The body of Barry Cowsill, one of the singing Cowsills, the family band that inspired the Partridge Family, was discovered on December 28th on a wharf in New Orleans. Local authorities believe Cowsill, 51, died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the city on August 29th. Cowsill reportedly left phone messages for his sister Susan on September 1st, and was not heard from again.
Billed as "America's First Family of Music," the well-scrubbed Cowsills helped make flower-power music palatable to the mainstream during their brief run in the late 1960s. They had two Number Two hits, "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" and the title track to the hit rock musical Hair. They were nearly reality-television pioneers, as well: The filming of their daily life together was briefly considered for a TV program, before producers decided to fictionalize the story as The Partridge Family.
Newport, Rhode Island's Cowsills were formed in the early Sixties when their father, Bud, gave his two oldest boys, Bill and Bob, guitars. Barry, born in 1954, took up the bass, and younger brother John became the drummer. Later, the group would be joined by brother Paul, on keyboards, and their kid sister Susan, on vocals. Their mother Barbara performed with the group as well.
The four original band members recorded their first single, "All I Really Wanta Be Is Me," in 1965. Playing a weekly residency at a Newport lounge called Bannisters Wharf, the group was discovered by a producer for NBC's Today show. Their television performance led to a contract with Mercury Records, which recorded a string of singles to little notice. Producer Artie Kornfeld brought the group a song he co-wrote, "The Rain, the Park and Other Things," and he convinced Barbara Cowsill to sing with her children. That song, a dreamy, heavily orchestrated pop nugget, became a smash for MGM in 1967.
In the wake of the single's success, Paul and Susan Cowsill were soon added to the group. "We Can Fly" reached Number Twenty-One in 1968, followed by "Indian Lake," a California pop song influenced by the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas, which made Number Ten later that same year. By now a pop sensation, the Cowsills hosted their own television special and made appearances for Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson.
The group had one last moment of glory in early 1969, when their recording of "Hair" spent thirteen weeks in the Top Forty. But despite the success of The Partridge Family, which debuted in 1970, the Cowsills' 1971 album On My Side yielded no hits; the group would soon dissolve amid financial and personal difficulties.
Bill Cowsill, who was once considered as a possible replacement for Brian Wilson in the Beach Boys' touring band, was the first family member to release a solo album, 1971's Nervous Breakthrough. Some of the siblings eventually fell out of the music business; Bob, John, Susan and Paul briefly reunited in the late Seventies, recording a set of songs that went unreleased. It was the first of the Cowsills' periodic comebacks, most recently in 1998, when they released an Internet-only album. Barbara Cowsill died of emphysema in Tempe, Arizona in 1985.
Through the years the Cowsills retained some ties to their native New England. In 1988 Barry contributed a cover version of "Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey" for an album called Boston Does the Beatles. In 2004 the Cowsills reunited to play at Fenway Park before a Red Sox-Yankees playoff game. They sang the national anthem and "Hair."
During the 1990s Barry and Susan both became involved with the New Orleans music community. Susan joined her then-husband, former dBs frontman Peter Holsapple, ex-Bangle Vicki Peterson and others in the L.A.-New Orleans band the Continental Drifters. Barry Cowsill released an album, Barry Cowsill: As Is, in 1998. He was said to have been preparing to record another album in New Orleans at the time of his death.