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Cowsills, fans still 'Happy Together'
June 23, 2015
Florida Today
Melbourne, Florida

He was a teen in the 1960s when he, his siblings and their mother forged a successful family band that inspired "The Partridge Family," the hit '70s TV show and band of the same name.

Now old enough to collect Social Security, Bob Cowsill is still a family guy and happy to be onstage for one of what he jokingly calls his "I'm famous" stints.

Along with siblings Susan and Paul, Cowsill is part of this year's "Happy Together" tour. The hit-laden show heads to King Center on June 17 with The Turtles featuring Flo & Eddie, The Association, Mark Lindsay (former lead singer for Paul Revere & The Raiders), The Grass Roots, The Buckinghams and The Cowsills.

There was joy back for the six-member Cowsills band in the 1960s: chart-toppers including "The Rain, the Park, And Other Things," "Indian Lake," "Hair/Let the Sunshine In" (from "Aquarius"), "Love American Style" and "We Can Fly."

But there was darkness, and plenty of it. Strained relationships with their father, now dead, whose heavy-handed micromanagement of the band influenced his children before, during and after their successes. For some of the kids, as adults, drug problems. The deaths in later years of three siblings, including brother Barry, who drowned at age 50 in Hurricane Katrina flooding in New Orleans. Bitter memories of older brother Bill, who died the day before Barry's memorial service, being kicked out of the band by their dad, causing a rift and emotional wounds that never truly healed. The loss of Bob's twin, Richard, the only non-performing sibling, to lung cancer in 2014.

It was hard, he said, to see the family's story captured in the 2011 documentary titled "Family Band: The Cowsills Story."

And yet, on stage (sometimes, brother John, now drummer for the Beach Boys, steps in), with siblings who still make music on their own, too, it's like time-tripping, to life-changing years when a talented family from Rhode Island captured a nation's heart.

"This is our first year (on the tour) and we're so happy to be invited to this party," said Cowsill, who jokes that he wishes he'd known how valuable music memorabilia, including his guitars, would become.

QUESTION: What's the appeal of "Happy Together" and the staying power of music from the hit-makers of the '60s and '70s?

ANSWER: "It's driven by the songs, driven by the groups, gold records, best-sellers," said Cowsill, father of five and grandfather of five.

"These songs are so good, our kids like them. They embraced them. In our heyday, these bands didn't need each other; each band had their own audience and niche. But now, combined, it makes for an incredible show. And the demographic they're still rocking and rolling. They're the ones with the money."

Q: Your family had been singing together for years before your breakout hit, "The Rain, The Park, And Other Things" with Bill on lead vocals. When fame hit, what was it like?

A: "To finally break through in 1967 and have a million-selling hit record we'd been working toward this for years," he said. "I hear about overnight successes. We spent years climbing. So when we made 'The Ed Sullivan Show,' it was the peak of the mountain. Back then, in the U.S., we were connected through three TV channels and radio stations and music. It connected the entire nation. It was an amazing thing, to start meeting people like Johnny Carson and Dean Martin."

Q: And the downside of that fame?

A: "It was complicated in the context that the military family behind the scene was not what you saw," Cowsill said. "Our dad had a wall around us. His greatest fear was that some girl would get involved with one of us, get pregnant, and take the whole thing down. I'll give him credit he would listen to nobody. Well, once you get to the top, you have to start listening to somebody. He didn't, and he brought it all down. When it collapses and you lose it all our reaction to that as children and coming into adulthood was going to define all our futures."

Q: What kept you going when that collapse came?

A: "I think it was that I was married, 21, with two children when this fell apart," he said "Those two children weren't going anywhere. I lost the marriage, but I became focused on my kids. I came from a family where the music was great, and it's what we did well, but my dad never told me anything about any useful information. It was like going into this world clueless. Having children 2 and 4 years old tends to grab your focus."

Q: And it's still good to be on stage with your siblings?

A: "The stage is where we all bonded and where we're all the happiest," Cowsill said. "Today, on stage and off, you get to meet and greet people. Back then, we got shoved from the stage to the car and off you go now you have children who love the music, the next generation, listening with older fans and going down memory lane together. At the time we arrived, the world was a bit dark, Vietnam and acid rock, and it's a bit dark now. We wanted to bring some joy and harmonies to people and let them leave everything behind while we sang. And that's what 'Happy Together' is." Our goal is to get everyone to forget everything dark or negative; shelve it for an hour and a half."

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