The Cowsills are an American singing group from Newport, Rhode Island, known for beautiful harmonies and their ability to play music at an early age. In 1965 brothers Bill and Bob on guitars and Barry on drums started a group and John was added shortly after. When John learned how to play drums, Barry switched to bass. They played around Newport and became a regular act at Bannister’s Wharf. After initial success the brothers were joined by their mother Barbara and siblings Paul and Susan. Bob’s twin brother Richard was their road manager until going to serve in the military during the Vietnam War a few years later. When the group expanded to full family membership, the six siblings ranged in age from eight to nineteen. The group was the inspiration for the 1970’s television show The Partridge Family and were originally offered to play their corresponding parts on the show. However, the studio wanted Shirley Jones to play Barbara’s role as mother/band member and band manager/father/husband William “Bud” Cowsill disagreed and ended their involvement and participation. To this day, The Cowsills and Shirley remain friends and in fact, the band still occasionally plays the only song ever covered by both The Cowsills and The Partridge Family, “I Really Want To Know You,” in concert. They had a handful of singles released on Joda and Phillips Records in 1965-66 to modest success. After Leonard Stogel took over managing the band he got them signed to MGM Records in 1967. Barbara joined the band just in time to record their first album that included the hit “The Rain, The Park and Other Things,” with Bill on lead vocals. It sold over a million copies and was awarded a gold record. Soon after the band expanded to include Paul and Susan and with the success of “Rain” the band quickly became a popular U.S. act and appeared on the popular Sunday night TV program The Ed Sullivan Show. The song reached No. 2 on the Billboard Top 100 and received a lot of airplay in England and Europe. The group scored other million selling hits with “Indian Lake” in 1968 and with the title song from the musical Hair, in 1969. From 1968-72 the band played an average of 200 gigs a year and were among the most popular acts on the American concert scene.
For the past few decades there have been various breakups and reunions and after the band originally split the individual members went on to different career attempts in and out of the music industry. Some produced albums and performed from time to time but not as The Cowsills. One project was a band called Bridey Murphy with Paul, Bill, Barry and Waddy Wachtel in the mid ’70’s. In the years following the band breakup Susan continued her music career with The Continental Drifters, a great group that included members of The Bangles, The db’s and The Dream Syndicate; and currently leads her own band with husband Russ Broussard on drums. Since 2000, John has been drumming, playing keys and singing with The Beach Boys and is married to Vicki Peterson, the guitarist from The Bangles and The Continental Drifters. Fun fact, in the early ’80’s John was a member of the band Tommy Twotone and his backing vocals and percussion can be heard on their hit “Jenny (867-5309).” After working as sound engineer for Helen Reddy, Paul left music for a career in the construction industry. Today, when not on the road with the band, he primarily works as a farmer in Oregon. Bob has had a successful career outside the music industry developing software for hospital emergency departments.
Barry covered and played all the instruments on “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide ‘Cept For Me And My Monkey” on Boston Does The Beatles (Fast Track Records) in 1988 and then released his own solo CD As Is in 1998. He drowned in 2005 in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Brother Bill moved to Canada in the ’70’s and was well known as a solo country artist and with his band The Blue Shadows. Billy died in Calgary, Canada from emphysema in 2006, and in a strange twist of fate the family found out about their oldest brother’s death while attending brother Barry’s memorial service at the King Park Gazebo in Newport, for the ceremonial spreading of his ashes. Barbara died in 1985 of emphysema, in Arizona and Bud passed in a plane flying from his home in Mexico to a U.S. Veteran’s Administration hospital, of leukemia, in 1992. Richard died in 2014 in New Mexico, of lung cancer.
In 1990 The Cowsills regrouped and their performances earned great reviews from critics and fans and led them back to the studio to record and then release “Global.” The last performance of all six siblings, Bill, Bob, Richard, Barry, John and Susan was at The Taste Of Road Island outdoor festival in Newport in 2000. In 2004 the family sang the national anthem at Fenway Park before a Boston Red Sox home game. In 2011, the documentary film Family Band — The Cowsills Story was released.The Cowsills were inducted into the R.I. Hall of Fame in 2013. In 2015, Susan announced to the audience at their 50th anniversary performance at The Cutting Room in NYC that the band would return to the studio in 2016 to begin recording their first new album in seven years. Currently, Bob, Paul and Susan perform several shows a month as The Cowsills and are joined occasionally by brother John. During the summers of 2015-2016 The Cowsills performed across the U.S. with The Turtles’ Happy Together Tour.
(by A.J. Wachtel)
Published on December 28, 2012