Newspaper Articles

The Cowsills turn to Internet to try to recoup magic of '60s
November 6-7, 1999
Newport This Week
Newport, Rhode Island

NEW YORK (AP) It wasn't a deal with the devil, but it felt that way to John, Paul, Bob and Susan Cowsill.

The remaining active members of the singing-siblings who were the real-life models for the Partridge Family sat in Dick Clark's office, ready to sign a contract to participate in one of his oldies package tours.

It was good money and easy work. Go on stage each night and sing their hits: "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" and "Hair," both sweetly psychedelic, harmony-suffused relics from a long-ago era in pop music.

The price was abandoning any pretense they were contemporary musicians. Oldies tours may be lucrative, but they're generally a graveyard for anyone with musical ambition. That same conundrum was the subject of the late Ricky Nelson's 1972 hit, "Garden Party."

The Cowsills swallowed hard and walked away.

"We decided that we couldn't do this," Bob Cowsill recalled. "Susan is a great singer and a great artist. I had continued to write songs. We didn't view ourselves as this dinosaur band that had nothing left to say."

So, seven years after that fateful decision, the Cowsills continue their comeback attempt. They recorded an album on their own, "Global," and are peddling it on a Web site.

The surprise is: The album isn't bad.

Certainly, the Cowsills will never give the Backstreet Boys or Britney Spears any competition on the charts, nor are they pushing any artistic boundaries. But for people who fondly recall the Beach Boys or the Mamas and the Papas, it's a fun listen.

Meanwhile, the Cowsills haven't quit their day jobs. Bob trains computer programmers, John is a carpenter and Paul is in construction. Susan is the more active musician, performing in the critically acclaimed Continental Drifters.

When your formative years are spent hearing your songs on the radio, giving concerts around the world and appearing on your own TV special, it's hard to accept the idea that your years of stardom are gone forever.

With the Jacksons, Osmonds and Cowsills, the tail end of the 1960s and early 1970s was a busy era for family acts. The Cowsills, from Newport, R.I., consisted of mom Barbara Cowsill, who died in 1985, and six of her seven children. They were originally approached for the TV series that became "The Partridge Family," which instead went to a group of actors including Shirley Jones and David Cassidy.

The Cowsills, from left, Bob, Susan, John and Paul, pose backstage before a recent concert in Boston. The popular '60s rock band has recorded a new album, 'Global,' which it is selling online.

Bob's twin, Richard, was the only Cowsill not in the group, left behind by a domineering father who would not permit Richard to perform with the rest of the family because he said he wasn't good enough. Much bitterness ensued, and his influence dims the group's sunny public facade. Susan, now 40, joined the act when she was 9.

"I have really excellent memories of that time," she said. "As far as I was concerned, we were having nothing but fun. I wasn't going to school, I was traveling all over the place, I had my own dog and we were out singing and laughing."

The end came in 1970 when their father caught the oldest brother, Bill, smoking pot and banished him. Bill and Bob were songwriting partners and the act's creative forces.

"It went on another couple of years, but it started downhill right there," Bob said. "It was the beginning of the end."

Changing times and tastes made the end inevitable, too. The act, and the family, splintered. The money disappeared and some siblings went years without talking to each other until they reunited for their mother's funeral. That's when they started talking, and singing, again.

The four reunited Cowsills began performing together partly because they had all settled in the southern California area. Bill, who is in Canada, and Barry, who is in New Orleans, didn't want to do it again.

Having a semi-famous name in the music industry is more a hindrance than a help when it's tied to a particular era.

From his perspective, one thing he can offer to young musicians particularly a family act like the three Hanson brothers is advice.

"Enjoy it, embrace it and really cradle it," he said, "because it can be gone tomorrow."

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