The Cowsills’ time in the musical spotlight was brief. But that is not surprising considering that the Cowsills were a family.
Families grow, and as they grow they change – not only in age but in interests and goals. Five brothers, most of them teenagers, and their 8-year old sister weren’t about to hang together forever, singing with their mother as their father managed their affairs.
But they had their glory days in the late ‘60s, turning out such top-selling tunes as The Rain, The Park & Other Things, We Can Fly, Indian Lake and Hair.
They were, in fact, sort of the inspiration for television’s Partridge Family. And initially, the plan was for the Cowsills to be the Partridges. “The Partridge writers did live with us for a few weeks,” Bob Cowsill recalls.
But there was one hitch. The producers of the show wanted Shirley Jones to play the mother’s role rather than Barbara Cowsill. “When they said they didn’t want Mom, Dad pulled out of the deal,” Bob Cowsill said. “But I think they ended up with something better. They looked better than we would have looked, plus they could act.”
Somewhere along about that time, Billy Cowsill got tired of the glitz and quit the family act to tour America in search of a music education that would go beyond pop tunes. He’s been in Canada in recent years with a band called Blue Shadows.
But others of the Cowsills continue to perform together periodically and have cut a recording that they still are hoping will be picked up by a major company.
Bob Cowsill is the spark plug for keeping the group going. A few years ago he, along with Paul, John and Susan, did some minor touring.
It was at that time they decided they could either decide to get on a bus and continue touring, or “do something a little more serious.” They opted for the latter.
“Susan is 33 now and she’s not going to want to sing three songs a night she sang at the age of 7,” Bob Cowsill said. “We had a chance to sign for something like that, but we elected the tougher route.”
Thus they began playing local clubs in the Los Angeles area, using some new and original material and presenting themselves as a local band trying to get signed. “We knew we’d have to prove ourselves, and we had a productive and successful year,” he said.
But, Cowsill said, it’s difficult to get signed. “So we decided to make a record and spent the summer of 1993 on that. Our sound is very contemporary, and we got good reviews in Los Angeles. It was good to be critically accepted. We were commercially accepted when we were young, but not critically accepted.”
Nevertheless, they have yet to be signed. “So for the past year and half we’ve laid low,” he said. “Susan is in New Orleans (where she sometimes performs with the Continental Drifters), as is Barry, Paul is in Mexico and I continue to write and play at local clubs. Each of us works individually on our own projects.”
“We were a classic show business family,” Bob said. “We just grew apart, and our money was mismanaged.”
Both Cowsill parents have died; Barbara in 1985, their father a couple of years later.
Bob is 45 now, and besides his local appearances, mainly at the Pickwick Club, which he describes as a friendly British pub on Ventura Boulevard in Woodland Hills, has his own business doing cost analyses for hospitals.
“My wife Mary and I have a dream,” he says. “We wrote a Christmas song together, using a melody we carried around but couldn’t put words to until one August during a heat wave. We’d like to introduce this carol to the world somehow.”
Meanwhile, they have at least one other family member looking out for them. “Our recording of Rain in the Park was used in the film Dumb and Dumber, and our name showed up at the end of the credits. Our daughter had to tell us about it.”