It's been more than 20 years since the Cowsills rocketed to fame through popular music, making them perhaps Newport's most widely known celebrities at the time.
Next week, for the first time since their early years together, they'll perform in their hometown as part of what has been a successful comeback as a quartet. Bob, Paul, John and Susan Cowsill make up the new incarnation of what was once a septet including brothers Bill and Barry and their late mother, Barbara.
On Tuesday, September 25, they perform at the Newport Marriott, and next weekend they'll have three gigs: Friday night, September 28, at 9 at the Elks Lodge at Bellevue Avenue and Pelham Street, and Saturday and Sunday at "A Taste of Newport," a fundraising event at the Newport Yachting Center.
In a story that sounds like a made-for-TV movie, the Cowsills have lived roller coaster lives. Shooting to stardom between 1967 and 1970 with a peppy, harmonic version of social consciousness/feelgood music, they had three number one hits and a few others that hit the top 10, and their success inspired the quintissential early 70's sitcom, "The Partridge Family."
But by the time the television show was reaching its height of popularity, the Cowsills had plummeted out of sight, hurt by the iron-handed management of their father and divided by feuds among themselves. An attempt to reconcile in the late 70s failed when record producers rejected them as not fitting the disco mode of the day.
From there, they retreated separately to new lives, some of them battling alcohol and drugs, others settling into quiet, successful lives away from show business. Almost magically the four Cowsills who make up the new band decided in mid-1989 to give it another try, and they've enjoyed surprising success. In their first gig at a Boston club, arranged by a radio oldies DJ, they played to an enthusiastic audience of 800, which included some visiting Beach Boys.
They've since gone on to record an album and to book dates on the west coast as well as the east. According to Bob, the band's leader and primary song writer, the new Cowsills want to achieve what record companies and producers wouldn't let them in the early 70s. He said they repeatedly rejected offers over the years to join nostalgia tours, wanting instead to be able to spread out and become creative.
Cowsill brother Barry, who lives in Monterey, Calif., and decided not to join the band, said in a recent interview that they resented the bubblegum image foisted on them by record companies. "We'd worked hard to become a creative band, and instead they had us tap dancing on the Ed Sullivan show," he said.
Whatever your opinion of the Cowsills music was then, they had a distinctive sound marked by sharp harmony and high energy. Their version of "Hair," the signature song from the timely Broadway musical, still holds up today because of its harmonic arrangement and energy, not to mention its value as a historic footnote.
"Hair" reached number one as did "The Rain The Park and Other Things" and "Indian Lake," the most bubblegummy of their hits. They also had hits with "The Flower Girl," "We Can Fly," "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" and "The Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine (Six-Six-Six)," most of which they do in their show, along with some new originals penned by Bob and his wife Mary Jo.
Tickets for the show at the Marriott on Wednesday are $7 and $10, available at the hotel or by calling 849-1000. The Elks show tickets for the 28th are $10, available at the lodge.
The Cowsills will perform at "A
Taste of R.I." on the 29th and the
30th at 7 p.m. Tickets are available
by calling 846-1600.