They got their start in Newport, then rose to national fame in the late 1960s, touring the country and performing on popular programs like "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "American Bandstand." But after a few years of success, and after inspiring the creation of "The Partridge Family," musical act The Cowsills began their fall, watching a mix of mismanagement and their father Bud's firing of the oldest member Bill bring them down.
On Wednesday evening, Paul, Bob, Susan and Richard Cowsill united in Providence to shed some light on what they endured and where they are now. The rare public gathering followed the world premiere of a documentary based on their family and its musical career, entitled "Family Band: The Cowsills Story." The screening was part of the Rhode Island International Film Festival and was held at Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
"This really is a film about family," Director Louise Palanker noted before the start of the screening. Indeed, the documentary focuses heavily on the Cowsill children and how their relationship with their father impacted their musical success and demise, and their own personal development.
Following the screening, each of the Cowsills on stage acknowledged that watching their lives play before them on screen has not been easy.
"It's been a pretty heavy experience," acknowledged Bob Cowsill. "It's real hard in spots, it's a lot easier with all of you here, but watching it alone has been a hard, tough experience."
"To try to take yourself personally away from it is almost impossible," added Paul Cowsill. "You know this story, but...it does look kind of new to you. Like, 'oh really, was that it?".
"We tended to laugh through the whole deal," Susan Cowsill said.
The Q&A session of the screening, which followed a performance by Paul, Bob and Susan, was one of many laughs and full of sibling banter.
Aside from answering further questions about their music, their father, and the lack of detail about their mother, Barbara, in the film, the siblings spent some time reflecting on fond memories from their youth on Aquidneck Island.
Bob Cowsill acknowledged that they graduated from Middletown High School, despite a move to Newport. He also recalled their musical start, which involved playing Beatles covers each week at Bannisters Wharf.
"Obviously little league [was big] for me and Bob," Paul Cowsill said about his time on Aquidneck Island. "But the greatest thing Bob, Richard and me ever did was we got these things called Sea Snarks — basically a styrofoam boat for one — so we got three of these boats and we’d go in and out and in and out and try to stop the Newport Ferry."
"Then we would beeline it to Thames Street and we'd be running from Thames Street to Wellington Avenue with these sea snarks on our heads," Bob added with a laugh.
Susan shared a story of her favorite moments in Middletown, when she and her fellow siblings would go around gathering bees in jars, then take them down to a rock beach by their house and "log" the jars onto the rocks.
"This swarm of bees would come up and we’d run like hell," she said, laughing.
"Dad would get so pissed off," Paul added.
The audience was filled with fans who shared their own stories growing up in Rhode Island and admiring The Cowsills' ties to the Ocean State. Filmmaker Louise Palanker said that the world premiere of the documentary here at the Rhode Island International Film Festival is just the start of the film's life. She admitted that this festival was the first to which she's submitted, and that she's still looking for a distribution plan. The siblings will help promote the film further later this month, when they leave their home state once again to return to California, where the documentary will be screened at the "Don’t Knock The Rock 2011 Festival" in Los Angeles on August 25. For more information on the band and the film, go here.