FOUR YOUNG MIDDLETOWN BROTHERS, none of whom can read music, are trying to break into the big-time recording business by writing and singing their own material.
In a business that features such ear-catching names as Herman and His Hermits, the brothers sing under the name of "The Cowsills." They are not attempting to be obscure or contriving because they didn't choose the name; it chose them. It's their family name.
The brothers, Bill Jr., 17; Bob, 16; Paul, 13; and John, 9; are part of the family of Mr. and Mrs. William J. Cowsill of 611 Indian Ave., Middletown. There is also Richard, who is Bob's twin brother, Barry who is 11 and Susan, 6.
The four musicians, however, are a family by themselves. They consist of four songwirters, three guitarist, three drummers and three singers. The reason for the triplication and quadruplication is that the two older brothers, Bill and Bob, who have been singing and writing songs and playing the instruments for eight years, taught the two younger ones. None has had professional training,
"Sir John," as the family calls him plays the drums and the other three sing and play the guitars.
Their first record, "All I Really Wants Be Is Me," and "And the Next Day Too," was released three weeks ago on the Joda label which handles Johnny Nash recordings. The boys put 30 songs, all written by them, on tape last summer, to be released as singles or albums.
Mr. Cowsill recently retired from the Navy and decided that, since the boys wanted him to, he would be their manager, and so they went professional about a year ago.
Since then, nearly every weekend has been spent driving anywhere from Pennsylvania to New Hampshire playing in college concerts, high school record hops and nightclubs. They have appeared on local television and radio a number of times, and on Sept. 24, they appeared on the "Today 'Show," the first rock and roll group to be seen on that program.
However, they don't like to be classified as rock and roll singers because they feel that much of their appeal is that they can they can sing ballads, pop and folk with equal facility and, therefore, can please nearly any audience.
The boys, travel in a small bus outfitted with bunks and electricity for sleeping and studying respectively. And studying is a sore point with Mr. and Mrs. Cowsill but not for the usual reasons.
Despite their hectic travel and performance schedule, the boys are doing fine scholastically. So well, in fact, that Bill is on the honor roll at Middletown High. Bob has had his best year ever with "A's", "B's" and a couple of "C's", and the two younger boys are doing equally well.
In case anyone doubts his word about the boys' grades and their absences (about six days each per quarter), Mr. Cowsill carries their report cards with him and will produce them at the slightest provocation.
Currently the brother are promoting their record by making personal appearances on stage and television. The record was picked by two trade magazines as one of the top 40 releases out of 300 the week it went on the market. Last weekend they made television appearances in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo and Cleveland.
This weekend they will be in Worcester, helping Danny Thomas with a benefit for the Leukemia Fund. They have been invited to do Grossinger's Christmas week but haven't decided yet whether to go.
Their hope is eventually to be able to do large concerts and they hope "All I Want To Be Is Me" and the 31 others will get them the national attention such appearances require.