“So we reek of Oreos and milk, this is our thing,” explains Bill Cowsill, trying to describe what makes the Cowsills, a smash success in show business.
A half dozen press and radio representatives were sitting and standing in the tiny cubicle under the state before the singing group’s final performance Monday night in front of the Allentown Fair grandstand.
The guests weren’t talking – they were listening, as the sea of look-alikes joined in.
“That’s our new single,” said Bill Cowsill when they had finished. It’s called “Poor Baby” and it will be released in about two weeks.”
Twenty-year old Bill does most of the talking for the group, through some sort of unspoken understanding. It all began with him, and musically his leadership cannot be denied.
Bill was joined by Bob, then Barry. And one by one each family member became part of the sound – playing at church dinners and YMCA events.
But six Cowsills, aged 9 to 20, agree:
“We needed mother.”
“We couldn’t seem to make it before she joined. There were plenty of groups with little kids and brother acts, but no group with an up-to-date sound had a mother. She was our gimmick,” adds Bill.
Barbara Cowsill, their minimommie” has her own reasons for joining the group.
“My husband was in the Navy for 20 years and I kept saying goodbye. He retired, started touring with the kids, and I was still saying goodbye. So I decided to go along.”
Preserving the family unit of the Cowsills – and living as normal a life as possible – is the foremost concern of the Cowsills.
“We don’t let this affect our advance as a family. The family comes first,” stresses Papa Cowsill, the behind the scenes guy who keeps everything running smoothly. “I’m a full-time babysitter.”
“You are not,” interrupts Mama Cowsill, grinning.
They explain that during the school year they work only on weekends. All the kids are in school including Bill and Bob who attend college. Bill was married two months ago to an Allentown girl, Karen Locke, and this hasn’t affected the continuity either. They are progressing as any family would.
Of course there’s nothing usual about their appearances on some of the top television shows – The Smothers Brothers, Jonathon Winters, Hollywood Palace and Ed Sullivan in the fall. November they are appearing in a special which is a pilot for a possible series.
“We just made a number of commercials for the American Dairy Association, too.” Again the group bursts into song with “A Good Day Guarenteed,” one of their pre-success tunes that has been adapted to “The Milk song” for the commercial series.
How long will they stick together professionally?
“We’re willing to change to fit the times, so we should last,” says Bob.
Bill elaborates. “All of us can solo, even little Susan. We all do in our new album. But even if we do singles we don’t intend to break up the group.”
As if to illustrate, 9-year-old Susan hopped off her chair and treated us to “Ask the Children” backed up by her big brothers.
“Five more minutes,” signaled Papa Cowsill authoritatively, and the handful of newsmen reluctantly prepared to leave.
“Thanks a lot” . . . “Nice to meet you,” chimed eight Cowsills, and somehow you feel they really mean it.
Wholesomeness is their keyword, and musically they swing. Perhaps it’s the careful combination of these qualities that explain their seemingly universal appeal. Or as Susan Cowsill says:
“Oreos and milk are good!”