Published August 9, 2013, Pawtucket Times
Some may think that the American musical sensation, The Cowsills, coming to the City of Pawtucket to jam, is as likely as a lightening bolt striking the same person twice. For one of the most successful family musical acts of the 1960s, this pop and rock ‘n roll group who came from Newport, was recently honored at the RI Music Hall of Fame and they are coming back to Pawtucket.
It was obvious to Slater Park Fall Fest organizer, Patty Zacks, that this would be a perfect match for Slater Park. When she watched the Cowsills perform at their April 28th ceremony at The Met, as they were inducted by the Pawtucket-based Rhode Island Music hall of Fame (RIMHOF), that this was a group she needed to present to her Event Planning Committee as a consideration for the Slater Park Fall Festival. The four surviving members (Paul, Bob, John and Susan, including two of their children) brought the house down at the Met, bringing back memories to the aging baby boomers surrounding the stage who danced and swayed to the familiar music they listened to more than four decades ago.
With the decision to book them for the Slater Park Fall Festival, the Comfort Inn, Hope Global, Lens Hotdog Haven, TD Bank, Tunstall Health Care, Webster Bank, all came to the plate to cover the costs of booking America’s musical family.
On September 22, 2013, the Cowills will open for the Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance Pops in the Park concert, beginning their 80 minute set at 3:30 p.m, concluding at 5:00 p.m. (In case of rain look for their performance to take place same date and time at Tolman High School.)
During their opening act the Cowsills will play tribute to the decade of the 60s. While playing their own hit tunes, that will also play scores in tribute to their two deceased brothers Bill and Barry. Look for songs of the Partridge Family and other great songs musical hits from the 60s to be played.
Coming Home Last April
Looking back, Bob Cowsill says being inducted into the RIMHOF was just a blast. “It was such an uplifting, positive experience,” he said. “We had friends and relatives in the audience and it was very special for us to have them there,” especially seeing our fans.
As to the honor of receiving RIMHOF’s prestigious recognition, “When your home state comes calling and wants to recognize something that you accomplished in your life, well it does not get better than that”, notes Cowsill..
Cowsill actually had heard about the upcoming Pawtucket Arts Festival, noting that “we had great hope that we would return to perform. It is the same way a baseball team prefers to “play at home” that’s sort of what if felt like coming back to Pawtucket, a home where there would be many family members and friends scattered throughout the audience, he noted.
The Rhode Island Years
The Cowsills grew up just an hour’s drive from Pawtucket, on Aquidneck Island, where their names are still carved into a tree on the family homestead. The band was founded by four of the Cowsill brothers (Bill, Bob, Barry and John) in 1965. Within two years, it would encompass the entire family, with brother Paul, sister Susan, and their mother, Barbara (called “Mini-Mom” by her children) coming on board. Their father, Bud, became their manager. (Bob’s twin brother Richard is the only sibling who never joined the band.)
The Cowsills later became the creative inspiration behind the 1970’s television show, The Partridge Family, still in syndication today. In 1969, a twenty-something Michael Eisner, who would later become Disney’s CEO, came to visit the Cowsills’s at their home in Santa Monica, California. “He checked us out and quickly realized we were just musicians not actors,” Cowsill remembers. Wes Ferrell and Tony Romeo who wrote “Indian Lake” for the Cowsills would ultimately pen “I Think I Love You” for the Partridge Family theme song,
Even with the Cowsills not getting a central casting call to act in the upcoming television series, the Partridge Family, “the family angle just continued to evolve,” says Bob, stressing that it should not be considered “premeditated.” When it became difficult to interest musicians on Aquidneck Island to join the fledgling band, Cowsill notes that it became obvious that the younger siblings were the answer to filling the empty slots.
He notes that the group’s first big career break in 1964 came after playing in the basement disco of the MK Hotel, 38 Bellevue Ave., in Newport. From this performance came an invitation to play on the Today Show. Their 20 minute performance caught the attention of singer Johnny Cash and the group signed their first recording contract with his JODA Records label, releasing their first single, “All I Really Want To Be Is Me,” in 1965.
Taking on Simon and Garfunkel
Cowsill recalls how his group’s first single was pitted against “The Sound of Silence” on a WPRO radio contest. When the votes were tabulated, the Newport band “won by a landside,” with their family and friend’s overwhelming the switch board with their votes. Over forty five years later, he still laughs when remembering the Cowsills’ victory over America’s most recognizable musical duo, Simon and Garfunkel.
From the late ’60s into the early ’70s, the Cowsills appeared on many popular television shows, among them: The Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, the Mike Douglas Show, and the Johnny Cash Show. They even hosted their own NBC TV special called “A Family Thing.”
Cowsill remembers singing with Johnny Cash, especially the spiritual tunes sung by the great Country Western singer. He says that getting booked on The Ed Sullivan Show was like climbing to the proverbial mountain top. “It was live television back then. If you goofed up, you goofed up. There is a lot of pressure with the whole country watching you,” he says.
“Bewilderment,” says Cowsill, thinking about his two performances on The Ed Sullivan Show. The group had contracted to appear ten times which would have put them on Sunday’s most popular show more times than The Beatles. But a fiasco over a microphone that was accidentally turned off between Sullivan’s son-in-law and Bud Cowsill resulted in the cancellation of the remaining eight shows, he said. “Dad was just a hot head, he just crossed the line one too many times. In this situation it just cost us appearing on eight Ed Sullivan Shows.”
Before the young Cowsills had their first hit record, they were hired as one of the headliners, along with Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, The Byrds and The Beach Boys (all Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees) for Soundblast ’66 at Yankee Stadium in New York. “We were in pop wonderland. It was just unbelievable. Somehow, my father worked magic and got us to Yankee Stadium for this show. We were not famous at the time but apparently good enough to play for the crowd.”
“I still can’t believe we got this gig,” the aging Cowsill said. “I am 16 years old and playing in Yankee Stadium with these nationally recognized musical groups. At sound check, he and his brother Paul sat on a bench in the dugout just watching everything. “My jaw must have dragged on the floor,” he said. .
A Gold Record to Remember
In 1967, the Cowsills first MGM release, “The Rain, The Park & Other Things,” sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold record. This song would ultimately reach No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 in Cash Box and Record World.
One year later, the band scored another near million-selling hit with the song “Indian Lake,” reaching No. 10 on the charts and in 1968, the band hit No. 1 again with their version of “Hair,” a three-million seller which brought them a nomination for 16 Magazine’s Best Group of 1970. “Hair” was banned from Armed Forces radio in Viet Nam for being too controversial, noted Cowsill, stating that “we were amused at the time because our brother, Richard, who was in Vietnam reported back that they were playing it everywhere!”
The Cowsills would become spokespersons for the American Dairy Assn. (ADA) with their “Milk Song” appearing in commercials and their images in print ads promoting milk. The group would be referenced in trivia game questions and twice on David Letterman’s Top Ten List.
In 1969, The Cowsills became the first rock group to record a theme for a television show, “Love American Style.” Their melodic sound has also been featured in movies such as “The Impossible Years” and “Dumb and Dumber” and other TV shows including “The Wonder Years” and “The Simpsons.”
Recently, a feature-length film, “Family Band – The Story of The Cowsills,” which documents the rise and fall of the group was featured on cable TV in March, running for five months. The Showtime documentary took eight years to produce. “The strength of the move comes from the story line itself,” Cowsill said, stressing that it drove the hour and a half documentary. Many of the viewers saw their families in his family’s drama, he said.
Today, Cowsill and his siblings John, Susan and Paul, plus two of the band member’s sons, continue to play concerts across the country at casinos, fairs and music festivals, and this year on Sunday, September 22 at 3:30pm – they will perform for us at Slater Park. For more than 27 years, the sixty-three year old musician has been playing at Pickwick’s Pub in Woodland Hills, California, every Friday night, once again performing the songs of the Beatles and The Byrds. During the day, Bob Cowsill coordinates medical conferences across the country, providing medical coding services to emergency departments, and assists in developing and installing software for use in emergency rooms.
For more information about the Cowsills, to leave a message on the group’s guestbook, or to sign a petition to get them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, visit: http://www.cowsill.com.