The Cowsills managed to do what the Partridge Family couldn’t — stay together for almost five decades. Of course, it helps that the Cowsills are a real family and not a television family.
A huge concert draw in the late ’60s and early ’70s with a number of memorable hit singles, the Cowsills started playing 45 years ago and served as the model for “The Partridge Family” television show.
Although the remaining family members are now spread across America, they still get together to play and will perform at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 13 at Wilbarger Auditorium for Summer’s Last Blast in Vernon. Despite the years, their pop singles remain fresh, and their amazing harmonies are intact.
“It’s almost timeless music,” said Paul Cowsill, who joined the family act at the age of 14 in 1968. Now a farmer and a volunteer fireman in Oregon, he also works in the movie business as a prop maker and Greensman — the person on the movie set responsible for obtaining and taking care of anything green, from plants to landscaping.
“We love the meets-andgreets after the show, and we love meeting people,” Cowsill said.
Older fans will bring scrapbooks with pictures of them with the band from the ’60s and ’70s, while teens will comment how much they love that “flower girl song” (“The Rain, The Park and Other Things”) and ask where can they buy it.
“They think it’s a new release,” he said with a laugh. “Teens across America are loving that song, and it was released in 1967. It’s a funny thing. Maybe there’s a connection, because we were so young when we did it.”
Paul’s older brothers, Bill, Bob, John and Barry, started the band in Newport, R.I., and were discovered during the America’s Cup races by a crew from the “Today” show. They played several folk songs on the national program in 1965.
Even early on, all the members of the band had a role to play. Paul helped make sure the musical gear was all set up.
“My father was in the Navy (and would later became their manager) and believed everyone should be involved.”
The band got a record deal from the “Today” performance, but it didn’t work out. By 1967, they had signed with MGM, added their mom Barbara, and released their first album with “The Rain” song and the theme from “Love American Style.”
Paul and his 7-year-old sister, Susan, joined the band after the first album, “The Cowsills,” was released.
“At that time, I was called the ‘Soul Man,’ and I would dance out from the side of the stage and do ‘Knock on Wood’ and ‘Dancing in the Streets,’” Paul said.
Eventually, his brother Bob taught him how to play keyboards and bass.
In 1968, they released their hit single “Indian Lake,” and in 1969 charted big again with the title song from the musical “Hair.”
At the height of the band’s popularity from 1968-72, the Cowsills was made up of seven voices singing harmony. “We could cover all of our harmonies, and then we had someone extra to do an octave harmony. It gave us a rich vocal sound.”
It’s a sound they still emulate today, but things have changed some within the band. Both Cowsill parents have died. Barry died during the Katrina hurricane, and Bill died soon after Barry.
Bob, Paul and Susan are the remaining members, and they all sing. Susan’s husband, Russ Broussard, plays drums and sings. Bob’s son, Ryan, plays keyboards. And Paul’s son, Brendan, is on guitar and vocals. The only non-Cowsill in the band is Mary LaSang, who plays bass and sings.
John Cowsill currently performs with the Beach Boys, who play 180-plus dates a year. He sometimes joins the band for shows.
Although Paul had sung and played keyboards for years, he decided a number of years ago that playing keyboards was inhibiting his vocals.
“Now, I am out front center stage and basically do a lot of talking and tell a lot of jokes. The vocals in our music are exactly where they need to be.
“We have a band now that kicks butt and is undeniable. We can do ‘Monday Monday’ (Mamas and the Papas) now because we have the kids singing and they can hit the high notes.”
Susan, Bob and Paul all share lead vocals. In addition to performing with the family band, Susan has her own band and a new album called “Lighthouse,” which is terrific, Paul said, and the Cowsills do songs from her new album in addition to their own songs and covers.
In the second half of the band’s shows, the three original Cowsills perform folk tunes from the catalog of Peter, Paul and Mary and Crosby, Stills and Nash. “We take it back to what the music was like when we started,” he said.
The Cowsills really enjoy talking to the crowds, Paul added.
“When me and Bob and Susan get going, it becomes quite a sibling deal. We’re having more fun now with this music than we have ever had.
“We even do songs that were not hits but were written by Bob and Bill, and you can hear that they were written by kids, but the songs still have great harmonies.”
The Cowsills also cover “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family, partially because the Cowsills were the blueprint for that TV family.
“Screen Gems almost lived with us for a couple years. The end result was the show was always going to be a vehicle for Shirley Jones, and they were looking at the kids to see if it would work out.”
When Paul’s father discovered that the production company wanted Jones and not his wife for the mother role, he nixed the deal. “They did want my sister Susan, but they thought us boys were a little rough around the edges. “We never any hard feelings,” Paul said. “We loved the Partridge Family, and Shirley Jones is a dear friend and she has introduced us at concerts.” While the Cowsills play about 20 shows a year, he expects that to change in 2011 when a new documentary film about the family called “A Family Band: The Cowsills Story” is released. “They’ve been working on it for five years, and I saw the first 12 minutes, and it’s really being done well.”
Because Bob lives in Los Angeles, Paul is in Oregon and Susan resides in New Orleans, playing allows them to reunite as a family, and they enjoy getting to hang out and do the harmonies.
“We really have fun being together,” he said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the last 45 years.”