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Billy Cowsill 1948-2006

Country : Middletown, Rhode Island
Profession : Musician
Date of birth : 1948-01-09
Date of death : 2006-02-17
Cause of Death : Emphysema

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William "Bill" Cowsill, Jr., also known as Billy, (January 9, 1948February 17, 2006) was an American singer best known as lead singer and guitarist of The Cowsills who had three top 10 singles in the late 1960s.

The Cowsills

Bill Cowsill was born in Middletown, Rhode Island. At a young age Bill began singing with his brother, Bob, and they formed The Cowsills in 1965 with their brothers: Barry on bass; Bob on guitar and organ; and John on drums. Another brother, Paul, their sister Susan and mother Barbara joined the band later. The Cowsills started playing around Newport before they recorded their first single "All I Really Wanna Be is Me" in 1967 on the independent label, Joda.

While the first single failed to chart, an appearance on the NBC Today Show to promote it led to Mercury Records offering them a contract. However, three singles on that label failed to spark interest, and they were dropped. Artie Kornfeld, the producer of the singles, remained convinced of the band's potential and persuaded Barbara to sing on the single "The Rain, the Park and Other Things", which was released on MGM Records. However, it is Bill who sang the lead vocal part on "The Rain, the Park, and Other Things."

This single sold over a million copies in late 1967 and reached number 2 on the Billboard tracks. Their debut album We Can Fly spawned another hit with the title track. In 1968, "Indian Lake" became another top 10 hit while their version of the title track of Hair again reached number 2.

The band made regular television appearances, which led to Columbia Pictures considering a television program based on their story and starring most of the members of the band. This would later become The Partridge Family, with David Cassidy playing the lead singer.

Billy's involvement with The Cowsills came to an abrupt end in 1969 when his father, Bud, caught Billy smoking marijuana. According to his brother Bob, Billy was immediately kicked out of the band. His dismissal was the beginning of the end of the Cowsills as a group.

Bill was briefly considered as a replacement for Brian Wilson in The Beach Boys' live performances, and in 1971 he released a solo album, Nervous Breakthrough, on MGM, which failed to chart.

By 1972, after Susan, Paul and Barbara opted out, Billy briefly rejoined Bob, Barry and John, reforming the original Cowsills' lineup, and released one single, "Covered Wagon," which also failed to chart (possibly owing to, among other things, the fact that the song was hard rock, a significant departure from their previous bubblegum sound). Shortly afterward, The Cowsills disbanded completely in a storm of bitter acrimony that left some members estranged from each other for several years.

The Blue Shadows

Billy ended up in Vancouver, British Columbia in the 1980s where he fronted The Blue Shadows, who were known for their Everly Brothers-like harmonies. In 1990 Bill produced the second album for rockabilly act, The Rattled Roosters. In 1993, The Blue Shadows landed a deal with Sony and released its debut album, “On the Floor of Heaven” receiving great reviews and found themselves on the forefront of a Canadian movement. In 1995, the Blue Shadows recorded its second and last album, “Lucky to Me”. During this time, a drug addiction that began in the 70s became worse, until Billy was rescued by members of Calgary's music scene, including Jann Arden.

The Co-Dependents

Newly sober, Billy formed The Co-Dependents, a country-rock quartet, in 1998 in Calgary. Other members were Steve Pineo (guitar and vocals), Tim Leacock (bass and vocals) and Ross Watson (drums). Billy considered the band to be a "weekend party band", but they were much-loved on Calgary's thriving roots-music scene. At this time, he was also enrolled at Mount Royal College in Calgary, where he was studying toward a degree in psychology. He also assisted other Calgary-based artists, such as co-producing Dyin' to Go, the 2002 debut album from Calgary country and blues singer, Ralph Boyd Johnson. He produced a number of releases for Alberta groups, and did guest vocal spots on CDs, such as roots rock group The Shackshakers.

After releasing Live At The Mecca Cafe: Volume 2, which showed Billy's commanding stage presence, the band rarely played due to Billy's health problems.


He suffered from emphysema, Cushing's syndrome and osteoporosis and died on February 18, 2006, aged 58, at his home in Calgary, Alberta.

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