The last time the Blue Shadows passed through town, I saw the band at Harpo’s and at the Esquimalt Inn. Riding the studio polish of their debut recording, On The Floor Of Heaven (Sony), the band blew away both crowds, nailing the listeners at Harpo’s to their chairs with Everly Brothers-like vocal harmonies and clever original songs, and inspiring a roomful of dancer to get up and do the two-step all night long at the Esquimalt Inn.
I talked to the Blue Shadows’ Billy Cowsills by phone last week, as the band took a break from touring and working in the studio on their follow-up recording.
“We’re in pre-production writing and working on songs,” Cowsills explained. “Then we play ‘em for a year on the road . . . then take a six-week stint off the road and get it down on tape.”
A music business veteran since his family band’s ‘60s success (the Cowsills, it’s claimed, were the real-life inspiration for television’s Partridge Family), Cowsills told me: “They mythologized us.”
Cowsills also told me how the band was formed by Billy and his younger brothers when they were seven to 15-year-olds living in Rhode Island. He also told me how he got kicked out of his family band in 1969; how the Beach Boys’ guitarist Carl Wilson asked him to join the Beach Boys “twice in 1969,” how in 1973 he hooked up with Texas legend Joe Ely at Dylan’s old Greenwich Village hand-out, the Kettle of Fish . . . “Joe had this old Gibson guitar covered with clam shells that he’d bought for five bucks.”
Cowsills’ bio also includes more stops (The Osmond Brothers, J.J. Cale) during a ‘70s lost decade Billy calls “the odyssey.” By 1979 he’d bottomed out (or nearly the bottom) from a long bout with alcohol and other hazards of the road. In 1979 in Vancouver, Cowsills formed his band Blue Northern and became a fixture on the local bar scene.
Two years ago Cowsills was auditioning musicians when Winnipeg-based rocker Jeffrey Hatcher’s Beatles-inspired version of the Motown classic You Really Got A Hold On Me stunned him.
“It was magic,” Cowsills told me. “It sounds terrible to say, but when we harmonize, it’s just effortless . . . there’s probably some kindred Celtic link or something.”
Cowsills and Hatcher, who founded one of my all-time favorite rock bands, the Big Beat, front a Blue Shadows quartet that also includes longtime Cowsills drummer Jay Johnson and ex-Barney Bentall bassist Barry Muir.
They produce a stripped-down, old-fashioned country sound with vocal harmonies out front that echo the Beatles and their inspiration, the Everly Brothers.
The Blue Shadows will play Harpo’s this Frida and Saturday night. You shouldn’t miss them. Highly recommend.