60s Music

The Cowsills, a Successful Family Pop Group

The Cowsills
Photo by Randy Bellous. Left to right: Bob, Barry, Paul, Richard, Susan and John Cowsill, taken at a benefit held for oldest brother, Bill Cowsill at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles. (Source: Wikipedia)

 

Introduction:

The Cowsills is an American bubblegum pop-rock band formed during the 60s music era. They entirely composed of the Cowsill family, who hailed from Newport, Rhode Island. Among their biggest hits are “The Rain, the Park and Other Things,” “Indian Lake” and “Hair.” They family revived the group during the 1990s and since then they have been active performing. The band was the real-life inspiration behind the classic sitcom The Partridge Family.

More on the Cowsills here in this article!

 

Formation and early years

You had to be grateful to the Cowsills because if not for them, your beloved family sitcom The Partridge Family wouldn’t have existed. They formed in 1965 in Newport, Rhode Island

For the Cowsill family, music obviously runs in the blood. They originated from Newport, Rhode Island. Brothers Bill and Bob Cowsill had begun their singing careers; their repertoire consisted mostly of covers of Everly Brothers hits. Their father William “Bud” Cowsill had given guitars to his sons, and while he was away at the US Navy, Bill and Bob invited their younger brothers Barry and John with plans to start their own band. Initially, Barry used to play the drums, but when John learned to play the drums he became the band’s official drummer while Barry eventually took up the bass guitar.

After Bud Cowsill returned from the Navy, he and his wife Barbara went to manage their kids’ music career.

Billy, Bob, Barry and John simply named themselves as the Cowsills, and the teen quartet began to play at school and church functions around town. Not long thereafter, the Cowsills performed regularly at Bannister’s Wharf in Newport. By that time also, the Cowsills entered a recording career, releasing a handful of singles (including those released on Mercury label) to little success. Even a one-time appearance at on The Today Show still won’t help matters.

 

 

Going for the big time

Mercury’s A&R man Artie Kornfeld still saw a great commercial potential for the Cowsills despite disappointing sales of their earlier singles. Kornfeld wanted the boys to record again, but this time he urged their mother Barbara to join in the recording session. Result was a joyful single entitled “The Rain, the Park and Other Things” which was written by Kornfeld and Steve Duboff

“The Rain, the Park and Other Things” was an instant hit, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1967. It sold over a million copies and was given a gold disc. Because of the hit single, the Cowsills found popularity at last as well as a reputation as a wholesome family group.

A full-length debut album The Cowsills soon followed, and included the hit single. It charted at #31 on the Billboard 200.

The group’s follow-up album We Can Fly (1968) produced two singles: the title track (#21 pop, #9 adult contemporary) and “In Need of a Friend” (#54 pop). By that time the group recruited two new members — the brothers’ other siblings Susan and Paul.

Also in 1968, the Cowsills scored another big hit with “Indian Lake.” It reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #17 on the adult contemporary singles chart that year. And the following year, the group scored another hit again with “Hair,” their version of the hit musical’s title song. It reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 (#19 adult contemporary).

 

Inspiration behind the Partridge Family

A gaggle of screenwriters from Columbia’s television department wanted to do a series based on the every day lives of the Cowsills. The proposed TV series never materialized; the producers thought that the members were too old to play the part nor they did have the acting chops so they abandoned the idea. However, in 1970 ABC eventually broadcast a musical sitcom TV series titled The Partridge Family whose plot was loosely based on the Cowsills.

 

The Cowsills’ later lives and career

At the dawn of the 1970s, The Partridge Family became a hit on the airwaves, but the Cowsills’ career otherwise took a downturn. Following the release of their 1971 LP On My Side, the group finally called it quits. After their disbandment, the siblings were mostly musically-inactive and otherwise led their own lives. There was one point where Bob, John, Paul and Susan recorded some original songs which were produced by Chuck Plotkin but they were never released.

During the 1990s Bob, John, Paul and Susan reformed the Cowsills in an attempt to regain their former musical glory. Their original plan was to play the classic pop songs geared for the nostalgic circuit, but later on they decided to input some fresh original material. The success of their reunion shows led to more concerts and even an album entitled Global in 1998.

 

Deaths

Their mother Barbara died from emphysema in 1985, aged 56. Her funeral brought all of the siblings together, their first reunion since the band’s split. Their father Bud died from leukemia in 1992, aged 66.

Susan and Barry were living in New Orleans, Louisiana when Hurricane Katrina hit the city on August 29, 2005. Susan and her own family had already evacuated but Barry had not. Barry supposedly survived the storm but was in dire need of help. He called Susan and left some voice messages, but his sister wasn’t able to receive them until September 1 or 2. After that, there was no sign of Barry any longer.

After four months of searching for Barry, a decomposing body was found beneath a wharf on the Mississippi River the following December. The body was later positively identified as Barry’s. The coroner issued a verdict citing that his death was caused by drowning due to the floods brought by the hurricane.

Bill passed away in 2006 due to a variety of illnesses that included emphysema and osteoporosis. He was 58 years old.

 

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