Many have not heard of The Cowsills, but in the early '60s the popularity of family bands reached its zenith, and this amazingly talented family band from Bannister Wharf in Newport, Rhode Island certainly found their place in the sun. On April 28, The Cowsills were inducted into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame.
The Hall of Fame is located in the Hope Artist Village in Pawtucket. This musical facility came to be due to the successful collaboration of Rick Bellaire and Bob Billington, among others, and is home to numerous archives of Rhode Island artists. The building is an impressive testimonial to the artists of Rhode Island, with an elaborate Hall of Fame Room, large ballroom for presentations and events, and an acoustically perfect concert hall.
This is the second annual induction ceremony, which included some of Rhode Island's finest musicians, writers, and performers. The inductees for this year’s ceremony were rich in cultural diversity, including: George M. Cohan, Bill Flanagan, Paul Germania, Bobby Hackett, Sissieretta Jones, Steve Smith and the Nakeds, Eddie Zack and the Hayloft Jamboree, and The Cowsills, who have their own special story to share.
The conversations I had with Bob Cowsill about The Cowsill's induction into the Hall of Fame and the recently released documentary about the band was engaging, honest, and fun. Now residing in California, his roots remain here in New England, which is often reflected in his love for the Red Sox. He was grateful for the band to receive this recognition.
“It was special, special night," said Cowsill. “It's funny, a call like this from someone to have you come in and be honored and recognized for work you've done would be an honor under any circumstances, but when it's your home state calling, that makes it so much more special and so much more meaningful.”
The real life events of The Cowsills have recently been featured in a documentary on Showtime. The story is heartbreaking, but with salvation.
“We didn’t want to do it all. What are we opening up here? We actually turned them down for a while. But finally after a couple of years of asking, we agreed to do the film,” said Cowsill.
The Cowsills began as brothers Bill and Bob, following with Barry, John, Barbara, Susan, and Paul. For a period of time in the late '60s, The Cowsills were on top, but it wasn’t easy.
The patriarch of the family, Bud Cowsill, saw the desire and talent of his family and knew there was promise. But his determination and controlling, abusive nature both mentally and physically proved to be the eventual downfall of the band.
“He took it right to the top, and then he took it right to the bottom. But he did take it to the top," said Cowsill.
Unfortunately, this roller coaster of events prevented them in many ways from reaching their ultimate success.
It was a long road - they were dropped by two record labels, and then, while Bob was a senior in high school, “The Rain The Park and Other Things” blasted the airways, reaching number one in 1967. Between the ages of 17 and 21, Bob can boast that he enjoyed four major hits. Other successes followed, including appearances on Ed Sullivan, Mike Douglas, The Tonight Show, and a host of others, as well as the band being the inspiration for The Partridge Family Show.
It has been tough for this family, having lost fellow founding brother Bill, and Barry, but they have amazing resilience and still continue to stay musically active. Though geographically separated and with individual projects, The Cowsills occasionally still play together. In 2004, “Hair” was playing regularly at Fenway, and by a fluke while playing at a club in Los Angeles, Bob was approached to bring the band to Fenway. Being a devout Red Sox fan, Bob couldn’t turn that offer down.
The full capacity crowd at the Rhode Island Hall of Fame erupted as The Cowsills were officially inducted in the Hall of Fame. They followed with an electrifying performance that proved that they still have it.
John, Bob, Paul, and Susan illuminated the room with an energy that I have never quite experienced in a musical performance. Perhaps knowing the history, in addition to the amazing performance, there was a connection, strength, and true love that is not often exhibited in a family, that permeated throughout the room.
The set was packed with all the hits that they are known for opening with “The Rain The Park and Other Things," the iconic hit that put them on top, was sweet and punchy and echoed playfulness. "We Can Fly” is a lighthearted pop tune that identifies that special time in musical history.
Tributes to Bill included his song “Deliver Me," a song with a classical country melody, and “Indian Lake," which proved to be one of the best songs of the night. A special song “Just Believe It” by Susan Cowsill was beautiful and soulful, as she has certainly evolved into an amazing singer and writer, the best I have heard of her in recent years.
“Helplessly Hoping” by Crosby Stills Nash and Young combined the perfect harmonies that the band were famous for. TV icon show theme song “Love American Style” happily brought the crowd down TV memory lane. “I think I Love You," from The Partridge Family, reminded all that the original family was on stage performing. Their set ended with “Hair,” their signature song, that Fenway Park favorite.
As the last notes drifted off into the night, The Cowsills place in Rhode Island musical history and in our memories was forever secured.