In the late 1960s, the Cowsills were a TV and radio staple.
With hits such as “The Rain, The Park & Other Things,” “Hair” and “Indian Lake” and appearances on “The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson,” “American Bandstand” and “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the seven members were blazing a path for family bands.
In fact, their wholesome take on flower-power pop inspired the fictional “Partridge Family,” just as the family was fading from public view.
Today, not many people remember the Cowsills, though their songs are still played on radio.
The band consisted of Bob, Susan, Paul, John, Bill, Barry and Barbara.
A new documentary, “Family Band: The Cowsills Story,” premiered Wednesday on Showtime and is aiming to give an inside look to the rise and fall of the beloved band. The next airing will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Richard Cowsill, 63, is now a Rio Rancho resident.
He said he is looking forward to seeing the documentary open up some eyes about his family.
“They had a great run,” he says with a smile. “But, like most musicians in that time, they got taken advantage of and really didn’t make any money.”
Richard is the second oldest of seven born to Bud and Barbara Cowsill, and worked back stage.
Having no musical talent himself but recognizing everyone else in the family had it in spades, Bud aggressively pushed them as a professional act. Soon the Cowsills were relocating from Rhode Island to Southern California, signed by MGM (which insisted Barbara and Susan join the group), and scoring several chart hits.
While his brothers, sister and mother found success in the band, Richard was the odd man out. But it wasn’t due to not having musical talent.
“My father and I never got along,” he says. “Since I was a child, we never reached agreements. While the others would perform, I would be in the background setting up their instruments.”
By 18, after an argument with his father, Richard enlisted in the military and left for what would become three tours in Vietnam.
Despite being left out in the band, Richard had his lifelong dream fulfilled – he performed with the band in the family’s hometown of Newport, R.I., as part of the Cowsill Marathon concert.
“This was the one and only time all seven of us performed together,” he said. “It was a very special time for us and it’s a special time that sticks out in my mind.”
The documentary was filmed over the course of seven years. Richard’s twin brother Bob says it took nearly two years for everyone to say yes to the project.
Bob says documentary producer Louise Palanker approached him after a solo performance in Woodland Hills, Calif.
“She asked about making a documentary and I kept saying no,” he said during a phone interview from Las Vegas, Nev. “She was tenacious, and I told her I had to ask my brothers and sisters. After some time, we agreed and production started in 2004. What people don’t understand is that when you allow a documentary to be made, it has to be an open book. It’s like a psychoanalysis of the family, and we had to get down to the nitty-gritty of the history. The good, the bad and the ugly. It wasn’t a piece of cake to make.”
The documentary goes behind the scenes to dig up its share of private dirt and family secrets, and is chock-full of vintage clips that chronicle the clan’s complicated larger story.
Richard says growing up was difficult because his father didn’t let the children know one another.
“Everyone was always looking out for their own behind,” he says. “We were afraid to do anything wrong. We were taught keep it simple and just make music.”