Cowsill Transcripts

Undiscovered Country
CMT - Canada
May 2004
Host: Kim Mitchell

Thanks to Marsha J. for sharing this.

Kim: Sometimes when people’s stars shine, it happens in their younger years. These artists can sometimes fade away from the limelight and it can be for a number of reasons. Sometimes the record company decided that their time has past, the record buying public tastes change, and maybe the artist chooses to change. But one thing that hasn’t changed is these artists were once in the forefront of the industry, are just that – artists. For them the desire to make music hasn’t disappeared. For them being an artist is a life-long endeavor and not just something to be done when you have a hit on the radio. Tonight we will meet three people whose names you will know. What you may not know is the work they are creating today. These are artists who are at peace with what they are doing, and at peace with their past. Three people who have been there and done that in our Undiscovered County.

Voice over: If we look – from coast to coast – we’ll find them. From sea to shining sea, they’re out there. They are the stories of those whose names we may not know. From the waters of British Columbia all the way to The Rock, they are people who touch others, people whose own dreams never die. Everyone’s got a story, everybody’s got a song, in our Undiscovered Country. Tonight’s episode: “Been There … Done That!”

Kim: Where do you go when you’ve been #1? Where do you go when you’ve been playing music your whole life? Where do you go once you’ve packed an entire lifetime of experience to realize you’re only 20? What if you saw many of your contemporaries fall victim to the excesses of stardom? And what if you’ve lived through everything that the music business has to throw at you? Meet Billy Cowsill – Survivor.

Billy: My name is Billy Cowsill and I’m in a real hot rock and roll band with a bunch of good friends and I like to produce rock and roll records.

Song: I Know

Billy: I’ve been performing since I was 15 – professionally, and prior to that, playing music since I was 5. Making records – started doing that in 1967 – so that would be about – what – 35 some odd years ago. I didn’t like the image that had been created for us, which was totally unreal. I didn’t really particularly care for the material until “Hair” came along. It’s really not a lot of fun being in a band with your Mother when you’re 19 years old and you’re playing a place where some young girls come and giving you the eye and showing you her hotel key – and you’re on stage with your Mother. Now, there’s just no way out. So, it kind of cramped my style. The euphony for me was standing on the Ed Sullivan stage where Paul McCartney and John Lennon stood. That was just a dream come true. That was so cool !! It really was.

Song: (more of) I Know

Billy: Here we have for your listening pleasure The Cowsills – Live In Concert circa 1969. So we went into a studio, a little 8 track studio in Los Angeles, California, and my brothers and myself recorded it (speaking of “Hair”). I looked at my brother Bob and he looked at me and we said, “Hey, this sounds pretty cool !” So, we went to MGM records and said, “This is our next single” and they just freaked because we had all these – you know (singing) “I love the flower girl”, all these rosy little tunes that makes you want to – uh kind of made me want to throw up, actually. But, I mean they were sweet and cute, but they were not my idea of rock and roll. “Hair” was a really good, viable, piece of rock and roll. As far as I was concerned I was quite proud of that record. MGM would not – and refused to put this record out. We took the tape of – the master – to WLS in Chicago, a 50,000 watt station, and the program director played the rough copy. Well, the switch boards lit up and people said, “Where can we buy this record?” Well, there wasn’t a record to buy. However, two weeks later, the popularity of this record was so heavy with callers calling in wanting to hear it, that MGM reneged and finally did put it out and within 30 days, it was the #1 record in the country. Within a period of three months, this song sold 6 million copies.

Billy: I’d be in The Cowsills by day, and go down to Benny K's on Santa Monica Boulevard for all the Heineken, cocaine, and girls I could get. Sit in and jam with – these were my mentors. I had this double life. I wanted to just rock and roll – bare bones rock and roll – then I’d go do this ‘sweetness and light’ kind of thing which was very, very disconcerting to me. I was really getting tired of this – what I considered a facade of my own persona. You know, I just wanted to rock and roll. ‘Cause they were putting us in show – big show rooms in Las Vegas now. And, you know I think Wayne Newton has a great voice. (singing) “Danke Schoen darling Danke Schoen.” It’s wonderful, but I can’t stand Las Vegas. I can’t stand the values that that town possesses. I just don’t go there, you know. I think it’s bull s***. My mother, my father, my wife then – my wife and I were in the coffee shop of the Flamingo Hotel. The marquee outside says, “America’s First Family of Music – The Cowsills” It’s about 4 AM and we’re in this heated argument. He throws his cheep shot out at me and I just looked at him and I said, “Dad, F*** you!” Well, he came out of that chair like a bull out of a shoot. What happen was, I grabbed his wrists just as he was about to kill me. And, I realized for the first time in my life, that I could hold him. That is, I was a man. I had the strength of a man. And – was like – I went “Hey, now, what’s this?” He was just getting furious and I just held him in his grip. And he’s just cussing and swearing at me, saying, “I’ll kill you” this this this. All of a sudden I look over my shoulder, within 6 seconds here comes two Arizona State troopers. I talking 6 foot 6, white walls, Aqua Velva, Jack boots, here they come. One guy grabs him under one arm. The other guy grabs him under the other arm and hauls his ass away. He’s screaming and I’m going (thumb to nose and wiggling fingers) – I did this cuz he was used always do that to me – like that – “F*** you”

The next day I get a letter from my father informing me that I am hereby fired from The Cowsills. I’m going, “Now this is really novel. Not only am I being fired a band – I looked – it appears I’m getting fired from my family.” I think that might be a first.

Song: On The Floor Of Heaven

Billy: I went back to Los Angeles, I mean I just came off the “Hair” record, I mean I’m a good producer, obviously. I just sold 6 million records and it was no problem getting a job. I’d walk into any record company and they’d say, “Well what have you done lately?” I’d just open Cashbox and I went, “That” So I was a hired gun right away. And so I worked a couple years in Los Angeles. Then I ran into this band of outlaws from Tulsa, Oklahoma. They were Leon Russell’s back up band. Jimmy Karstein, Carl Radle – people like that. And Gary Lewis of all people was their friend too. So, Gary Lewis and I, with these Okies, got a band together. I loved to Tulsa with two bird dogs and a wife – pregnant wife and two bird dogs and started really learning about the roots of the music I’d been playing all my life, rhythm and blues, the blues. I used to be a – the band would play in these little strip malls down there in Tulsa. This would be about 1971 – 72. And on my breaks, I go across the parking lot and sit in with J.J. Cale. So I get to learn about the blues that way. I was – everything I learned musically that I didn’t just absorb from growing up – was after the fact – as far as roots and source – things like that.

Song: Vagabond

Billy: I was drinking quite a bit and taking a lot of pharmaceuticals and had also been in a very bad bar fight and got my skull crushed with some pool cues and bar stools and was quite insane. Like for real. In fact it precipitated my first bi-polar episode. I was living on the streets of New York City. I saw the down-trodden. I saw people hungry. I was one of them. I just happen to have this publishing company not care that I was – they didn’t know I was – they just thought I was a good writer so they gave me this studio time.

Song: (more) Vagabond

Billy: I was in the recording studio. I got to do these demos and I rented this guitar and the machine heads were stripped. So I was about to fling it across the studio. Jack comes on the intercom and says, “Wait a minute Billy.” He went in the back and brought out this leather soft case. I said, “Thanks Jack” So I peeled it down and this odor of beautiful wood came out and it said Everly Gibson on it. And I said, “Everly Gibson? Well I kind of know there are only three real ones. Don’s got one, McCartney’s got one,” and I said – to tell you how out of it I was – I said, “Jack who’s is this?” He goes, “That’s John’s.” Well, I lost it. John Lennon. He had just finished the Imagine album. Here I was – hopeless, helpless, out of my mind, still rocking – and someone hands me MY HERO’s ax. That was a turning point for me of coming back to sanity, back to reality and back to this journey that I’ve been on ever since.

Song: (more) Vagabond

Billy: Well I’m an addict, you know, and an alcoholic. And after 35 years of giving it hard, it bit me back. And I got very ill – emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically. And I could no longer play. I was not strong enough to play the music I love. And it was because of – you know a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. At my strongest I’m a force to be contended with. At my weakest, I’m useless. When I came to Alberta, after being rescued by my dear, dear friends over at Indelible – Neil MacGonigill, Allison Brock, Rubio Valley – and I can’t – the list goes on – Jan Arden, they all came to my rescue. In 1997 – the end of 1997 – I was sitting in my room in Vancouver for a year. I was down to about 134 lbs., doing copious amounts of alcohol and heroin every day. And they got wind of that and they came out literally, physically, and rescued me and took me back here and put me in a rehabilitation center. My muse was dead. That is I was physically exhausted and sick. Psych ward and the works, but was really the tragedy was that muse – that is my creative force, my spirit – had died or it seemed so. And it was a long journey back, but it’s just part of the journey. And the path is good now. And what my job is now is to give that back the best way I can and that’s through the music I perform with the friends that I perform it with. And the friends that I perform it with Tim Leacock, Ross Watson, Steve Pineo are all in there too as far as never, never giving up on me. Never, no matter what condition I was in. They always had faith and hope that one day I was going to be OK and that bodes true especially, especially for my friend Tim Leacock and his wife.

Song: (more) I Know

Billy: The Co-Dependents and there’s not a better name for it.

Song: (more) I Know

Billy: In a perfect world I want one more hit record before I leave this earth. That’s my desire.

Song: On The Floor Of Heaven

Trivia: What other two artists were featured on this episode? Lee Aaron and Michael Hanson

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