Susan Cowsill didn’t get to join her older brothers’ band because she was cute.
“They made me audition, the little punks,” Cowsill said with a mock sneer by phone from her New Orleans home.
After two years she passed the audition, so to speak, and joined the Cowsills, the family band that also included their mom, Barbara. Susan was 7 years old and had been in the group only a few months when the Cowsills appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1967 with their hit “The Rain, the Park & Other Things” (which became known as “The Flower Girl Song”).
While their mom and brothers Bill and Barry have passed away, Susan and her brothers Paul and Bob will be on board when the Cowsills perform today Friday June 19 as part of Hippiefest at Peabody Auditorium in Daytona Beach.
The now-annual tour of ’60s pop and rock stars (known as the Happy Together Tour elsewhere) also will feature the Turtles, the Association, Mark Lindsay (formerly of Paul Revere and the Raiders), the Buckinghams and the Grass Roots.
While Susan Cowsill continues to make music apart from the family band, in the following interview she talks about childhood stardom, how the band came to record “Hair,” and why “The Partridge Family” TV show (which was inspired by the Cowsills) made her feel a bit creepy.
Your brothers began the family band. Whose idea was it for you to join?
Were you a pest about it?
Yep, and I wasn’t saying it to Mom ’cause Mom was not the boss. My brother Bill was our leader and he made it very clear he was the guy I had to pass muster with.
He was like, “Look, we don’t just get in this band because we’re cute. You have to actually be able to sing, and right this minute you can’t.” I was like, “Well I will work on that.” And he went, “Yes, do.”
We were in the car in Rhode Island in Newport (their hometown) one morning and I was singing along with a Monkees song. Bill went “Hold on. Do that again.” I did and he went, “Well I be darn, look at you.” So I got a pass.
Were you aware as a kid they you were living an extraordinary life, or did it seem “normal”?
Yes and yes. I knew what our life was before that and we were Navy brats and we had to watch how much milk we drank out of the fridge and all that kind of stuff.
But I also knew we played this music. We all watched the Beatles. I knew what the goal was. I was paying attention. It was really fun and exciting.
When it happened it really did not surprise me because that’s kind of how I’m wired: I believe anything can happen anywhere, all the time, anyway. It was cool. On one hand it was perfectly normal, and on the other hand it was like “Wooow!” (laughs).
What’s one of your favorite memories from the 1960s heyday?
The main one was “The Ed Sullivan Show” and it was more for my brothers. I was a spy in my own house. That was really important to them, and I also understood that we had just watched the Beatles two years ago. I had just made it into the band by two months. So I got to be on it too, which was very cool.
God, there are so many. I was on “The Dean Martin Show” by myself with (actors) Michael Landon and Doug McClure. I’m a 9-year-old girl in love with these guys and now I’m on this show with them.
I got to meet Davey Jones and I was absolutely in love with him. And Mark Lindsay — I used to stalk his dressing room and he was very tolerant and very sweet to me over the years. I was living the American pre-teen dream.
As a kid listening to the Cowsills in the ’60s, I was shocked to hear you do the theme from the play “Hair.” It seemed like such a freaky song compared to “The Rain, the Park & Other Things.”
It was definitely a freak situation (laughs). Carl Reiner was creating a TV special called “The Wonderful World of Pizzazz.” And Carl, God bless him, thought it would be pretty darn funny if the Cowsills did a parody of hippies.
So that video you see of “Hair” with all of us dressed up, that was part of the deal. We were in modeling wigs from China in our segment.
So now we have this recording that was completely produced and played only by the boys, and it was bad-ass! My brothers were really excited about it and brought it to MGM (their record company).
The guys at MGM said, “Absolutely not, over our dead bodies. This is not Cowsills.” So the boys were kind of bummed.
We were in Chicgao doing a radio interview and my brother Bob had an acetate with him. So the guys gave it to the disc jockey and he was like, “I’m going to play something and I want you all to tell me who you think it is.”
And — seriously old school verbiage — the switchboard lit up, and it became what would now be a viral situation. And MGM had no choice but to put it out. So how do you like that?
Did you watch “The Partridge Family”?
Well of course (mock sigh). I was in love with David Cassidy, which was confusing and creepy all at the same time (hearty laugh). That was a trip.
That show was actually created and designed for the Cowsills, and it took them about two years to create the project and by the time they got to us we had kind of outgrown who and what they were writing about at the time.
And they also didn’t think the brothers were actor material. They did however want me to actually play myself. And I think they wanted Barry too.
The real kicker was they wanted an actress to play the part of Mom and my dad was like, “Nah, that’s not going to happen.” So the whole thing got squelched.
What’s the band lineup here?
It’s just me, Paul and Bob on this one, coming out and singing our 4.5 hits (laughs). It’s going to be nothing but fun.