WOODLAND HILLS - At 44. Bob Cowsill is not an old man in rock 'n' roll years. These days, geriatric rockers are gobbling up gazillions in record deals.
On the other hand, it has been 23 years since he recorded a Top 10 hit with the Cowsills, his family's group. Lately, he's been relegated to singing oldies to cozy gatherings at local bars. All he wants is a second chance.
"Who doesn't? The first time was a joy ride that we didn't think it would end. And then it was over." said Cowsill during a break of his weekly Friday night gig at the Pickwick Pub in Woodland Hills.
From 1967 to 1970, Cowsill and his family produced such hits as the title track from the popular musical "Hair." "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" and "Indian Lake." After failing to gain a new record contract, they broke up in 1978.
Three years ago, the family reunited to record a new album of 15 original songs. After more than a decade apart, they were ready to play music together again. But so far, seven record companies have turned them down.
"They have their jobs on the line, and we're not the flavor of the week anymore." Cowsill said. "We're not 19 years old. The record people want to cater to younger audiences."
Cowsill is certain he would appreciate success much more this time. Shaking his head from side to side, still unable to comprehend his wasted opportunity, he vividly recalled Johnny Cash asking him to jam with Cash and Carl Perkins. Cowsill declined. "If only I had known." he said. "I just didn't understand the significance of it all. I wish I had, brought an autograph book with me in those days."
His family made a lot of money, but managed it poorly. Cowsill said. The popular early 1970s show "The Partridge Family" was based on the Cowsills, and television executives initially wanted them to play the group, he said. There was one condition — Shirley Jones had to portray the mother, not Barbara Cowsill. That was not acceptable to the family.
"They did better with the characters they got." Bob Cowsill said. "We have already grown beyond those ages anyway."
These days, Cowsill, a resident of West Hills, is self-employed, monitoring the effectiveness of emergency rooms at San Fernando Valley hospitals. He's held various jobs in the medical-services industry over the last two decades. Cowsill had been a premed student at Cal State Northridge in the early 1970s, when things weren't happening
musically, he had something else to do.
But he quickly dismisses his "day job," preferring to focus on his music, which he performs five nights a week. Besides Pickwick, he appears Mondays and Wednesdays at Toppers in Santa Monica. Tuesdays at the Sidewalk Cafe in Venice and Saturdays at La Paz Restaurant in Calabasas.
His family, including sister Susan and brothers Paul and John, sing together in public occasionally, playing most recently last month at a festival in their hometown of Newport. R.I. Barbara Cowsill died in 1985.
The Pickwick gig came about by accident He and his wife had just seen a movie and were taking a walk in the neighborhood. They stumbled
upon the pub and decided it would be the perfect place for Cowsill's acoustic guitar. That was eight years ago, "and I'm still here."
Craig Holman, the bar's owner, said Cowsill enjoys a special rapport with the audience.
"He brings back the nostalgia of the '60s. Because the young and old all know the songs, and they can sing along, they love it,"
He usually gives the audience of about 50 exactly what they want: the Beatles, Van Morrison. the Eagles. The crowd bombards him with one request after another. Sometimes, he slips in a little Bob Cowsill.
"I'll throw some in and not say anything," said Cowsul, who still writes songs. "Sometimes people will ask for 'Hair.' but a lot of nights, nobody knows who I was."
Where and When
What: Bob Cowsill at the Pickwick Pub.
Location: 21010 Ventura Blvd. Woodland Hills
Hours: 9:30p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Fridays
Price: $3 cover charge.
Call: (818) 340-9673
What: Bob Cowsill at La Paz Restaurant.
Location: 455 Las Virgenes Road, Calabasas.
Hours: 7 to 11 p.m Saturdays
Price: No separate admission.
Call: (818) 880-8076