Hudson Valley Talk Radios
August 5, 2011
Host: Bruce Owens
Bruce: Well it certainly seemed that pop music had become a family affair in the late 60's and early 70's but The Jackson Five, The Osmonds, The Defranco Family, and the made-for-TV Partridge Family sold millions of records. But the family that paved the way for them all was the real-life family that served as the model for The Partridge Family. We're talking about The Cowsills. And of course they also had their share of hits.
Medley: "The Rain, The Park and Other Things" "We Can Fly" "Indian Lake" "Hair"
Bruce: Well that was then, now Family Band: The Cowsills Story, a just released film documentary seeks to tell the real story of the Newport, Rhode Island's, rise to fame and all that came after. Bob Cowsill founded the band and he continues to perform with the groups current lineup. I'm extremely happy to welcome Bob Cowsill to Good Morning Hudson Valley.
Bob: Well Good Morning Hudson Valley yourself. Founded the band? I don't know. When you are 7 and 8 years old and you decide to play guitars and then later when you're 10 and 11 and 12 you get your brothers involved and you put a little band together, I guess that's a defination of founding the band.
Bruce: Well as a long time Cowsills fan I just can't wait to see this film, but some might wonder why it was so important to tell The Cowsills story now - so many years after you had your biggest hits.
Bob: Well to be candid, you know we were basically living the life of - just sort of going - we never did oldies tours for decades. Not because we're against them. We think its great. But because we all had families and individually we always performed, all of us. And then when we lost Barry and Bill, you know, when you lose some brothers it tightens up the family and we decided - you know you don't decide to tell your story on your own. At least we didn't. Louise Palanker is the executive producer and she would come to my Pub that I was singing at and - out here in California - and she'd ask me "Can - we'd like to do a documentary on your family, would you guys be up for that?" And, I got to be candid, I said "No", you know, but I said no because a docuemntary - that was just so foreign. That's where you tell everything, right? Yeah OK no no no So but she was tenacious and kept coming. "It's a good story. It should be told. It should be told." So I thought 'Well she's not going to go away, and I better ask Susan and the guys. There's this woman here. She says they want to do a documentary and I can't shake her' and not that I was trying, you know. You just go "OK we got to answer this woman and we got answer her seriously because it's only respectful to do that." And we said "Yes!" And we've been saying yes to a number of things. I mean when Dick Clark would call over the years. "Hey, get on a bus with The Grass Roots and Turtles and do four songs a night and tour with us." And we said, "Well, no, we can't do that. We got kids." And I'm not going to leave all my kids with Mary Jo, my wife, and say "Hey honey take care of the kids. I got to go have fun for a summer." And so the timing is right, #1. #2, Louise was tenacious. #3 She was right. It is good to tell this story. It took seven years. We shut it down for two. It's just difficult and hard to do. If anybody knows our story or anything about it, its a classic - its more complex than a VH1 Behind The Music episode. We are more complex than that. But, you know, we're not different in that there was hardship. There was, you know, a Dad that was just out of control. We got all the elements of a great story, I guess, and we've survived, some of us anyway. And once we went through the process, and went through what you do to do a documentary, it's like psychotherapy. It's hard, but the project is great. We're thrilled, seven years later that we said yes and we're just hoping people care and - if not that's okay. We've recorded music. We never stopped recording music, even though we didn't have record contracts and that music exists, yet it'd be nice to put it out and everyone hears it, but as long as the family has it on the shelf. If that's where this sits, ultimately that's good for the family. But we are at the Rhode Island International Film Festival, August 10th, to premier this documentary. It's very exciting. It's all a whole new world, the documentary world. And it's a very good, respected, popular genre right now because of reality TV and what not. Well, here's a real, real story. Probably the last one in Hollywood. And it is good, a side-bar of this that we are allowed to sort of - in your intros very grateful to hear your words. We came before - we opened the doors for a lot of other family groups, in terms of entering into the pop world. Now with the Osmonds, we were watching them on Andy Williams and listening to sing and doing it ourselves when we were all little, little kids. I'm talking the pop music and getting on the pop charts. I think Susan is still the youngest singer to ever have a #1 record, in terms of a pop family. So, I guess by the nature of this we get to sort of stake claim that 'oh look we were here first.' And just like an older brother would, we took some hits for the ones to follow. I think is probably true, but we've heard the Jacksons story and the Osmonds. Families are tough. Families are tough.
Bruce: You mentioned your father.
Bruce: As I, just as a fan and knowing what I know, it seems that he was both - in some ways a hero I mean. His drive and his ambition to get you - The Cowsills - his children basically, you know, make them famous and on the other hand, his ways was really kind of a determant.
Bob: He was a compelling person. And yes he was a hero and ... the hero and the villian. And one of the reason we had to stop for two years was because the first crew we engaged to do this, couldn't get over Dad. And we felt we were going to be part of his movie. Yes our father, he was tenacious. He was bull-headed and was like 'My way or the highway.' And that brought us right to the top ultimately. That kind of determination. You need that. But you got to be smart at the top and he wasn't. Because you have to be smart to sta.. I think it's harder to stay at the top then to get to the top and we all know how hard it is to get there. And his value to this family and to that business and what he imployed to get us to the top, it was the exact same things that took it down. Bull-headedness. Wouldn't listen. That's when you have to change, when you get to the top. And he couldn't do it. Aside from that - that's the business aspect of Dad - the family aspect of Dad unfortunately was sad. The guy had no business having kids and he had no - they were young. They didn't know how to raise kids. He was in the Navy from 17 on and he applied the military way, which is the only way he knew to raise a family and, hey look, we're not the last verse or the only example to what happens if you do that. It's not going to work. You know, he's the Great Santini. I liked the Great Santini. He had a good heart. Dad was just messed up, a messed up guy.
Bruce: Well, music, the centerpiece of The Cowsills vocal sound has always been the harmonies, beautiful harmonies. Is that something that just evolved over the years?
Bob: It was - it was just natural. And it's the odd thing, but it's as simple as it. Bill and me, 7 and 8, we were playing guitars. And we were singing "Wayward Wind" and "Rock and Roll Ocean" - real old songs probably don't even know those titles but as we're aging 10, 11, 12 we have our first gig and playing for the 3rd grade. "Mary Ann, all day all night, Mary Ann" and then we get older, and brothers are coming on. But we're paying attention, now we're watching TV and that's the only way you could get stuff, was television. And you had to get it at the time, obviously there's no VCR, no taping. And we got all into Mitch Miller and Sing-A-Long With Mitch. We got into Andy Williams, watched those Osmond Brothers because they looked like us to us. And so they were a very early influence. And The McGuire Sisters, The Lennon Sisters, the Lawrence Welk Show, the Osmond Brothers, Sing-A-Long With Mitch, these were early, early before The Byrds, The Mamas and The Papas, The Beach Boys and The Beatles. These are influences. And Bill and I always sang in two part harmony. We learned Everly Brothers songs and taught ourselves to sing. We could do it naturally. We taught ourselves guitars and we found our brothers, as they got older. When Barry turned 7, we needed a drummer cuz we say 'Oh you have to have drums,' let's have Barry drum. So we're playing around, two guitars and a drummer. Wow what a great sound. We didn't even know what a bass guitar was. But it was all natural. The vocal thing was probably a combination of numbers and abilities. Seven kids, four of us really focused on the group in the mid-60s. But now we did folk music. But as soon as The Beatles landed, we had direction and we had material that we could learn and play. And The Beatles were so prolific, you had enough songs. You could play clubs now for four hours. People would come down and watch us at Dorian's in Newport, Rhode Island, and they knew that if "Day Tripper" was the new Beatles single, they could hear that played by The Cowsill Brothers - that's what we were known as then - and hear it at Dorian's that night. We could clone it. We were real good at maneuvering our voices to sound like - and to this day we can do that. And to this day we can - still in our live show put in songs are "Monday, Monday" and things like that. Songs that you know from the era because we have to do an hour and a half show and we have only 4 or 5 hits. Although we took the Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You" We've decided that's our 5th hit, because they could never do it and they never performed it, so we do it for them now. Which is funny because when The Partridge Family came out they kept our name in print for years after we were done. And now we're sort of doing the same thing for them because we talk about them on stage and play their hit record.
Bruce: Well that was the same writer that did "Indian Lake" for you, right?
Bob: God Bless him, Tony Romeo. See with The Partridge Family, they came to the house in '69-'70 and they were looking for a story. They got a story about a Mom in the band on a bus, which was clearly us. And they were checking us out. Maybe we could be the kids, but by that time we were kind of galky teenagers types. And you saw from central casting what they had in their heads. And they were right. And we had hits and touring at the time anyway. This is not bad news when they said we weren't going to be the kids on The Partridge Family. This was good news to us, because when you're a teenage guy, I mean you know that's all we knew was recording and touring. It was a lot of fun and we knew about the riggers of television and we would have done it because we did what we were told, but it all kind of worked out. I thought that show was a big hit because of that casting. And that proved to be true because four careers were launched out of there. David's, Susan's and Shirley had one of course, and Danny so it was great. Great experience for all of us. We went to the premier of the TV show. It was funny. We loved it.
Bruce: We're talking to Bob Cowsill. The Cowsills family documentary, which is actually called Family Band: The Cowsills Story has just been released. Now Bob you may have the screening coming up in Rhode Island and also I believe you have one later this month in LA, are there any plans to put it maybe on DVD or anything like that? Or wider release?
Bob: Absolutely It's a new world so we're learning about it, but this is the premier film festival, Rhode Island's. Which is so great because we are Rhode Islanders. So nice that that got to happen, but then a number of things can happen like, we are looking for distribution, I know that. Because we don't have that. We haven't even done a film festival. And the, yes, absolutely it goes on DVD and it ends up in a jewel case and with it, of course, are the bonus DVD's because there are 200 hours of footage and film and everything on this and God bless editors. Bill Filipiak is the editor on this thing. We handed it to him. 200 hours and we said, "Good Luck" because we knew that he had to go find a 90-minute story in there. You know that's why editors get awards I guess. Phenomical project to do that and painstaking. He's done a great job. So, yeah, yeah it will be out there for everybody.
Bruce: The Cowsills still perform and as we mentioned you're still part of the group. I know Paul and Susan are with you. John, of course, your brother John is doing very well as the drummer for The Beach Boys band.
Bob: They play a lot more gigs than we do, so we're not going to get him till Mike says "Enough!" which I don't think Mike is going to do. Mike Love that is, of The Beach Boys. And that's good. And will Barry and Bill, we lost Barry in the Katrina Hurricane and Bill at the same time, in February when we were burying Barry we had a little double hit there. But we've replace Barry and Bill with two of our sons. So, it's still a family band. It's great that way. My son Ryan on keyboards. Paul's son Brenden on guitar and vocals. And we just keep going now and that's sort of passing the baton, I guess, to some degree, but it took a dramatic, a couple dramatic events to create that synario where we have the boys in the band with us. But we are having a blast. I think it's weird that our Mom was in my band and now I'm in my son's. No he's in mine, I guess, but it's sort of kind of strange to me. One of the reasons that we can all keep doing this and you do that if you love to, obviously I love to sing whether it's 30,000 or I've sung to one person on a Pub night, you know. Either way, it's something you love to do. And we are all like that. We are all artists and that's what we were born with and you can run from it, deny it, or use it. You know the passion that is within us is to sing. The passion that is with us is to play live music as best as we can every night. Sort of what you do.
Bruce: The Cowsills, not only playing live but you also of course have a website.
Bob: Yeah we have cowsill.com Please visit us. Say hi. Put a little note in the guestbook. The guestbook is incredible because somebody who has been around as long as we have, there are wonderful stories in our guestbook. "The Rain, The Park and Other Things" was our song. Great little tales and you can track where all of us are performing individually and collectively there. It's a pretty cool website. So we have cowsill.com, absolutely. And we'll be performing a lot more and we just keep doing more and more. The kids are grown and the time is there. Hopefully with the movie and getting out there on TV and radio, getting the word out and playing a lot, we'll be able to have a lot of fun with this again. Luckily for the generation that came behind us and has embraced our generation's music. They love it. That's why all of us can keep working at Pub's and what not. They love The Beatles just as much as we love them. And some of them are even jealous that we were born when we were born. To get this great musical - we were on th cuspid of the breakout of all of it. And today it's kind of fractured, you know. This type of music is over here with their stars and million hit makers and you can never know them or their hits. Back when we were happening we were, all the country-wide 3 radio station, listened to the same radio stations. Watched Watched 3 free TV stations. If you are were on Ed Sullivan>, the United States of America saw you. And that was the big difference between yesterday and today.
Bruce: Bob Cowsill. Thank you very much for being our guest this morning on Good Morning Hudson Valley. All the best with the movie, the documentary. Family Band: The Cowsills Story, watch for it and watch for The Cowsills.
Bob: You can come to that August 10th. It's at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Providence. There's plenty of room. And so it's an interesting evening if you've never been to a documentary film festival viewing. It's very interesting, I mean there's a panel at the end of the movie and people can just ask us whatever they want about what they just saw. It's pretty open, pretty nice. And thank you for having me and hope to be on again.
Bruce: Bob, all the very, very best. Good talking to you. Take care
Bob: Good talking to you. Thank you very much.