Cowsill Transcripts

Billy Cowsill and Jeffrey Hatcher
June 1993
The Interview Disc
Vancouver, Canada

Cut 1
Billy: We used to go to New York all the time and just play on street corners – literally and anywhere. We’d play anywhere. We’d go into a Travelodge restaurant and just take out the guitars and just start playing. And eat for free. That was cool. And then we played North Bergen High School in New Jersey and all these colleges up and down the eastern seaboard, and kind of caught on. One day this guy was there from The Today Show was there for the Americas’ Cup Races which were held in Newport. He says, “You want to be on The Today Show?” We said, “You bet. That’s national TV.” In fact we were the first entertainment – ever – to be on the Today Show when Hugh Downs and Barbara Walters were the hosts. And Harry Reasoner was there too. So we got 20 minutes on The Today Show.

Cut 2
Billy: We just did ‘Hair’ as a pre-record for a lip-synch to a skit on a Carl Reiner, Rob Riener’s dad, special called The Wonderful World of Pizzazz. We just borrowed these fright wigs from Japan and chains and leather and stuff. And he thought it would just be wacky to have the clean-cut The Cowsills do this outside situation. So we hit an eight-track skully somewhere in Hollywood, just pre-recorded it to do the skit to. Sounded good. Put it out. The rest is history.

Cut 3
Billy: It was going to be, the original scenario was this musical family goes across the desert in this covered wagon. That was the whole first scenario for The Partridge Family. I don’t know what they were going to call it. Singing Your Way West, I don’t know. And we went YUCK! You know, no. First we didn’t want to get locked into a series on TV. And, you know, we just wanted to rock. But that’s how it really started. We got offered the series, we said no, they changed it and The Partridge Family was the result of the change. So it’s just a …. it’s kinda cute, you know.

Cut 4
Jeffrey: The Fuse became The Six when I moved to Toronto and then it became The Big Beat. It was all the same people really, my two brother, Don and Paul, and Dave Briggs. And then Dave left the band and we just continued on. Practically the same guys playing the same music, although we were always writing. And we spent many years going back and forth from Toronto to Winnipeg to New York looking for a record deal. I didn’t think it was going to happen. But eventually The Big Beat had an album released in the States in 87.

Cut 5
Jeffrey:I met Larry Wanless who’s managing, he’s one of The Blue Shadows managers now and many years ago. And when I moved to Vancouver I looked him up and he sent me off to a local club to see Billy play. And I went there, saw the band, and thought, “This is really hot.” I loved the material. I knew most of those songs. And I thought like …

Billy: There’s that 40-year-old I’ve been looking for.

Jeffrey: I thought to myself, “I can do what that guitar player is doing,” you know. Like, well I guess most people in my position would, whether you can do it or not, “I can do that, hey.” So when the spot became available, I called Larry and said, “I want to audition for the band.” So he put me in touch with Bill, and I called Bill, and I just brought my guitar down to the club one night. We discussed a couple songs to play and I went up and played them. The band, I found out this was a band that doesn’t rehearse, you know. It just plays songs. And I was used to rehearsing a lot before you play and I really liked this. “What do you want to play?” “Well let’s play that.” “You know that?” “I know that.” “You want the high harmony or low part” “I’ll do this.” “In G?” “OK?” So you go onstage and you play the d&*^ thing and you go home with a new job.

Cut 6
Billy: So what I was really impressed with was the conscience time that I knew it had taken Jeffery to of cuz I knew how much time it took me, with the help of other friends pointing things along the way, and this and that. Teaching me and me listening and you know just started singing and it just came out. It just came out. I mean there was no discussion really – yet basically it was, “You want the high part?” “OK I’ll do the high part. You do the low part” “Fine” That’s it. That was basically the big meeting. Then I was just totally charmed by the whole situation. It was like falling off a log. It’s like, “What do we have here?”

Cut 7
Jeffrey: Hank Goes To The Cavern Club was sort of our nickname for our sound after we’d done a couple numbers. And we realized we were going to write a lot more together. We started getting a blueprint together, as we called it, for the material because we realized we were writing towards an album. We weren’t writing just for fun. We were writing like for a certain thing. We wanted to have a certain continuity. So we’d start something and if it got pretty poppy, we’d say, “I think that needs a little more Hank in that.” And if it ??? country, “I think it needs a little more Cavern Club, you know.” So after awhile Hank Goes To The Cavern Club was the name of the album that we hadn’t finished writing yet and we had no record deal either. But that’s where that comes from.

Billy: I mean it’s the same thing basically, in a different time, with different tech, but with the same emoting, the same honest. The same …. it’s truth. You just can’t negate truth. When somebody lays it down, and means it, that’s just the bottom line.

Cut 8
Jeffrey: Well we don’t, we do once in awhile, but we don’t as often as it seems. I’m usually low part and Bill’s on top. Once in awhile we do switch but the funny thing is that – other people say this as well – I noticed this too and so does Bill. It sounds like the same person is singing harmony with themselves, even though my voice doesn’t sound anything like Bill’s. And his doesn’t sound anything like mine. It’s kind of a little bit of weird luck there.

Cut 9
Billy: When you’re inspired with a line like “If I were you” or “If it ain’t rockin’” You get a good line, a good line you can build around, the song writes itself, I feel. I mean we’re vehicles We’ve amassed a certain amount of knowledge and it’s hybridized and we’ve got our, like Jeffrey said, we’ve got our collective unconscious influences that just emerge, you know, that help the new song out, get born in a way. The song basically writes itself if the writers are in synch with each other, I feel.

Jeffrey: I swear they’re already written, you know

Billy: Yeah that’s how I feel.

Jeffrey: And I don’t mean that metaphorically either. And I don’t aspire to be mysterious because I’m not. I really feel like they’re already written. Already there.

Billy: But there’ in your mind somewhere and you just got to ….

Jeffrey: All those notes are there and there’s in that order somewhere up there and if no one has heard it yet – well they just haven’t heard it this way. Or they haven’t heard it this way.

Cut 10
Jeffrey: ‘If I Were You’ is just about the second or third song we wrote together, Billy and I. Once we got started writing together we started doing it a lot. We were doing it everywhere. I remember doing this in the dressing room, between sets, at the Fairview. There is no dressing room at the Fairview. It was the manager’s office really. We wrote the song … We started it somewhere in a car, getting a lift home, and finished it off in the back stage, between sets. It started with the phrase ‘If I Were You’ and Billy added the harmony and I knew in the second part of the song…. And I knew the song was finished as soon as I heard that. Came together pretty fast. Took about three breaks.

Cut 11
Jeffrey: ‘When Will This Heartache End’ Billy and I were driving to the Bumstead Studios which was where we were writing at the time. And I been singing in another band, ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You,’ and so ‘When Will This Heartache’ had the same amount of solos. I remember singing ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ over and over again thinking ‘We should have something sort of like that.’ Then the phrase came to me ‘when will this heartache end’. We got to the studio and it was the first thing I played. Bill liked it right away so we just started banging it around will it doesn’t sound a lot like ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’. They all have their own life once their kick started.

Cut 12
Billy: (‘The Fool Is The Last One To Know’) I wrote that with a wonderful reprobate from Bone S, Ralph Boyd Johnson. “Darlin’ who’s that so and so” – yeah that was Ralph. I had the Romeo. He goes, “Who’s that so and so.” And I went, “Ralph, You’re a Genius!”

Cut 13
Jeffrey: That started with Bill somewhere in the break in the sets at another club. ‘Coming On Strong’ was Bill’s phrase. We started banging it around and trying to give it some kind of angle, you know. It could have been a more lascivious song than it turned out to be. And I remember trying very hard to steer it away from that because the phrase was pretty provocative, the phrase ‘coming on strong.’ And I remember playing that in about three different keys over the course of a couple weeks. And it sound phenomenally different song every time until we got it into – we had to bang a few dents out of it I remember.

Billy: No kidding. It took some mental work yeah.

Cut 14
Jeffrey: ‘I’ll Think On It’ uh …

Billy:I just happen to drop by your session.

Jeffrey: I think that’s what it was. ‘I’ll Think On It’ I wrote a number of years ago my brothers and I used to do it in Toronto. It was pretty folky sounding song then. But around the time, a few months after I joined the band I started trying to sneak my own songs into the group because it’s always a lot more fun to play your own songs. And Bill wanted me to have some more songs to sing, take a lead on. So I’d bring in some of my favorite oldies in, but I’d bring in some of my own too. So I did that one a couple of times. I recorded it at a local studio and Bill heard it probably in a new way at that time. And then we got the idea for him to sing it instead of me.

Billy: It was a nice gift. It is really neat for a singer to get a good piece of material, especially if it isn’t a cover and it’s somebody elses. But it sounds really familiar. It feels real good. It feels kinda like this should be a cover tune. That’s what I loved about it. It was dark, shadowy. It’s lonesome. I mean the line, “just when I feel like something matters then I know that I’m not far enough gone” Ahh that’s my life.

Cut 15
Jeffrey: When Billy added the harmony to ‘Deliver Me’ and suggested slowing it down and changing the key. He did a number of arrangement adjustments to it. And it really changed it. I mean it was definitely a rock song before. It’s one of the rockers songs The Blue Shadows do but it’s pretty well in the country vein though. But Billy changed it quite a lot.

Cut 16
Billy: Our management team flew me down to write with him (Mark Irwin). And it was a breeze. It was so nice to go down and just write with another good writer. It’s always good to write with good writers. But I didn’t know how easy it would be, again. It was another kind of …. Just …. I don’t know what happens. When Jeffery and I write we just sit down and it just kind of comes out. You just throw the ball back and forth and – shhhttt – done. And it shouldn’t be that easy. I mean it takes me personally, as an individual, about like 6 months to craft a tune. But with Jeffrey it’s like a whole other ballgame. And with Mark it was very much like that. He’s very astute. He’s very literate and fast. Cheap, fast and cool.

Cut 17
Billy: (‘If It Ain’t A Rockin’)I was mucking up on stage just a – just before I was tuning up and was just muckin’ and I just went “da da da daa di if it ain’t a rock then it ain’t right.” Jeff goes, “I hear it. It’s written. Consider it written.” And then a couple days later we got together and he goes “Here’s what I got. If something ain’t a jumpin it’s a what I can’t take.” I went, “Yeah!”

Cut 18
Jeffrey: ‘On The Floor Of Heaven’ came from – I had two phrases in my head. I was walking down the street one day and the first was ‘on the floor of heaven’ with those notes (singing) “On the floor of heaven” That’s all I had besides this other – the amen thing – which had occurred to me I think years before - all men and amen are practically the same thing especially when you’re singing it and kind of slurring the words a bit. And I wanted us to find a clever way to getting that thought – all men into a song with out it being over modeling

Billy: Overly gospel

Jeffrey: Or self pitying or anything like that, which is why in the chorus we sing ‘almost all men’ Because of course who ever is in that circumstance is not all men, but there’s enough of them that the song came into being.

Cut 19
Billy: (‘Embers’) I wrote that because it was Warren Zevon’s birthday, I didn’t have any money. So I said, “Why don’t I just write a song?” And I thought “The embers keep burning long after the fire.” I mean it’s just a fact. You look at a fire after its …. and it just came out I moved to Vancouver in 79 and I recorded at in Willie McCalders basement on his t-eck (??) in 81 and it’s just been hangin’ around ever since. Then everybody dug it, but I was getting tired of it because I’d been dragging it along so long and nothing was happening with it. Everybody was going “Yeah it’s a great song.” “It’s a good song” but nobody was picking up on it, whatever, but you know what? That’s because it wasn’t all written yet. That’s right. This is what we’re talking about, you see. In order for a song to out there, it has to be finished. And it wasn’t finished till Jeff said, “I think I have a bridge” and Jeffrey wrote a bridge for it. And it really tied it all up real nice in a bow. Now it’s not a record because it’s a whole song.

Cut 20
Jeffrey: I wrote ‘I Believe.’ I was working on a couple things that Billy and I – we usually have about 3-4 songs on the go, you know, bits and pieces lying around. And often what happens to them when I’m alone working on things like that I’ll take a little break from them, from these bits of work really which is what they are and take a break and just bang out something else. And that’s where ‘I Believe’ came from I was playing something else, a slow song. I can’t remember which one it as right now just to give myself a break from that thing and I just started hitting the guitar really hard and … What works best is to just close my eyes and open my mouth and see what happens. It just came out. Didn’t take very long. Brought it by the studio the next day and again it was another one of those 45 minutes and it was finished.

Cut 21
Jeffrey: Actually ‘Is Anybody Here’ is one of those songs where I was working on something else and got tired of it for a few minutes so I decided, “Oh let’s do something else, ” and let’s do something that’s quite different. I had been doing something fast, so I thought “Let’s do something slow.” I’d had in the back of my mind for quite awhile Jimmy Stiller wrote a Roy Orbisony kind of song for Billy because he’s got the voice for that. Let’s do something like that. So ‘Is Anybody Here,’ the chorus of ‘Is Anybody Here’ is what came out in the next couple of minutes. Then we couldn’t, for a variety of reasons we were traveling a lot around then and we couldn’t together to write for a little while so that little piece of a song just sat on a shelf for a few weeks till we got together. Again it didn’t take very long to get it together.

Email Me Home