SAUGUS — If those age 40 and older are asked to think of a band of teen siblings who performed on the road with their mother, they might instantly think of The Patridge Family of early 1970s TV fame.
But members of the group that inspired that show and on which it was loosely based, The Cowsills, are still touring today. On Thursday night, three of its surviving members — Bob, Paul and Susan — will be on stage at the Kowloon in Saugus.
The trio, their brother John, who is the current drummer for The Beach Boys, their late brothers Bill and Barry, and their late mother, Barbara, spent the better part of the ‘60s touring by bus and performing shows around the nation.
The Cowsills released five albums from 1967 to 1971, and while the group never achieved the level of fame as other sibling bands of the era, including The Beach Boys and Bee Gees, The Cowsills’ spot in American music history is secure, with its hits including ‘Indian Lake,’ ‘The Rain, The Park and Other Things’ and ‘Love American Style’ (theme to the 1969-74 TV show of the same name.) The Cowsills also made popular covers of “Hair,” title song of the 1968 hit musical, as well as the Mamas & the Papas’ “Monday, Monday” and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson.”
The family performed twice on the “Ed Sullivan Show,” twice on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, “American Bandstand” and many others, including “The Johnny Cash Show.”
“Our childhood was absolutely consumed by (the band),” said Bob Cowsill in a telephone interview from his California home. “But it wasn’t against our will. This was our childhood because it’s what we loved to do.”
Bob, the guitarist and vocalist who founded the band in the 1950s with brother Bill, said, “I remember being star-struck all the time, everywhere we went … to be on stage with Johnny Cash, all dressed in black, he looked 20 feet tall to me.”
At the band’s pinnacle, the family was well known across the nation. When ABC informed The Cowsills it was basing a sitcom/variety show on them, Bob reflected, “It was very cool and a huge compliment.
“(ABC) turned us down when we wanted to be the kids on the show, but we understood that. What the Patridge Family did was produced storylines and provided stories based on the image of The Cowsills. That kept our name alive. America embraced the show and embraced us.”
But it was precisely because the six siblings spent their youths together on stage, Bob said, that the band split up in 1972, each going on to different careers. Bob Cowsill went on to a successful career in health care administration.
“The breakup was heartbreaking only in retrospect,” he said. “At the time, things weren’t going so well (financially) and we were just tired of each other,” Bob said. “We’d spent our lives to that point (in the band), so we were relieved when it ended.”
Susan Cowsill continued her music career as a member of The Continental Drifters and also as a solo artist, while Paul Cowsill worked in music production with Helen Reddy and other artists, and also embarked on a career in construction.
The Cowsills reunited to produce another album in 1978 and since the early 1990s, various members have been performing reunion shows. Their mother, Barbara, died in 1985 at age 56. Their father, Bud, a Navy recruiter when the family band was formed, died in 1992.
Tragedy struck the family in 2005 when brother Barry was killed in Hurricane Katrina. Susan Cowsill lost her property in the hurricane, along with much of The Cowsills’ memorabilia, but fortunately for her, Bob said, “she evacuated. Barry didn’t.”
On the day of Barry’s memorial service, founding member Bill Cowsill died of emphysema and Cushing syndrome at age 58 at his home in Calgary, Canada.
Bob said he and surviving members Paul and Susan thoroughly enjoy their regular reunion concerts these days.
“John sits in with us when he can, but he’s still touring (since 2000) with The Beach Boys and who wouldn’t want to spend their days singing Beach Boys songs?”
Susan’s husband, Russ Broussard, performs on drums today with The Cowsills.
The family again rose to national notoriety in March of this year when Showtime aired its 89-minute documentary on the band, written by Bob Cowsill.
“Some people recognize us today because of the documentary,” he said. “But when we play, people instantly remember the songs … (The songs) bring the audience back to another place and time, and they do the same for us.
“It really was cutting-edge music at the time and we counted ourselves as a true rock band, fashioned after The Beatles and The Rolling Stones,” he said
He said he always looks forward to playing the Boston area, noting The Cowsills have performed at the Hatch Shell and at clubs including the former Zanzibar at Boylston Place. The group has even performed the national anthem at Fenway Park.
“Boston is our favorite city in the whole country,” Bob Cowsill said. “When I was 18, I never thought I’d be coming to play in Saugus at 63, but here we are, and that’s for a lot of reasons; for my generation and the next, there’s been an enduring love-fest with our music. Younger people in the audience listen for the history, but older listeners understand the power of the music.”