Back in the 1960’s, four brothers who wanted to be The Beatles formed a band called The Cowsills. The original Cowsills consisted of Bill on guitar, Bob on guitar and organ, Barry on bass and John on drums. Early gigs were at school dances and churches around their home in Newport, RI. Eventually, as their harmonic sound was perfected, they got a regular gig on Bannisters Wharf in Newport where they would sing Beatle songs hour after hour. Early recordings were released by the four brothers on Joda and Mercury Records. Barbara (“mini-mom”) joined the group to record The Rain, The Park and Other Things and shortly thereafter 7 year old Susan and brother, Paul, were added to the group. They were signed by MGM records and the group began it’s climb to the top!Here’s what Bob had to say about the early days and getting started.
Although Bill and I performed at a very young age, and Bill, myself, 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 King’s 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.
The Cowsills enjoyed great success during the late 60’s and in to the very early 70’s not only with their music but appearing as guests on many television shows and even hosting their own TV special. They were approached to do a TV series but the producers had already signed an actress to play the mother on the series so it was a no go for The Cowsills. What was the series? It was The Partridge Family. The Cowsills were also spokespersons for the American Dairy Association and appeared in commercials and print ads for milk. The Cowsills disbanded in the early 1970s but most of them have never really left the music business and various members have regrouped through the years.
Bridey Murphy, aka Paul, Bill, Barry and Waddy Wachtel, was formed in the mid-70’s. Bill and Barry drifted in and out of this group and one single, The Time Has Come / Be Your Mother’s Son, was recorded with Paul doing all vocals and Waddy playing all instruments.
Then, in the late 1970’s, some of the Cowsills regrouped and recorded an album affectionately known as Cocaine Drain. This album was produced by Chuck Plotkin and also featured Dennis Castanares as a “member” of The Cowsills at that time. During those days, The Cowsills sometimes played the LA area as The Secrets and The Critics. Rumor has it that The Critics also recorded (and never released) a few songs.
Flash forward to the 1990s when some of The Cowsills (Bob, Paul, John and Susan) again regrouped. This time they were going to hit the oldies circuit but somehow playing just oldies didn’t appeal to them. They had too much fun on some new material written by Bob and his wife, Mary Jo. So, this incarnation of The Cowsills started playing small clubs and showcases in the Los Angeles area and across the country. They generated great reviews from the critics and fans alike. The Cowsills also went back into the studio and Global was a result of those sessions.
Some long-time Cowsill fans (Marsha & Martha Jordan, Jo Malone, Lynn Mathis and Becky Presley) have formed the Committee for the Nomination of The Cowsills for Induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and are striving to have The Cowsills inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. They have created a colorful presentation brochure on The Cowsills that details the ways in which The Cowsills have met the criteria for induction into the Rock Hall which will be sent to each member of the nominating sommittee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The criteria addressed includes: longevity, influence, innovation, distinction, and perpetuation. Also included are comments from Artie Kornfeld, Mark Bryan of Hootie and the Blowfish, Shirley Jones, Billboard Magazine, Rolling Stone Magazine, etc.
During their research, the committee compiled some amazing facts about The Cowsills and their careers, including:
- The Cowsills hold more gold records than many of the current Hall of Famers inducted as performers.
- Billy played guitar on the song “Right On” recorded by Ike Turner.
- Susan is the youngest rock performer to have a Top Ten hit.
- John was part of the first American rock group to play in the Republic of China.
- The Cowsills had the First Live Album to feature a Studio Track when In Concert featured “Hair”.
- Hall of Famer Bob Marley used to cover Cowsill songs.
- The Guestbooks on robinrecords.com and cowsill.com have posts from all 50 states, 19 foreign countries in six of the seven continents.
- The Cowsills were the first of only 5 album covers done for rock bands by famous cartoonist Jack Davis.
- Billy once recorded with a guitar borrowed from John Lennon.
- The band’s true worth is illustrated by the fact that they were initially ‘discovered’ by Johnny Nash’s all black R&B label, JODA and they were ask to headline with future Hall of Famers’ Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and The Beach Boys before they had their first hit record at Soundblast ’66 in Yankee Stadium.
Both Barry and Susan had their lives turned upside down by Hurricane Katrina, which hit the gulf coast in August 2005, since both were residents of the New Orleans area at the time. Susan and her family lost their home and most of their belongings but they were all safe during the hurricane and it’s aftermath and returned to live in New Orleans in January 2006. Barry, unfortunately, did not get out of New Orleans before Katrina hit and was among the missing of Hurricane Katrina for 4 months. Then, sadly, on January 4th, 2006, The Cowsill family got the news that Barry’s body had been found and identified. Barry Cowsill is no longer with us. At the memorial service for Barry, the Cowsill family was informed that Billy had passed away following his battles with hip replacement surgery, back surgery, emphysema, osteoporosis and other problems.
Today, the surviving Cowsills continue to make music – sometimes individually and sometimes together – and their harmonies are still as infectious and bright as ever. Be sure to watch the documentary about the Cowsills, Family Band: The Cowsills Story, available now!
The Cowsills are proud to announce their new album, Rhythm Of The World, released on September 30, 2022. Check it out!