By Phil Roura
Imagine it's the late '60s or early '70s, The Viet Name War rages in jungles a zillion miles way while a battle for peace is waged on the streets and campuses at home. Long-haired kids embrace hippie culture, smoking weed and dropping acid to "People Are Strange" by the Doors.
Now imagine squeaky-clean, cookie-cutter group from Rhode Island of five brothers, a sister and their mother who sing in perfect harmony. And maybe you can understand why red-state America went wild for the Cowsills.
On his TV show, Johnny Cass anointed them "the most talented family I've ever met." They scored humongous hits with "The Rain, The Park and Other Things," "Indian Lake" and a cover of the Mamas and Papas' "Monday, Monday." They were on TV almost every week averaging 200 performances a year before breaking up in 1972 (they regrouped from 1978-80, but it didn't work out). Yet even these white-bread wonders had a dark side.
Now, decades later, the surviving Cowsills are trying to make a comeback. Next Sunday night, they play the Wolf Den at the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut.
"Clearly, there was this image of a happy, loving, wonderful family," says Bob Cowsill, now 60 and the lead singer of the re-formed band.
Apparently that wasn't the case. "Not by any stretch of the imagination," says Cowsill. "We were raised in the '60s and were children of the '60s. We experimented. There was drug abuse. There was alcohol. Basically, our dad (Bud) kept us in a prison" - until they finally broke out. "We said: 'Holy cow, what's this world out here?'"
The original Cowsills consisted of siblings Bob, Bill, Barry, John, Paul and Susan and their mother, Barbara. Both parents and Barry and Bill have since died. Barry perished in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 - "the day before, I had convinced him to finally come to California to enter rehab," says Bob.
Today, John plays drums for what is left of the Beach Boys, and Susan and Bob sing mostly on her own. But in 2007, Bob says the siblings were approached to do a gig - and something sparked. "We had a lot of fun," he says. "Surprisingly, the harmony was still there."
They've since added Paul's song Brendon on guitar, Bob's son Ryan on keyboards, Susan's husband, Russ, on drums, and bassist Mary Lasseigne.
"Admittedly, people don't know us anymore," says Bob. "We're no longer on the radar."
That could change this summer. There are plans for a book, a documentary and a possible tour. But is there a need in the 21st century to revive a group that practically invented bubblegum rock?
"We will see," says Bob. "One thing I do know: The Cowsills are back."