JOHN COWSILL GETS AROUND
interview by A.J. Wachtel
. . . very special thanks to John Cowsill and The Beach Boys
The first time you meet him it's pretty obvious that John Cowsill is something special. He's intelligent. He's funny. He's charismatic. He's easily accessible. He’s very, very talented. Shake his hand and you can FEEL the energy. This year The Beach Boys celebrate their 50th Anniversary and John Cowsill's dynamic personality is a driving force behind the celebration. Read on and learn how a child star becomes an icon:
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: The last time I saw you onstage you were drumming for The Cowsills at T.O.R.I. (Taste of Rhode Island) in Newport, and you performed INDIAN LAKE. How is drumming for The Beach Boys different from drumming for The Cowsills?
JOHN COWSILL: I was a principal player in The Cowsills. In The Beach Boys I am a sideman. Two different worlds, but the obvious differences are catalog, and I work full time with The Beach Boys. The Cowsills (Bob, Susan, Paul) don't work that much. I wish they did work more so I could join them. And so do they! Actually, there are some similarities. Both were family. We both were heavy into the vocals. Our oldest brother Bill was our Brian Wilson. In fact, he and Brian were mates for a while until one day he went over to Brian's and was met at the door by Gene Landy (a controversial American Psychologist and Therapist known for his unconventional treatment and eventual exploitation of Brian) and was asked not to come back. I think that was a good thing.
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: You are a great drummer. Who were your influences growing up?
JOHN COWSILL: RINGO!!!! And after that it was all the guys playing on the radio and records. At the tender age of 7-9 I didn't know who the drummers were. I didn't even think about whom it was I just liked the songs. But then you get a little older and smarter and you find out that you're in love with Buddy Saltzman, Hal Blaine, Panama Francis, Gary Chester, and Earl Palmer. And so on....to the present!
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: How much of the year do The Beach Boys tour these days? How many songs do you learn for the road? And you have such a huge catalog how do you decide the songs?
JOHN COWSILL: Up until this year, we did an average of 130-140 shows a year. This will mark my twelfth year. It's like a week. Mike and Scott work on the set list. We have a three hour, two hour, a 90 minute, 75 minute, and I'm sure you could negotiate. What's your pleasure?
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: Any advice to young musicians trying to get their music heard in these tough times?
JOHN COWSILL: Yeah. If you're all into being a player then do it. Whatever kind of music you're into. But I got to say if you really want to have a good shot at working as a pro then you better be striving to be the fucking best and know your shit. Reach for the educator level. I wish I had done that but I was busy working the 2/4 4/4 circuit.
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: The Cowsills used to perform Beach Boys songs in concert. Do the Beach Boys ever do a Cowsill song?
JOHN COWSILL: We did RAIN THE PARK one time.
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: You are an actor too, and have appeared on TV in "Full House" and "General Hospital." When you first saw these episodes on the screen what went through your mind? Were you critical of your performance or can you see yourself doing this again?
JOHN COWSILL: You're kidding right? I always think I can act but then that damn camera gets in the way!
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: According to The Beach Boy's website you do Al Jardine and the late Carl Wilson's vocal parts. What does this mean in English?
JOHN COWSILL: On the records sometimes Carl would come in late so....never mind. He would have laughed....It's just that they weren't there so I HAD to sing their parts. Sometimes I don't sing at all. I don't think I sing all their parts, just some of them.
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: During either Cowsill or Beach Boy shows all the people in the audience know all the words to your songs. What's it like singing on stage and hearing thousands of people screaming the lyrics along with you?
JOHN COWSILL: I can't hear or see a word the audience is saying. It's just a rumble. I have plexiglass in front of me for sound issues, and on top of having poor eyesight I can't see out of that contraption. And I have in-ear monitors. So I'm in my own little bubble....
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: What do you think of Uncle Bob's new white beard? (His mother's brother whose family still lives in Newport).
JOHN COWSILL: QUITE FETCHING!!!!
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: You recently met Sir Paul McCartney. Is he a nice guy? What did you two talk about?
JOHN COWSILL: (Spoken to the melody of HER MAJESTY with the missing chord) Paul McCartney's a pretty nice guy but he didn't have a lot to say . . . BUM BUM BUM BUM . . . McCartney's a pretty nice guy and I really did try to say . . . I tried to tell him that I love him a lot but he had so many people all around . . . McCartney's a pretty nice guy, someday I'll get to say I tried oh yeah . . . someday I'll get to say I . . .
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: Does Brian Wilson ever just show up before a gig ready to play anymore? Does he ever get involved in Beach Boys matters anymore?
JOHN COWSILL: I think there is a 50th Anniversary Tour so I really hope he shows up and gets involved! No, seriously there is a 50th Anniversary Tour for 2012 and the Beach Boys band will be different this year. It will be mostly Brian's guys with the addition of Scott Totten and myself, and of course Al Jardine, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Bruce Johnston and David Marks will be out DOING IT AGAIN (did I just say that?). There are 60 dates to celebrate this amazing catalog. So go get a ticket because this probably ain't gonna happen again . . . and it's gonna be a blast!!!
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: You joined The Beach Boys in 2000 on keyboards, and now you play drums. Why the switch?
JOHN COWSILL: Well, I guess they wanted to change direction. When I joined in 2000 I was surprised how far from the records these guys had traveled. The vocals were almost right but they had passed them around so much over the years they morphed into something else. I guess after forty to fifty years of playing the songs they become the 'artist's renditions' as I like to call it. I like it when artists do that. But it was just time to get that new feeling again, so in 2007 Love made some changes. Scott Totten became the musical director, that was a great move. Mike wanted to clean it up on stage and get back to the root arrangements and tempos. Scott really did and incredible job of getting the arrangements back to the record versions. I was asked to play drums and happily play and pay homage to the arrangements. I don't get bored playing the same beat or fill because that's what made those records cool. I feel like I'm putting on Hal's or Dennis's coat. You know what I mean? I like playing what THEY played. Even on Cowsill records, I play what Buddy Saltzman played.
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: You sing HELP ME RHONDA, WOULDN’T IT BE NICE, I CAN HEAR MUSIC, and DARLIN’. Why these particular songs?
JOHN COWSILL: I guess no one wanted to sing them. I'm the default singer. SCRAPS!!! They give me SCRAPS!!!! :)
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: The Partridge Family TV show was based on the Cowsill family. Shirley Jones played at a benefit for your brother Billy Cowsill a few years back, and your brother Barry Cowsill used to tell me that he "SORTA liked Danny Bonaduce." Is there STILL a connection between you and any of the remaining cast?
JOHN COWSILL: Nope! Actually, I take that back. Bob knows Shirley Jones. I met her but that's it. Oh, and I had a crush on her growing up along with Donna Reed and Elizabeth Montgomery. God, I loved them . . .
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: The new movie; "Family Band: The Cowsill's Story" . . . is it mostly fact or mostly fiction?
JOHN COWSILL: I don't know. What do you think?
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: People have many false perceptions of being a "rock star.” Are there any 'basic truths' about the rock and roll life you'd care to share?
JOHN COWSILL: I've done it all and I am SO glad I'm alive and healthy and not all fucked up. I could have been.
ROCK HARD MAGAZINE: On Tommy Tutone's only hit, 867-5309/JENNY, you played the drums and sang backing vocals but didn't appear in the video. Why not? And, is there a BETTER John Cowsill trivia question you can think of?
JOHN COWSILL: Yes! What did Jim Keltner (excuse me let me pick that name back up) say to me at the Bob Dylan (oops, sorry I keep dropping those) SHOT OF LOVE session? Answer: NEXT ISSUE! Bye all and remember . . . LOVE BIG and FORGIVE QUICK because we all need it . . . safe travels from John Cowsill.
Rock Hard Magazine USA will be covering The Beach Boy's show and speaking with John Cowsill again on May 13th at Mohegan Sun. Tickets are still available for the May 13th show, so BE THERE!!!!