If we don’t’ make a million this year. Bud Cowsill observed the other afternoon “it’s because someone didn’t do his job right.”
But it wouldn’t be any of the Cowsills , who are nothing if not eager, energetic, and primed for the main chance.
Indeed, this could well be the Year of the Cowsills. Their first album for M-G-M, released in October, is selling into its second million. Its successor (“We Can Fly”) is just out (It’ll be No. 1,” Pop predicts) Coming up on the February 26 "Today" show will be a whole hour of the Cowsills and their songs. Right after that, a promotional tour of Europe. Ed Sullivan, that bellwether of all the folks out there in Videoland, has signed them on for ten appearances this year. TV is interested in a Cowsill family-situation series.
The merchandising plans make Davy Crockett and Batman look like pikers. The market may soon be flooded with Cowsill dolls, dresses, games, guitars, amplifiers, and basses. "Dad will probably endorse men's colognes," says Mom (Barbara) Cowsill.
It took America 500 years to create the Cowsills,” to quote the promotional poop. (This would place their forebears on the reception committee that greated Columbus’ arrival on these shores.) Actually it took a boy and a girl, both Rhode Islanders with a good mating urge, about 13 years to create seven little Cowsills, whose present ages range from 8 to 20. Bud was a 20-year Navy man. Returning from a cruise to Europe, he brought back a cheap guitar for his oldest son, Bill taught himself, then taught his brother Bob (not 18) Another instrument was bought so they could play together and harmonize. So began a musical corporation headed for the same league as the Kings and the Trapps.
“They liked the English sounds,” their father recalls, "but I had to tell them, 'Listen, you're not the Beatles. You've got to find your own thing.' So they listened to the Beach Boys and all the others and this opened their minds up." Then Barry (13) and John (12) got into the act, ultimately settling into the bass guitar and drums grooves, respectively. Brothers Dick (Bob's twin) and Paul (16) opted out of any performing chores; they served as road managers. More recently Mom and daughter Sue began singing along with the boys.
“They’re all talented people,” declares Bud now functioning full-time as the group’s Pooh-Bah. “Any one of them could put on a half-hour's entertainment by himself." The boys began playing in churches, then at colleges for frat dances. When their dad retired from the Navy, they were living in Newport and the kids came into demand at debutante parties and before groups like the Newport Women’s Association.
"We're the only rock group ever to play 'Louise' and 'Deep Purple,'" the elder Cowsill points out. “We appeal to all age groups. We don’t have a cute act, but we have humor and we always try for an element of surprise. But basically it’s a chemistry.”
Believing wholeheartdly in the chemistry, Bud Cowsill bought a Munsterish, 22-room white elephant of a house on a hill in social Newport. Furniture was forsaken so that their remaining resources could be spent on expensive instruments , sound systems, amplifiers. They were ready. An album was cut. And nothing happened. The rest sounds like the hokum of press-agency, but everyone swears on a stack of mimeograph paper it's the truth, nothing but the truth! Money gone. Phone disconnected. Boys choppin up dressers for wood to keep a warming fire going. Mortgage foreclosing. THEN… the photo finish of a desperate flight to New York and teaming up with a promoter who dug them and knew how and where to run with the ball.
Can the Cowsills find instant love in hard, rat-racing New York? Here's Myrna, the promoter's wife, hand-writing a liner valentine for that first album rushed into immediate pressing: “It has been a sunny, happy, beautiful, flower-filled, butterscotch love world ever since I met you … The constant was, and still is, love. And when you reached out your hand to Lenny and me, inviting us to share in the beautiful love, we were touched . . . “
The promoters were also shrewd enough to recognize a marketable package when they saw one. Opinions may differ on whether the Cowsills are contributing anything really new to the pop musical scene. But they create a pleasant, brightly folksy, modified rock that everybody can live with. And they are a likable, attractive family, engagingly freckly, good-looking but not "pretty," good but not goody-goody.
“The family is foremost,” Barbara told a visitor. “Music is just the thing that binds us together." At a time when parents and children seem to have no way of talking to one another, the natural communicability of the Cowsills is reassuringly welcome. Theoretically cynical college students, said Barbara, are some of their greatest fans.
Home for all nine Cowsills, when they first came to New York, was a three- room apartment in a new West Side apartment house. "We got up one morning," said Mom, "and decided we didn't like each other." Now they've spilled over into a second apartment, which the three older boys occupy.
With drugs so much a part of the local pop music bag, had this been a worry? "No," said their mother. "They don't put anybody else down for doing anything. But Dad talks to them and keeps them straight on everything."
Barbara's conversation is so liberally punctuated with "Dad did this" and "Dad said that" there can be no disputing that it's a patriarchal family, where it's indeed Dad — and not the contemporary Mom — who calls the shots. Nowadays, when fathers are so often absentee, rather shadowy figures on the domestic scene, it may be the presence and asscrtiveness of Bud Cowsill that has been the balance in producing a relatively happy, unalienated family.
“The kids know when they’re doing right and when they’re doing wrong,” he says, though it’s tough sometimes for a parent to define each precisely. “They have their problems and when they do we sweat and do what we can to help work them out.”
Just now none of the Cowsills would seem to have the problem of how to succeed and gain recognition. – Eugene Box