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Happiness for Cowsills amid tragedy
September 1, 2016
Herald and Review


The surviving members of the Cowsills - siblings Paul, Susan and Bob from left - today.

Cowsills among pop veterans in Bloomington show

That ranks have dramatically thinned for the once-prolific Cowsills, America’s first all-singing pop-rock clan and the infamous blueprint for TV’s “Partridge Family.”

At the peak of their late-‘60s Tope 40 glory, the Cowsills of Rhode Island were nine strong, fronted by dad Bud, the manager, and mom Barbara, the on-stage matriarch who smacked a mean tambourine and added a creamy alto bottom to the densely packed harmonies.

Six of the Cowsill spawn harmonized with Barbara: eldest son Bill, on down through Bob, Paul, John, Barry and their secret weapon, freckled-faced kid sis Susan.

Only Bob’s twin brother Richard abstained from the fun that begat a string of sunny, upbeat pop confections beginning with 1968 No. 1 smash, “The Rain, the Park and Other Things.”

It was followed by everyone’s favorite summer-camp sing-along, “Indian Lake,” “We Can Fly” and, the ringer of the bunch, “Hair,” wrangled from the notorious X-rated Broadway show into the best acid-tinged bubblegum anthem of 1969 (it peaked at No 2).

After recording the theme song to ABC’s “Love, American Style” the same year, the Cowsills were earmarked to join Oscar-winning actress Shirley Jones in a new sitcom based on their own lives.

The bid failed when the producers decided that the real McCoys weren’t “real” enough for the sitcom-land, leading to the eventual casting of Jones’ step-son, David Cassidy, and a brood of camera-savvy teen and kids actors.

“It’s really bizarre to see the whole family on stage now . . . and the whole family is only four,” muses Paul Cowsill from a tour bus harboring two of the other survivors, Bob and Susan (No. 4, John, is out on the road with the Beach boys as their touring drummer; he played the U.S. Cellular Coliseum show with them in 2010, and is not part of the current Cowsills configuration, though he occasionally turns up on special occasions).

“It’s quite sobering, in fact,” Paul said of the misfortune that’s dogged his family. It began with Barbara’s early death at 56 in 1985, followed by Bud at 66 in 1992 and, most tragically, Barry, who died at 50 in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 (his body wasn’t discovered for months), and Bill, 58, who passed one day before Barry’s memorial service in February 2006.

Most recently, non-singing Richard died in 2014 at 64.

Despite the septet reduced to trio status, “we do feel their presence, almost like they are there on stage singing with us, and we hear their harmonies . . . it’s a bizarre kind of feeling.”

But a good one, too, he adds, as the family tree sprouts further branches via the musical pursuits of the various sons and daughters of the original Cowsill kids.

Paul, the “middle”-ish son, is now a grandfather in his mid 60s and keeping the rain, the park and other Cowsill things alive as part of the all-‘60s-star “Happy Together Tour” coming to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts tonight, along with Flo & Eddie of the Turtles, mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & The Raiders, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night and the Spencer Davis Group).

They still love doing it after all these years.

“We played with a lot of these guys back in the ‘60s, when we were just the little kids running around,” Paul said. “So, yeah, now we’re in our 60s, and Gary, Mark, Chuck and those guys are in their 70s, and we’re still the young guys.”

The tragedy that has tailed the family in recent years has its own counterparts on the tour, especially with two of their closest pals, Chuck Negron (another tour bus passenger this day) and Mark Lindsay.

Negron witnessed the passing of two Three Dog Night comrades a year ago: Jimmy Greenspoon, who passed in March 2015,and Corey Wells, who died in October.

“When the Cowsills were touring in 1969, ‘One’ was a big hit,” Paul recalls. “And I had a girlfriend for the first time. We were writing letters, and every letter I wrote her I always began with . . . ‘one is the loneliest number.’”

Flash forward 47 years: “And now here we are on a bus together, staying up late watching the Olympics together . . . being with Chuck, of all people, all these years later, is special to me.”

Also touched by sadness in recent years is fellow tour traveler Mark Lindsay, who old band mate Paul Revere Dick, namesake of Paul Revere & The Raiders, died in 2014.

It was Revere, says Cowsill, who caught their sibling act in Branson and insisted that they be added to the Happy Together Tour.

“He really became our mentor,” Cowsill adds. “Then he got sick, and in the very last week of his life, he made a point of calling the tour manager and saying that ‘you gotta get the Cowsills on the Happy Together Tour . . . you gotta give them this chance.’”

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