Newspaper Articles

Ron Onesti: I know the Partridge Family, but who are The Cowsills?
January 30, 2015
Daily Herald
Chicago, Illinois


The Cowsills, a popular group of singing siblings and their mom shown here in a late-1960s publicity photo, were the subject of a documentary in 2011.

Being a teenager in the Seventies allowed me to be a part of one of the most exciting times in pop culture. Loving music, I was naturally drawn to television shows involving rock bands and pop icons. This was, of course, was before the MTV era of the '80s.

Shows like "American Bandstand" and "Soul Train" were cool, especially because I could "Do The Hustle" on Saturdays and Sundays during the day, when I was off school. When I was allowed to stay up late, there was Don Kirshner's "Rock Concert" and "The Midnight Special" with Wolfman Jack. That is where my love for the classic rock bands of the 1970s began its pollination in my system.

I have a younger sister, so I was subjected to (but ultimately developed a respect for) The DeFranco Family and The Osmond Brothers (I always had a huge crush on Marie, but then again, who didn't?). Of course, seeing the Jackson 5 on "Soul Train" really was very special. I easily saw myself as the next Michael Jackson, of course, until my voice changed. For about five years, the volleying of The Osmonds to the Jacksons from TV show to TV show was almost predictable, yet more exciting than anything else on the VHF box with the tubes in the back and the foil-laden, bunny-eared antenna on top.

Then there was The Monkees. Another Saturday morning staple, these guys really made the notion of becoming a rock star possible for guys like me. They were so simple, so likable, and the music was really infectious. I was also an early fan of The Banana Splits, four crazy costumed characters who also were concert rockers that combined the fun of The Monkees and the creepiness of those monkey-like characters called The Nairobi Trio on the old "Ernie Kovacs Show" (if you remember those guys from the late '50s, you have won my undying respect. I was really reaching here).

Doing shows with The Monkees' Mickey Dolenz has been a fantastic experience for me as his love for the music and his appreciation for the fans is still at a very high level. As I have described in subsequent columns, my recent onstage experiences with Mickey have been almost surreal as The Monkees are right up there with the Beatles for me. I know, I know, there is no musical comparison between the two groups -- the only real likenesses being the number of guys in each band and the British accent of Davy Jones.

Ah, Davy. What a guy! We worked together on many occasions, to the point that he would come in a few days early so we could "hang." He was definitely one of the most magical and wonderful people I have ever met. My experiences with him could fill a book. When we lost Davy, we lost a true gift. I am looking forward to sharing those episodes in forthcoming columns.

Then came "The Partridge Family." This was an even more-real example of how a loosely based, normal family could become rock stars. It was the story of a family of performers, led my it's mom, who rose to rock stardom, yet faced the same everyday challenges of pubescence, homework and sibling issues that I was going through. I saw lead singer David Cassidy as the guy I wanted to be, and Susan Dey, who portrayed Laurie Partridge, as the girl I wanted to marry.

Last year, I was at home watching Joan Rivers' last stand-up comedy television show on Showtime (we coproduced it and filmed it at our Arcada Theatre). When the show was done, another one began immediately and looked interesting, so I decided to watch it. It was a film documentary entitled "A Family Band The Story Of The Cowsills." It was the story of four brothers who started a band at the height of the "British Invasion" of the mid-Sixties doing Beatles cover tunes. Then, younger siblings joined the act and even their mother became part of the band. They went on to release "The Rain, The Park & Other Things," which became a hit, million-selling gold record.

In 1969, they recorded another smash, the title song of the hit Broadway musical "Hair." While all this was happening, the entertainment bigwigs began to take notice of this unique band made up of kids corralled by their mother. In 1970, "The Partridge Family" TV show debuted, and The Cowsills was its inspiration.

After seeing all of this in the documentary, I contacted The Cowsills and immediately booked them into our Arcada Theatre. I really could not wait to meet them! I must tell you they are some of the most real people I have ever met in the business! Truly wonderful, talented and incredibly humble. Their show was great as they performed their hits plus a bunch of covers from the era.

What was really great was seeing their fans practically in tears as they walked down memory lane together. Bob, Susan and Paul Cowsill reminisced with the audience about the family members they have lost, namely mother Barbara and Barry, Bill and Richard. It was a moving experience.

Yes, these were the groups that helped shape my path into the land of music. Who would have known these "goofy" TV shows would have had such an impact on mine and so many others' lives? Can these groups compare to their classic rock counterparts such as Arrowsmith or KISS? Musically, very different. But whether it is "Stairway To Heaven" or "Hey, Hey We're The Monkees," I still get a warm feeling of being 17 again.

And really, isn't that what music is SUPPOSED to do?

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