LOS ANGELES - "I remember the ending so well," says John Cowsill, drummer for the newly reformed Cowsills, sitting with the other members of his family in the converted management office in West L.A. for their first interview in ten years, "We were playing these gigs in Texas, and it was like, out LAST go-round, man, and I remember that we'd always go back to the hotel room thinking, 'This is IT!' and we'd get all excited. You know, 'Four more days, three more days,' and then after the last gig, I remember the drive home saying,' No more.' It was like the last day of school."
Thus, in 1971, came the end of one of America's most successful pop groups in the late 60s and early 70s, an end that saw the members go off to separate ventures as varied as marriage, the service, medicine, Top 40 bands in New York City and disastrous solo careers. Originally from Newport, Rhode Island, the group relocated to California several years ago, and are once again The Cowsills, playing the L.A. club circuit with a determination born from years of trying to put their history behind them.
That history, included appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, sold-out American and European tours, four U.S. hit singles (including "The Rain in the Park( and Other Things)"), and, in 1971, amidst charges of mismanagement and tax evasion by corporate employees, a total financial collapse and declaration of bankruptcy. The group had gone through five million dollars from 1967 through 1970 and at the time of their bankruptcy, People magazine estimated the debt of $625,000. Though, according to Paul Cowsill, 28, "It was enough to buckle an entire corporation that we had created, so it had to be more than that."
Whatever the amount, The Cowsills found themselves with staggering bills and no place to go. Remembers Bob Cowsill, 29, "Dad just said, 'Okay, it's over. Send John and Susan home." So off went John, now 24, and Susan, now 20, the youngest members of the band, back to Newport, where Susan went back to junior high school and John to high school before the both of them set off once again to seek their musical fortunes.
Paul describes his story this way: "When the scene broke up, I went in the Navy, got out of the Navy as fast as I possible could, picked up my little sister in Rhode Island, and along with my family, moved to Carney, Nebraska, where I was a sound engineer, but, when it became obvious that we all belonged on stage, I went back to California, and took Susan and my family and we just believed that something could go down again."
The 80's version of the Cowsills stacks up like this: Susan on vocals; Bob, guitar; Paul, bass; John, drums and Dennis Castanares, keyboards, guitar and vocals. "Dennis gives us an extra dimension," says Paul. Castanares was acquired through The Cowsills' producer, Chuck Plotkin, best known for his work in helping to produce Bruce Springsteen's Darkness on the Edge of Town LP.
So what do The Cowsills sound like now? "Well, first of all," says Bob, "where the band was in the '60s was not where we were taking it. Other people took us there. We were so ignorant and green that we really had no choice. Now we're doing everything that we really wanted to do, you know? Sincere songs, songs that mean something."
Adds Paul, "We're not ashamed of our past, but it's like our music is as loose as we are now. We weren't loose then. We were uptight and our music and everything about us was uptight, except that we were beautiful children up there having a good time." Bob jumps in to add, "Some of the things we do now we were doing then, like, we always did big vocal songs, and we still do big vocal songs."
But no oldies?
"There are two schools of opinion on that," says Paul. "One thing is that we'd have to take out one of our new originals to put in an oldie that we didn't even write."
Explains Susan, "I think that the problem is that all of those songs (oldies) represent the same thing to us. You see, it's not the songs, it's what they represent."
"Right," agrees Bob, "I mean, we do 'Be My Baby' because 'Be My Baby' represents something to us. Our hit "Indian Lake" doesn't!"
The band hasn't completely given up on their old material, however. At a recent show, they encored to a packed house at The Blue Lagune Saloon in Marina Del Rey, with "Hair," perhaps their biggest hit ever. "If it feels right, we'll do it," says Bob. Apparently it felt right that night, because the audience loved it.
From the Ed Sullivan Show to the Blue Lagune Saloon, from European tours to weekends at Madame Wong's, The Cowsills are a group that has truly come to grips with its history and look ahead with "brand new energy" to the future. A debut CBS album is due in February with live appearance booked all over Los Angeles.
As Bob Cowsill puts it, "I guess you can say we're still looking for the magic."