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B » B » Music


Barbara Cowsill
 


Country : Newport, Rhode Island
Profession : Singer
Date of birth : 1928-07-12
Date of death : 1985-01-31
Cause of Death : Emphysema

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The Cowsills were a singing group from Newport, Rhode Island specializing in what would later be defined as bubblegum pop. The band was formed in the spring of 1965 by four brothers—Barry, Bill, Bob, and John Cowsill. After their initial success, the brothers were later joined by their siblings Susan and Paul and their mother Barbara. Bob's twin brother Richard did not sing with the group, but he did serve as a road manager.

Origins and early successes

Originally inspired by the Everly Brothers and later The Beatles,The Cowsills' musical interest started while their father Bud Cowsill was stationed in Canton, Ohio in the late 1950s as a US Navy recruiter. Billy and Bob taught themselves how to play the guitar. The boys developed their musical talent and harmonized vocals, and they performed at school church dances in Stark County, Ohio. The boys' first television appearance was on the Gene Carroll Show on WEWS in Cleveland.

Bud retired from a long career in the US Navy and managed his children's career, along with his wife.

In late 1965, the Cowsills were hired as a regular act on Bannisters Wharf in Newport, where they would sing Beatles songs hour after hour. A handful of singles were released on JODA Records and Philips Records in 1965 and 1966, to only modest success. The band was signed by MGM records in 1967, and Barbara—who would become known to their fans affectionately as "Mini-Mom" due to her diminutive stature—joined the group just in time to record the band's first album, including the hit single "The Rain, The Park and Other Things". Bill sang lead vocal on this hit. Shortly thereafter the band was expanded yet again, to include siblings Susan and Paul.

With the success of "The Rain...", the band quickly became a popular act in the U.S., and achieved significant airplay in England and other parts of Europe. "The Rain..." wound up reaching #2 on the Billboard charts, selling some three million copies in its first release.

Bob Cowsill is quoted as follows on the band's early days:

"Although Bill and I performed at a very young age, and Bill, I, Barry and John did a lot of frat parties at Brown University and clubs in Newport ... the most memorable performance of what I would view as the precursor of what The Cowsills would be was at Kings Park in Newport (right at the foot of Halidon Hall) at some carnival. The family angle just evolved ... first Bill and me, then Bill me and Barry, then Bill, me, Barry and John, then Bill, me, Barry, John and Mom, then Bill, me, Barry, John, Mom and Paul, then later, me, Paul, John, Barry, Mom and Susan, then back to Bill, me, Barry and John (very briefly in the end) and then to me, Paul, John and Susan. Our first real break came when we were playing the MK Hotel in Newport (in the basement there) and a guy from the "Today Show" saw us and asked if we wanted to be on the "Today" show. We weren't famous or anything but we were young and we were related and we were quite good. So we went on "The Today show" (I doubt a tape exists of that but if it did it would be priceless to see) and someone from Mercury Records saw us, which ultimately led to our signing with that label and putting out "Most Of All" (a great "school's out" song that should have been our first hit in my opinion), which led to Artie Kornfeld and Steve Duboff. Mercury dropped us, but Artie and Steve had written "The Rain, The Park and Other Things" and we went in and recorded that song at A&R studios in New York and took the whole package to MGM, who decided wouldn't it just be terrific if their mother performed with them and, voila, the rest, as they say, is history."

In 1968, the band scored another million-selling hit with the song "Indian Lake" which reached #10 on the charts and in 1969, the band had another number two hit and another million seller with their version of the title song from the musical Hair.

From 1968 through 1973, the band played an average of 200 performance dates per year, and were among the most popular acts on the American concert circuit. They were particularly noted for their ability to achieve 4- and 5-part harmonies with remarkable accuracy and relative pitch; a phenomenon common among sibling singing groups, e.g. the Mills Brothers, the Jackson 5, the Osmond Brothers, the Andrews Sisters, the Beach Boys (whose songs the Cowsills used to cover in concert), etc.

Television and The Cowsills

The Cowsills also made many television appearances throughout the late 1960s and into the early 1970s. Their appearances included:

The Ed Sullivan Show (twice)

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (twice)

American Bandstand

The Mike Douglas Show

The Barbara McNair Show

Playboy After Dark

Kraft Music Hall

Music Scene

The Johnny Cash Show.

They starred in their own (unfortunately low-budget) television special, called A Family Thing, in November 1968 on NBC, which guest-starred Buddy Ebsen. By 1969 Screen Gems approached the family to portray themselves in their own TV sitcom, but when they were told that their mother was to be replaced by actress Shirley Jones the deal fell through. Screen Gems later hired David Cassidy to join the cast and the show went on to be called The Partridge Family, and to have a four-year run on ABC Television.

The Cowsills were also known as spokespeople for the American Dairy Association, appearing in advertisements promoting milk. They performed the theme for the David Niven film The Impossible Years (1968), and also sang the theme for Love American Style during the first season (1969).

Breakups and reunions

In 1969, Bill was fired from the group by his father after he was caught smoking marijuana. By 1972, Barbara, Paul and Susan had all left the group and Bill returned, reforming the original quartet. They released one more single, "Covered Wagon", which failed to chart. Shortly afterward, The Cowsills stopped playing together as a band amid a series of internal personal squabbles. The individual members went on to various career attempts in and out of the music industry. However, the group did appear at Madison Jr. High school in Tampa, Florida as "The Cowsills" for one performance during the mid 1970s. Some produced albums and performed from time to time, albeit not as The Cowsills, during the remainder of the '70s and up through the majority of the following decade. One project in particular was a band called Bridey Murphy, which was formed in the mid-'70s and featured Paul, Bill, Barry, and Waddy Wachtel, and performed to varying degrees of success.

In 1978, several of the Cowsills—including Paul, John, Barry, Bob and Susan—recorded an album rather incongruously entitled Cocaine Drain, with the producer Chuck Plotkin. The album was never completed, and at some point the master tapes were lost (or stolen). For almost 30 years the album existed only as a scratchy acetate. In March 2008, a version of the album was finally released, remastered from that acetate under Bob Cowsill's direction. Several other previously unreleased tracks were included on the 2008 release. All six of the performing Cowsill siblings appear on the cover art of the album, in shots apparently taken on stage around the time of the recording sessions.

After the Cocaine Drain sessions, the Cowsills did some reunion shows in 1979–1980, but returned to their separate careers after that.

The most prominent Cowsill in the years since has been Susan, who was a member of The Continental Drifters, along with both her first husband Peter Holsapple (who is the father of her daughter) and her second husband, Russ Broussard. She was also part of Dwight Twilley's band in the mid-1980s, and currently has a solo career as the leader of her own band, the Susan Cowsill Band. Her first-ever solo album, Just Believe it, was released in late 2005 by Blue Corn Music.

John Cowsill has also been prominent as both an actor and a musician. Since December 2000, John has been a regular member of The Beach Boys touring band, playing drums and keyboards and singing lead on some of their tunes. In earlier years, he performed with artists such as Jan & Dean and Dwight Tilley. In the early 1980s, he was briefly a member of the band Tommy Tutone, and his backing vocals and percussion can be heard on their hit, "Jenny (867-5309)." As an actor, John has has appeared on the ABC sitcom Full House and the long-running soap opera General Hospital.

Bill Cowsill moved to Canada in the 1970s and did well in that country as a solo artist and as a member of Vancouver, British Columbia's Blue Northern, before forming the nationally acclaimed Blue Shadows and recording two albums for Sony Canada.

After working as a sound engineer for Helen Reddy, Paul left the music industry for a career in the construction industry. While he still performs with The Cowsills, his primary occupation is that of a farmer in Oregon.

Bob has had a successful career outside of music, in the software industry. He currently trains hospital emergency departments to use a software package called EDITS (Emergency Department Information Tracking System) that manages data capture and billing issues associated with emergency room accountancy. Bob was also part of the actual development and coding team for the software package. He is also still an active performer.

In 1990, Bob, Paul, John, and Susan again regrouped as The Cowsills. The original plan was to simply hit the "oldies circuit", but after some deliberation, they decided to incorporate and showcase new material written by Bob and his wife, Mary Jo, into the act. This incarnation of the band started playing small clubs and showcases in the Los Angeles area and eventually spread out to similar venues across the country and into Canada. Their performances generated positive reviews from critics and fans alike, including a very well-received performance on The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, where Susan voiced in mock frustration as to never being able to figure out which of the two girls on The Partridge Family was supposed to represent her.

The success of this reunion led The Cowsills back into the recording studio, which resulted in the album Global. This has also led to several reunions over the years in various forms, ranging from a few concerts to special feature performances at major events. Most notable of these events were "A Taste of Rhode Island in 2000", which featured all seven surviving Cowsills, and "A Family Thing 2", which was a benefit concert in 2004 for Bill's medical and financial difficulties at the time. This concert took place at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles and included an appearance by Shirley Jones, who introduced the band. It was the first time they had ever met. As the mother on the TV show inspired by the Cowsills, Shirley made a point of calling them "the real thing". Though she did not sing with them that night, immediately after her announcement, the Cowsills played "I Really Want To Know You", which is the one song that had been recorded by both The Cowsills and The Partridge Family. During this period, Barry also released a solo CD, As I.

In 2004, it was announced that the Cowsills had been asked to sing the National Anthem at Fenway Park and Susan's first solo release, Just Believe It, was released in 2004 in Europe and 2005 in the U.S.

Currently, Bob, Paul and Susan perform several shows per month as The Cowsills while still maintaining their separate lives and careers. In 2007, they toured as part of a package called "The Original Idols Live!", hosted by Barry Williams, who played Greg Brady on The Brady Bunch.

Deaths

The following members of The Cowsills are deceased:

Barbara

In January 1985, Barbara Cowsill died of emphysema while living in Arizona. The funeral was the first real reunion of all the family members since the band's breakup. She had been a heavy smoker since age 15.

Bud

Bud, the father of the Cowsill children, died of leukemia in September 1992, while living in Mexico.

Barry

Both Barry Cowsill and his sister Susan were living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck on August 29, 2005. According to cowsill.com, Susan and her husband left New Orleans and were accounted for. However, most of her belongings at her New Orleans home were destroyed. It was reported that Barry was spotted at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on August 29, but was not heard from after leaving phone messages for his sister on September 1. Susan Cowsill's web site does have a picture of him evidently taken during the aftermath of the hurricane, but the caption gives no details.

He was believed to have been spotted in some tape footage taken by a TV news crew on or about September 5, although the person seen living on the street in the footage is not clearly resolved.

A badly decomposed body recovered from the Chartres Street Wharf in New Orleans on December 28 was identified on January 4, 2006 as Barry. He had a piece of paper with his name and phone number in his pants pocket. The official cause of death is believed to be drowning; the New Orleans coroner found no signs of foul play.

Barry is survived by his two daughters, one son and two grandsons, as well as a step-daughter and two step-granddaughters.

Two memorial services were held for Barry. One was held on February 18, 2006 in his native Newport, Rhode Island at the Hotel Viking. The second was held on February 26, 2006 in New Orleans.

Bill

Bill Cowsill died on February 17, 2006 in Calgary, Alberta on the eve of brother Barry's Newport memorial service. Although the cause of death was not confirmed at the time of the announcement, it has since been officially listed as due to complications from a variety of ailments that Bill had suffered from for years, including emphysema, osteoporosis and Cushing syndrome. In addition, according to Paul Cowsill, Bill's health had been further damaged from the effects stemming from a history of problems with drug and alcohol abuse. Bill had spent the last 35 years in Western Canada, residing in Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary. Bill was survived by two sons.

Discography

Singles

  1. "Most Of All"/"Siamese Cat" (Phillips 40382, 1966) US #118
  2. "The Rain, The Park, And Other Things"/"River Blue" (MGM 13810, 1967) US #2
  3. "We Can Fly"/"A Time for Remembrance" (MGM 13886, 1968) US #21
  4. "In Need Of A Friend"/"Mister Flynn" (MGM 13909, 1968) US #54
  5. "Indian Lake"/"Newspaper Blanket" (MGM 13944, 1968) US #10
  6. "Poor Baby"/"Meet Me At The Wishing Well" (MGM 13981, 1968) US #44
  7. "Path Of Love"/"Captain Sad And His Ship Of Fools" (MGM 14003, 1968) US #132
  8. "The Impossible Years"/"The Candy Kid" (MGM 14011, 1969) US #118
  9. "Hair"/"What Is Happy?" (MGM 14026, 1969) US #2
  10. "The Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine"/"Gotta Get Away from It All" (MGM 14063, 1969) US #75
  11. "Silver Threads And Golden Needles"/"Love American Style" (MGM 14084, 1969) US #74
  12. "On My Side"/"There is a Child" (London 149, 1971) US #108
  13. "Covered Wagon"/"Blue Road" (London 170, 1972) Did not chart
  14. "Christmastime" (Song for Marissa)"/"Some Good Years" (Rockville, 1993) - 1990s incarnation

Albums

  1. The Cowsills (MGM E/SE-4498, 1967) US #31 (released on CD in 1994 with two bonus tracks: "The Impossible Years" and "Love American Style")
  2. The Cowsills plus The Lincoln Park Zoo (Wing/Mercury, 1968)
  3. We Can Fly (MGM E/SE-4534, 1968) US #89
  4. Captain Sad and His Ship of Fools (MGM E/SE-4554, 1968) US #105
  5. The Best of The Cowsills (MGM E/SE-4597, 1969) US #127
  6. The Cowsills in Concert (MGM SE-4619, 1969) US #16
  7. IIxII (MGM SE-4639, 1970)
  8. The Cowsills Greatest Hits (MGM, 1970)
  9. "On My Side" (London, 1971) US #200
  10. "The Best of the Cowsills" (Polydor, 1988 - re-released on Rebound in 1994 with a new cover)
  11. "Global" (Robin, 1998 — first all-new album since 1970)
  12. "The Best of the Cowsills: The Millennium Collection" (Universal/Polydor, 2001)
  13. Painting the Day: The Angelic Psychedelia of the Cowsills (EI, 2006)
  14. Cocaine Drain (Robin, 2008)
  15. Captain Sad and His Ship of Fools (Cherry Red/Now Sounds, 2009)

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