PAWTUCKET - Nine artists representing nearly a century and a half of music will be inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame this year, but just hearing the name of one group will trigger musical memories for the Baby Boom generation.
The Cowsills, the singing family from Little Rhody that made it into the really big time, are among those to be honored at the second annual Hall of Fame Ceremony and Concert on Sunday, April 28.
The best news for longtime fans - and new ones discovering the band's music today on Internet sites like iTunes and YouTube - is that the Cowsills will perform.
Bob, Susan, Paul and John Cowsill, all of whom have carried on since their chart-topping days in the late 1960s, will do a 45-minute set during the concert portion of the induction ceremonies.
"We know what people want to hear from us," Bob Cowsill said agreeably during a telephone interview last week from California, where he has lived since 1970.
How could they NOT play bona fide hits like "The Rain, The Park and Other Things," "Indian Lake" or maybe even the title song from "Hair"? But these four musicians also have new music from their solo and group careers, and in their current concerts - they do several throughout the year - they also play "special songs from our era," Cowsill said.
Among them: "The Boxer" and "Monday, Monday," which Cowsill says audiences welcome enthusiastically.
"We're really grateful to go into the Hall of Fame," he added. "When your home state calls, that's better than any other state calling. When they told us what this was about, well, that is really neat."
The story of the Cowsills, who grew up in Newport, has enough drama, musically and personally, for a movie. In fact, a documentary written by Cowsill and Louise Palanker called "Family Band: The Cowsills Story" is airing almost daily on Showtime until May 26. The film debuted at the 2010 Rhode Island International Film Festival.
Bob and his older brother, Bill, began playing guitar when they were 7 and 8 years old and began taking it "seriously" when they were 11 and 12 - and just waiting for their younger siblings to "grow up enough to be in the band," Bob Cowsill said.
"We loved it. It was what we wanted to do, and we were good," he added.
They performed throughout Rhode Island and New England all through 1965 and '66 until, in a Hollywood kind of story, a representative of the "Today" show heard them and invited the young musicians to appear on national television. Shortly after that they were signed by Mercury Records.
"I was in 10th grade; Bill was in 11th," Cowsill said.
He remembered that agent Artie Kornfeld was a bit dismayed at being assigned to "the Cowsill boys - a 16-, 15-, 10- and 8-year-old."
"It was exciting to be signed," Cowsill said, adding that it was "great for credibility in high school" but demoralizing to be dropped before graduation.
Kornfeld, however, stuck with them, and it was a song penned by him and Steve Duboff that changed their history. "The Rain, The Park and Other Things" was a bouncy tune about the "Flower Girl" that topped the charts and led a million-plus selling album.
It was the folks at MGM, which produced the album, who fostered the idea that the boys' mother, Barbara, join the group. To the 16-year-old Bob, "They were ruining everything." But as an adult, Cowsill understood why: It made the group "different than anyone else."
Measuring their success, Cowsill said, "I can remember seeing the Beatles on 'The Ed Sullivan Show.' That was a big deal. Then, three years later, we were on 'Ed Sullivan.'" Twice, as it turned out, in 1967 and 1968.
As the Cowsills' professional trajectory went up, however, family dynamics took it down.
"My dad was a nut," Cowsill said unflinchingly. "You can see it all in the documentary. I'll just say this: My dad's qualities took us to the top. He was always right; he wouldn't listen to anybody else. But it's hard to stay at the top and things came crashing down."
Their father's dictatorial nature poisoned a proposal for the family to play themselves in a television sitcom, which eventually became "The Partridge Family." He fired Bill, who had been the lead vocalist, and fueled other disagreements that led to more departures.
Since those days, however, there have been reunions, regroupings and recordings, including "Global," made in 1990, and "Cocaine Drain," a collection of recordings on vinyl from the 1970s re-mastered and released in 2008. But the family members largely pursued individual careers.
Bob Cowsill found what he still calls his "day job" in the computer software industry, working on products used to track care and finances in emergency medical situations.
"But we're musicians for life," he said. "You still do what you do. I've been playing at a pub out here every Friday for the last 29 years," he said.
In 1990, Bob, John, Paul and Susan got together as The Cowsills to perform their family music as well as new material they'd written. They continue to appear across the country in concerts with other 1960s groups like Paul Revere and the Raiders and The Lovin' Spoonful.
Susan, who lives in New Orleans, also writes music and tours with her Susan Cowsill Band.
"She's turned into a great artist," Cowsill said. "I'm happy for her, because she was only 8 when we were famous."
John, of Malibu, is not only busy but in the limelight as the drummer for the Beach Boys.
Both parents are dead, as is Barry, who had been living in New Orleans and perished in Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Bill had health problems and died in 2006 after pursuing his musical career in Canada.
Younger audiences now are picking up on Cowsills' music via new media.
"Punch in 'Cowsills' and it comes up on iTunes," Cowsill said.
Same for YouTube: "We don't post anything, but our fans are always putting up videos from performances" or making videos of themselves singing Cowsills' hits.
"Name recognition shoots back up" with events like induction into the Music Hall of Fame and the airing of the documentary, Cowsill said.
"And we're getting book offers, film offers. I think I'll be transitioning from the emergency medicine business to show business. The offers are quite serious that are coming to us."
The extended Cowsill family will come to Rhode Island for the induction, he said, including his wife of 35 years, four of their five children and their four grandchildren. The fifth child, daughter Courtney Capparelle, a graduate of Salve Regina University, already is here, living with her husband in Cumberland.
"We're really grateful to go into this Hall of Fame," Cowsill concluded. "You know, you're just living life, and you get a call like this. It's special."
The Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame's second annual Hall of Fame Ceremony and Concert will be held Sunday, April 28, at Hope Artiste Village, 999 Main St., Pawtucket.
In response to last year's sell-out, the event has been divided into afternoon inductions and performances from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Hall of Fame space, and evening inductions and performances starting at 7 p.m. at the Met nightclub at 1005 Main St. in Hope Artiste Village.
There also will be a free unveiling from 4 to 5:30 p.m. of displays honoring the nine inductees.
Other inductees include the late Bobby Hackett, Providence-born trumpeter and cornetist; Sissieretta Jones (1868-1933), renowned soprano at the turn of the last century; George M. Cohan (1878-1942), a composer, producer, actor, singer and dancer; Jimmie Crane (1910-1998), known as the dean of Rhode Island songwriters; Eddie Zack & The Hayloft Jamboree, pioneers of country and western music in Rhode Island; Bill Flanagan, writer and musicologist; Paul Geremia, internationally known folk and blues musician; Steve Smith & The Nakeds, rocking rhythm and blues band since 1973. Musical performances by the Cowsills and Steve Smith and the Nakeds will follow the presentations.
Tickets are $10 for the afternoon events, and $20 in advance or $25 at the door for the evening ceremony and performances. For advance tickets and more info, visit www.rhodeislandmusichallof fame.com.