It was early in his partnership with the late Billy Cowsill when Jeffrey Hatcher realized this musical venture – which was to become the Blue Shadows – was going to be a wild ride.
That revelations came to him during one of their first gigs together, around 1992, when hatcher watched the roots rocker and former teen pop sensation smashed his guitar over an obnoxious fan’s head in a Vancouver Bar.
“(Billy) was in a really bad mood … and he was, maybe, a little high,” Hatcher recalls. “He was frustrated with people on the dance floor falling into his microphone (causing it to) whack him in the mouth … At the end of the night, somebody started giving him a hard time and he told the guy to get lost. The guy gave him some attitude and Billy let him have it.”
The offending fan, laid out on the dirty floor, was dragged by his boot heels onto the street.
Hatcher had never seen such a sight and he suddenly had doubts about joining Cowsill’s band. What was he getting himself into?
The band’s management assured him this was totally out of character for the rock ‘n’ roll veteran. The next night, however, a friend of the assaulted fan came to confront Cowsill. As the Blue Shadows’ co-manager Dave Chesney described the scene in No Depression magazine: “Bill coco-bonked him, too. Two nights, two guitars.”
Hatcher was horrified
“I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, spiritually I can’t be involved in an enterprise like this,’ “ says the singer-songwriter, now 53. “It’s too awful. “
Thankfully, when Hatcher and the band’s managers read Cowsill the riot act, the singer amended his ways – for a time.
“Shortly after that he turned into Mr. Love,” Hatcher says with a laugh from his Winnipeg home.
Within the next few months, Hatcher – who scored a hit in the ‘80s with his band Jeffrey Hatcher & the Big Beat – found that he and Cowsill shared a special chemistry.
Their harmony singing won them great acclaim, garnering comparisons with Lennon and McCartney and the Everly Brothers. They had common ground musically, too, inspired by old-time rock ‘n’ roll and classic country, and the two men began writing songs together.
When Hatcher joined Cowsill initially, he came aboard as a sideman, but soon it became apparent that this was a band. Along with bassist Elmar Spanier and drummer J.B. Johnson, the Blue Shadows were born.
Hailing from Newport, R.I., Cowsill experienced international fame in the late ‘60s as part of family pop band the Cowsills, teeny bopper heartthrobs who would be the inspiration for TV’s The Partridge Family.
Despite the perks of fame, appearing on the Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson and Johnny Cash shows, Cowsill, a Beatles devotee, bristled at the band’s bubble-gum pop and at the doctorial management of his father, Bud Cowsill. Bud finally fired his eldest son from the band when he caught Billy smoking marijuana.
By the ‘80s, though, Cowsill moved to Vancouver where he became a fixture of the city’s music scene.
When the Blue Shadows began picking up momentum, some felt this was Cowsill’s ticket back to the big time. By 1993, the band had a Canadian record deal, with its first album, On the Floor of Heave, earning rave reviews. Labels in the U.S. were beginning to take notice, too, with the Shadows turning heads at Austin’s South By Southwest music festival and in Nashville.
But the band’s timing was off. Slick pop-country and line dancing was all the rage then and the major labels ultimately passed on the band. Still there’s little doubt the group could have carved out a long, prosperous career. That is, if Cowsill hadn’t come unraveled.
“Billy became very difficult to work with,” Hatcher says. “He had several different personalities, depending on how he woke up…and that can really wear on people after a while.”
By 1996, the Blue Shadows were finished.
Hatcher moved back to his hometown of Winnipeg, where he became a musical therapist, while Cowsill was rescued by Neil MacGonigill, a Calgary-based music manager.
Cowsill’s final band, the Co-Dependents, became a staple of Calgary’s music scene until years of hard living caught up with the rock ‘n’ roll soldier. In the final years of his life, he was struggling with osteoporosis and emphysema. He died in 2006.