The annual “Happy Together” tour gets its name from a hit by the Turtles. But, for different reasons, both words in that name mean a great deal to Bob Cowsill.
Since 2015, Cowsill and his siblings, Paul and Susan, have been part of the “Happy Together” tour. Performing as the Cowsills, they play their best-known songs, including “Indian Lake” and “Hair.”
The 2018 “Happy Together” tour comes to the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown and the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park this month.
The word “happy” is significant to Bob Cowsill because it echoed in “The Rain, the Park & Other Things” the group’s Number Two hit from 1967. “That made us a breath of fresh air,” he said. “The year 1967 was rough, and we were singing, ‘Happy.’ “
As for the word “together,” its meaning is evident in the fact that the Cowsills, while maintaining individual careers, still reunite periodically to perform and record.
At the same time, Bob Cowsill admitted that concerts also put him in mind of family members no longer with them. Their mother, Barbara, died in 1985. Brother Barry perished during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, followed the next year by brother Bill.
“We always miss those not there,” said Bob Cowsill. “We know the parts where their voices are supposed to be. But it’s the songs that carry us forward.”
The “Happy Together” tour is the brainchild of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman (a.k.a. Flo and Eddie, the main voices behind the Turtles). The idea is to bring together a handful of acts from the 1960s and early 1970s to sing “nothing but hits.”
The 2018 edition of the tour features the Association (“Windy,” “Cherish”), Mark Lindsay (who sang lead with Paul Revere & the Raiders), and Chuck Negron, lead vocalist for Three Dog Night (“Joy to the World,” “Celebrate”).
Gary Puckett (“Woman, Woman”) is also on the tour. Volman (though not Kaylan) will perform “Happy Together,” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” and other Turtles songs.
Cowsill pointed out that playing “nothing but hits” offers a snapshot of a golden age of songwriting and recording. “These songs defined moments in our lives,” he said. “They’re part of our landscape.”
It also represented one of the last times when the popular culture had a common frame of reference, Cowsill added. “Back then, everybody listened to the radio. Everybody watched ‘The Ed Sullivan Show.’ The culture fractured after that.”
The Cowsills’ contribution to that era was a fresh-faced enthusiasm. Their success did not come overnight; Bob Cowsill pointed out that “The Rain the Park & Other Things” was actually the group’s fourth single.
“When your first three singles don’t go anywhere, it’s a surprise to have a hit,” Cowsill said. “But we had a feeling about ‘The Rain.’ “
In a similar vein was the upbeat “Indian Lake.” “The year 1968 was a rough year. But we had this summery song, and the country embraced it,” Cowsill said.
A year later, the Cowsills were asked to sing the title song from a musical for a TV special by Carl Reiner. It was meant to be a joke, with the group wearing huge wigs.
The record company wasn’t going to release ‘Hair,’ because (executives) said it didn’t sound like us,” Cowsill said. “But then the Fifth Dimension did ‘Aquarius’ and Three Dog Night did ‘Easy to Be Hard.’ We were part of a trend.”
Though the Cowsills only sing hits for the “Happy Together” tour, they are working on new material, including songs written by Bill and Barry Cowsill. They also recently cut an a capella version of “The Rain, the Park & Other Things.”
The “Happy Together” tour does afford one other pleasure for the Cowsills. “Back in the day, you didn’t interact the audience,” Bob Cowsill said. “But this gives us the chance to meet the fans after the show. We enjoy that.”
When it comes to the music, Cowsill said he is as much of a fan as anyone in the audience. “We are fortunate to have been born when we were born,” he said. “We were part of this amazing movement, and the music was so important to us.”