was married I was 17. I met Bud when I was 14 and he was 17. He joined the Navy and was in the South Pacific two years and we wrote. When he came back he still liked me and we got married. We were lucky to make it through a teenage marriage.
“We were kids with kids, and we grew with them. I was always very happy and never questioned it. I was geared for it. I come from a family of nine and a big family was a way of life.
“We wanted nine children and we worked very hard toward that. My husband wanted them to be leaders of men.
“When we go home, we tell the older boys to go out but they invariably end up where we are. Bill and Bob and Dick have their own apartment downstairs, but if they run out of groceries they know they can count on a meal here. They say ‘what are we having for dinner?” and I say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were coming for dinner. Why aren’t you cooking downstairs?’ And they say, ‘oh, that’s just bedrooms.’ And I say, ‘are you little boys or men?’
The Cowsills tease one another endlessly.
“Paul is so big and he came up the other day and put his hand on my shoulders and looked down at me and said, ‘mom, I’m gonna love you today,’ and I said ‘please, Paul, don’t love me today.”
She looks through the letters that were in the morning mail. “I got a letter from one boy in Tennessee that said I want to come and live with your family. You can come for me in January. He said his mother and father didn’t want him. I cried.
“Some people thought having mom in the group would be a turn-off for teenagers but it’s worked in reverse.
“I do follow orders from Bill in the music department only. I still maintain my position as mother and they don’t overstep.”
The effect discipline has had on the children is apparent. They say sir or ma’am to adults; if their parents ask them to do something, they do it instantly. They accept criticism without resentment. They work on their music tirelessly, repeating it over and over until they have what Bill and Bob consider the right sound. And Bill, who is the leader perhaps because he is the oldest, shares the direction of the group with Bob. And they listen to any member of the family who has a suggestion about the music.
Out of the discipline has grown respect for their parents, for each other and for other people. Part of their great charm is that the Cowsills treat other people with the same easy affection they show each other.
Bud, who keeps the family moving on schedule, waves you toward the refrigerator and an empty chair and says make yourself at home. If you can catch him sitting down, he tells you, “I enjoy them. I enjoy my wife’s voice. I can’t sing; I can’t even hum.
“I enjoyed them at home and when I took them out I got fun out of it. I guess I’m really a greedy fellow. And I’m still their best fan.”
“Bud’s the love of my life. We were separated enough when he was in the Navy. Then he started taking the children out to perform; I could join them or stay at home, so now here we are. After being in the Navy you learn to adjust to moving. Home is where your family is,” Barbara said.
And they have settled into life in New York. They boys have joined the YMCA; the family has an account at the grocery store across the street.
On a weekday, Paul, Barry, John and Susan walk to the Professional Children’s School, a private school at Ninth Avenue and 60th Street. Bob will begin his freshman year in college at New York University in February and Bill will be a sophomore at Pace junior College.
Bill wants a year ____ sometime to teach school and Bob wants to teach math. Bobby is 18 and if he wants to be a teacher he will make his own decision.
At a time when most teenagers are suffering from identity crisis, the Cowsills know exactly wh they are and what they are doing.
END OF SERIES
Cowsills on a visit to Newport
By Carol McCabe
HALFWAY DOWN the sixties, four boys from a Middletown family of seven siblings began playing rock and harmonizing in the Beach Boy manner. They were Bill Jr., Bob, Paul, and Barry Cowsill. By 1967, the group called The Cowsills usually included Bob, Barry, Paul and young John and Susan, harmonizing with their mother Barbara, a lively little blonde with a close-cropped helmet of hair.
“The Cowsills” was the title of the group’s first album, dated 1967 and including the number “Indian Lake.” By the next year, the singing family was MGM Records’ “hottest property.”
There were Ed Sullivan Show dates and TV spectaculars, night club appearances and concerts. The recording company provided a bus so the group could see the U.S.A.
John Cowsill was an eleven-year-old drummer when the New York Times described him after a 1967 Town Hall concert as “destined for that stardom only American can bestow.”
The family did a pilot for a television series, called “A Family Thing.”
On occasional Friday nights this year, the Cowsills have watched a television show which provides them in its way with the stardom only American can bestow. It’s called “The Partridge Family” and it’s about a fictional mother and children who go into show business playing rock and traveling the country in a bus. The mother has a blonde helmet of hair, and there’s a little drummer boy.
“Some of the things I see on that show are so coincidental I feel I’m living my life over,” Bud Cowsill said last week in Newport, raising an eyebrow and leaning heavily on the “coincidental.” Bud (William Senior) is husband, father, and non-singing manager of the group he describes as “the only true family directly related by bloodlines ever to have a gold record.”
The Cowsills were back in Newport for an engagement which had been scheduled to coincide with the Folk Festival, which was subsequently cancelled. The group played to “almost a full house every night” at the Viking’s Bellevue Room, capacity 200.
“Oh, we’re in a slump, like every industry,” Bud said. “Our catalog is in a healthy situation, but like anyone else we could use that big one. We have a new contract with London Records from which we expect good things and we’ll be playing the fair circuit this summer and fall.”
The Cowsills have accepted a South African tour. “We just like to travel. We’re not political.” They’re negotiating for a European tour which would take them across the Atlantic “to do the holidays. They have groovy Christmas trees there,” Bud said.
They have made formal request of the Red Chinese to tour China. “We just aren’t prejudiced,” Barbara said.
The Cowsills’ permanent home is in California now. They still own their Newport home but it’s rented so they are staying at the hotel.
“It’s the first time we’ve played Newport since our first concert (1965) in our whole lives,” John explained.
Overall, the real Cowsills seem less hot a property these days than the Partridges, or imitation Cowsills.
“People think, of course, we’re being paid for the use of our lives,” Barbara said. She and Bud and three boys, Bob, Barry, and John, talked at breakfast at the Viking. “We’re not, of course.”
Barbara is as lively and cute a Mom as ever. They boys are all of a size. The most changed appearance is that of their father, Bud. The straight look of earlier times has given way to a wispy Roman hair style, wide belt, hipster pants. The father of the Cowsills looks something like Claude Rains playing Julius Caesar in Dale Robertson clothes.
“People who watch The Partridge Family aren’t really watching the Partridges,” he said. “In their heads they’re watching the Cowsills.”
The Partridges are not directly related by bloodlines any of them, and most of them can’t play music, which is provided by studio musicians. Little girls are buying a lot of their records.
Before the Partridges sailed onto the screens, the Cowsills had been approached several times to do a show based on their life together and starring themselves.
“We were at the time not enchanted with the shows proposed because they were trying to make it unreal,” Bud said.
“Like, in the Partridge show, their first gig at Caesar’s palace and they don’t even have a record yet,” John said. “We never played Caesar’s palace but we did play the place across the street. It took us three years and some records to get there.”
“They’ve been trying to make us too cute for years, Barbara said, “It’s just not real the way they want it.”
“Yah,” said John. “Like we did travel on a bus for a while, an air conditioned bus with bunk beds. And it had a driver. We didn’t ask Mommy to drive. We felt we were asking enough of her without that.”
“Lawyers come up to me on the street, drooling,” Bud Cowsill said. He gave Dale Robertson’s belt a hitch, “I tell them I’m saving the lawsuit for a legacy to my children.”