Song: Some Good Years
Woo: That’s The Cowsills with “Some Good Years” from the CD Global which we’ve been featuring here tonight on Rock of Ages. And now, we’re joined by Bob Cowsill. Bob are you there?
Bob: I am here. I am alive. I’m well.
Woo: Very nice of you to join us on Rock of Ages. This is Mr. Woo here with Uncle Jeff.
Jeff: How you doin’ Bob? Thanks for joining us.
Bob: Hey Uncle Jeff, it’s a honor. Honest, it’s amazing.
Woo: Well Bob we’ve been playing several cuts off Global tonight. It’s an amazing CD. And everything about it. There’s so many highlights, your vocals, your guitar playing, and of course Susan’s amazing voice.
Bob: Oh she, yeah, I always felt that we got the maximum that Susan Cowsill had to offer in life on that record in particular. I mean, I love all her stuff but boy she sang some things on that. “She Said To Me” and a couple different vocals of hers were like ‘primetime’ Susan Cowsill.
Woo: She’s a busy woman, yes?
Bob: She’s a prolific artist. I mean, she plays with a lot of people. She does a lot of recordings on projects other than just her own kind of stuff. She’s coming into her own as a writer also. And, she’s – look when she was in our band she was 11 years old, 12 years old. I mean, that’s a cute kid sister and everything, but the Susan now is a whole different story.
Jeff: Is the – are the Bonhoffs her primary vehicle now for her songwriting?
Bob: I think that’s pretty much her – what she’d call her day job in New Orleans – The Bonhoffs. It’s a great band with her husband Russ. He’s the new member of our family. They got married last month in Lafayette. And that’s her band in New Orleans when she’s playing in the clubs down there, The Bonhoffs right now. But she’s gone through The Continental Drifters. She does a lot with Vicki Peterson – our future sister-in-law. Well after Saturday she’ll be our sister-in-law, Vicki Peterson.
Woo: Yes, indeed. I saw on The Bangles website where she marrying John.
Bob: She’s marrying John. I play this Pub out here on the weekends so we’re hoping for out of town guests to pop in. I’m sure Susan will be around and my Pub gig will be a lot of fun now.
Jeff: That’s Pickwick’s Pub?
Bob: Yeah, Pickwick’s Pub in Woodland Hills. The party is there, Friday and Saturday night. Of course the wedding is Saturday afternoon, but maybe the reception is at the Pub, I don’t know.
Jeff: Can you draw us a map right now of your siblings and where they are and reside?
Bob: OK Bill is our older brother. Bill is in Calgary, Canada. Twin brother, Richard, is in Middletown, Rhode Island. Barry lives in Newport, Rhode Island, right now. John lives in the Malibu Canyon, California, area. Paul lives in San Diego area. I live in Los Angeles area. Uh, let’s see who else?
Jeff: Barry, did you say Barry?
Bob: Yeah Barry’s in Newport. He lives in Newport right now, Rhode Island. Susan is in New Orleans. Yeah that’s everybody. Mom and Dad are in heaven, I guess.
Woo: Ah indeed. So Bob you just reunited to play the Taste of Rhode Island in Newport, yes?
Bob: Yeah, we had a blast. Yeah
Woo: And how often do you do that?
Bob: Let’s see, it’s averaging to be every three years we play. We do one show every three years in Newport, Rhode Island. At least that’s what it’s been. We’ve done this thing three times, four times. And it’s a chance to have sort of a family reunion. Get back together and see the siblings that you don’t see, I mean Paul, Susan, John and myself have always geographically been near each other which is why we go in and make a Global and Barry makes his CD out on his own, and Bill’s up in Canada making CD’s. You know, our work comes from really geographically who stayed where. So, Paul, Susan, John and me we always continued recording as a group. Right, immediately even, after the regular Cowsills broke up. We started – there’d be some projects inbetween – but we would gravitate towards each other. And Global is our cumulation of that gravitation.
Jeff: Now we just heard “Some Good Years” and in many ways that was sort of the genesis of Global, wasn’t it? The starting point?
Bob: Yeah, it was. I had written that song and started recording it alone. I had a friend of mine who could run a studio and had time, Cecil Duke, and he and I would go in and just -I’d put down a track. And we’d do another track. I started recording that song on my own and really hadn’t seen anyone for years. And then it just sounded so much like us as I kept getting closer to finishing it. And the opportunity came that Paul and John and Susan were still around. I said, “Let’s go in and finish this. This is where we would have gone,” and honestly it’s what we feel. That whole record is evolutionarywise in terms of The Cowsills if they had stayed public about what they doing. This is right in line with where we had evolved to artistically. And the Taste of Rhode Island is a chance to hook up with Bill and Barry, and see Richard and Susan and have those others and all meet us in Newport and then all play together. We play each others songs. It’s a really good, fun show actually.
Jeff: So are you doing a mixture of songs from Global and some of the classic hits?
Bob: Yeah we do the classic hits, of which there were maybe four if you call “We Can Fly” which is actually our favorite, but I think that only charted top 15 maybe. But anyway, we do those, of course, that’s – we’re honored. At least we’ll never be on VH1’s One Hit Wonders show. Now right there is a definition of success to us. “Hey we had another two to three hits – great.” We were out in a very heavy time in the music business and if you look at our top 10 charts it’s if “Hair” is #1, “Aquarius” is #2, and The Beatles and “Let It Be” is #3, and “The Boxer” is #4. Everything was selling back then.
Jeff: Not light weight competition is what you’re saying.
Bob: yeah, yeah Nothing bends like The Mamas & Papas, The Lovin Spoonful, or The Byrds
Woo: A lot of times here on the show we speak of the glory days of Top 40 radio where a band such as yourselves could be back to back, with say, James Brown doing “Cold Sweat” and frankly we miss that type of radio programming.
Bob: Back then we were all listening to the same stations. You’d go into any town and there were the three stations. All of them were competing with each other and they were playing the same records and those were the stations you had to get on. And, although you still need that big machine behind you today more than every, the difference today to us is that there are a lot of radio shows and a lot of radio stations that are there simultaneously and parallel, so we all have a place we can land actually. There’s a lot of types of radio stations now, so there’s a much more varied amount of music that is being heard on the radio dial than ever, ever, ever before. And there seems to be a place for everybody.
Jeff: Well you know we here at Rock of Ages think of ourselves as anything but of a sort of classic rock program or an oldies show or anything like that. And we salute you for refusing to become that and sort of an act and the story we’ve read where you as a group had gone and were going to ink a contract with Dick Clark to appear – to go on the road with The Grass Roots and The Turtles.
Bob: That’s right.
Jeff: Can you tell the groovers – our listeners - that story?
Bob: Hey listen, money is a lure and I’ll be the first in line to admit it. The bands are out there touring and you can say they’re all out there touring, are making good money and have turned touring into a career. The way a AAA minor league baseball player may never make it to the major league but is in six figure in AAA. We don’t know about it, but he’s having a good career. You know, we had an opportunity to make some money one summer, but it was going to be that. Get on a bus with The Grass Roots and The Turtles – Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars – make good money, go out and sing three, three and a half, four songs a night and then they’ll do their four songs and then the other group will do their four songs, get on a bus and go do it the next night. That sounded so crazy to us ultimately. But I tell ya, we almost did it so it didn’t sound that crazy.
Jeff: Well it was actually an accident of fortune, wasn’t it? You couldn’t get a pen to work.
Bob: Well you know, yes that is true. You have done your homework my man. We were there. Dick Clark was there and all I can remember is sitting there looking at him going, “Oh my god, he wears makeup in the office.” Focusing on that and there was a photographer from Billboard there ready to – you know how they document that kind of stuff – and the pen didn’t work and honest to god someone said we need to get a pen. And for some reason it broke up and we went over to this Mexican restaurant and changed our mind.
Woo: So are you now on Dick Clark’s enemies list?
Bob: You know what, I don’t think we’re on an enemies list but he was really good all along our career. I mean we could do American Bandstand and he would review our records and stuff. He was pretty supportative back then.
Jeff: Did he have a piece of you? Because he had a piece of everybody else.
Bob: No, no he didn’t have a piece of us. But we could do his show a couple times. That was kind of pretty cool and American Bandstand was one of those shows that we looked at from our kid prospective – like the Ed Sullivan show. I can remember The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. And then when we got to do Ed Sullivan that was like standing there going, “Oh my God, The Beatles stood at this spot.”
Jeff: Hey you know what impressed us in looking through the list of your television appearances was The Music Scene. Remember doing that?
Bob: I remember The Music Scene if that’s the one with David Steinberg
Jeff: Yes exactly
Woo: A 45-minute show
Jeff: 45 minutes long. And then followed by – do you remember what it was followed by Bob?
Jeff: It was called The New People. You remember that?
Bob: No I don’t
Jeff: It was these hippies that ended up crashed on this island. It was like – it was sort of like Lord of the Flies meets Gilligan’s Island with hippies.
Bob: That’s too funny man. You know that Music Scene show, honest to God, I have a specific quick memory. I’m sure that was the show that Merle Haggard was on with us, OK, when we did it once. And because – yeah it was David Steinberg – he was the host. We thought he was a funny comedian. Now we’re just teenagers then. We’re just like – we’re looking – we’re in over our heads. We’ve made it but we’re still just teenage guys, you know. So, we had not heard of Merle Haggard, but we did hear “Okie from Muskogee,” and this was his big hit at the time. We were sitting – the five guys – me and Paul and Bill and Barry – whoever were sitting in the audience at rehearsal. And I asked, “Who’s Merle Haggard?” and Bill said, “I don’t know” and I said, “Well I’ve never heard of her.” We thought it was a girl’s name – Merle. And Merle Haggard was sitting right behind us. Yeah he taps one of us on the shoulder and goes, “I’m Merle Haggard” and we go, “Oh hi” We didn’t know him from nothing. We come from Newport, Rhode Island, what do we know about country stars yet, you know. We learned.
Jeff: You know he’d been in prison.
Bob: We learned all about Merle Haggard
Jeff: You got to be careful what you’re saying around guys who’ve been in prison regardless of what they go on to do.
Bob: Yeah listen it was just the closest thing – after we were mortified. We wanted to be cool you know. We should have known who Merle Haggard was in terms of a guy. He’s the one who had that hit, but we were just young. It was crazy.
Woo: Do you remember what your hit was at the time?
Bob: You know what, I think this was towards late – I think we might have been doing “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” which was one of our later, non-productive releases.
Woo: Oh yes, in fact I was listening to that. I think it’s a fascinating arrangement you put on that song compared to say Linda Ronstadt’s version which is a little more straight forward. You guys go off – for a few seconds there in a strange direction and then come back. It’s very well crafted, what you did with that.
Bob: You know I appreciate that. I’ll give credit where credit is due. That arrangement of that song was by a friend of ours, Waddy Watchel, who’s name is – he’s a guitar player, kind of a session guitar player.
Jeff: From THE session, wasn’t it? No, section. That’s what they call those guys, right?
Bob: And he was with Russ Kunkel and
Jeff: Leland Sklar
Bob: You got it. You know the group. And you mix in James Taylor and Ronstadt. There was a little group there.
Jeff: Danny Kortchmar
Bob: You got it. Danny, yeah, and Waddy. So Waddy, he was in bands in Newport, Rhode Island. He grew up on the island with us and he had his bands while we were doing our thing, you know with the brothers and stuff. We got to know him. This was a classical music inspired arrangement of “Silver Threads and Golden Needles.” He even played me, Waddy played me that piece – that doom, doom, do do do doom – this whole orchestra doing that thing and I thought “Wow what an influence.” So, it goes off in that oddball classical tanget, I call it, once I heard that was the influence for it. And you know what we heard? We honestly heard this years later. The person that wrote that song, in an article, listed ours as his favorite version.
Jeff: Who wrote that?
Bob: I don’t know, it was one, I bet it was co-written, I’m sure, unless it was just one guy but whoever this was I heard in an article that that is what he said. I didn’t see it, so it’s hearsay.
Woo: Ah, we believe you though.
Bob: I love that recording of “Silver Threads.” It’s kind of – we were back in the studio, we had not had a hit record in a long time, and we weren’t going to have anymore actually. So, we were just trying to find our way as recording artists by that time.
Jeff: Had you guys relocated to California then or did you stay in Rhode Island, as a family?
Bob: No, we went to New York and then had “The Rain, The Park, and Other Things” in ’67. We were living in New York City right at that moment.
Woo: So when that song broke out you were long gone from Newport
Bob: Here’s what happen, we left, I graduated Middletown High School in 1967 in June. We were still living there and that September MGM released “The Rain, The Park” and put us on a promotional tour that went from September to December and ended up out in LA. So, that’s kind of what happen after high school to me, and it just took off right there. They put Mom in the group and so it was our Mom and the four of us on that first record. Of course they come to us, “We’re putting your Mother in your band.” Me, Bill, Barry and John were the band. We’re going, “You’re putting who in the band?”
Woo: And how did your Mother feel aboaut that?
Bob: You know what? I think - I don’t know how she felt about it honestly and she’s gone now, but I think she enjoyed it because she was a great singer and it was always good to harmonize of course. Anybody who sings understand that it’s so fun to sing and fun to sing with harmonies and so you built these harmonies. But she was terrified on stage. She had stage fright or something cuz her knees would shake and we’re watching going, “Oh my God, what is with – what is she doing?”
Jeff: Why was she Mini-Mom? Was she short?
Bob: Because she was little and she wore mini-skirts, mini-dresses.
Bob: That was the name of the style of dress that girls wore in the late ‘60’s. Mini-skirts and micro-mini’s. And so it was a Mom in her mini-dress.
Woo: Ahhhh yes
Bob: Whatever. We put three records out before “The Rain, The Park, and Other Things” and they bombed and was just the four brothers. So they put Mom in the group, we do “The Rain, The Park, and Other Things,” and then the whole thing takes off and it was like, “Wow!”
Jeff: You’re talking about harmonies and stuff and again and again harmonies come up in rock history people always say, “Well I did my first singing in the church.” Where did the harmonies enter your family’s musical life or was it just always there?
Bob: You know, you’re not going to believe this, in the church choir.
Jeff: Ahhh OK
Bob: It’s the truth. Me and Bill and Paul and even Barry who was a little young but we were in choirs from the get go. Now Bill and I had taught ourselves guitar playing at 7 – he was 7, I was 6. And my Dad had brought these guitars home and they were four string guitars. We had seen no guitars so four strings looked like plenty to us. And we learned chords on the four string guitar. That is a friend, Jack Johnson, showed us, but we were just kids. But we ran with it, OK. I mean with two fingers you could play a C chord, with o, ne finger a G. I mean this four string guitar thing was amazing. And he and I played that , at 6, 7, 8, 9, 10-year olds, until we eventually learned about six string guitars and shifted up. So, Bill and I were running with this anyway as kids, but we were always in those Catholic Church choirs. There were like 50 of us with girl voices. We sounded great. Sang everything in Latin, but it was a great choir.
Jeff: And these guitars, did you Dad bring them back from overseas? He was in the Navy, right?
Bob: Yeah I mean he’d take off on a ship for like nine months. Gees the guy had six kids and they were all boys. I’d take off off to sea on a ship for nine months, you know. That’s what he did in the Navy and it’d be like, “See you later.” He’d come back with some stuff from his travels, yeah, and one time it was these. It was an accordion and two guitars – two four string guitars. And the accordion I remember messing with it, but we gravitated towards the two guitars. And his buddy showed us three chords, I mean I’m talking songs like, “All day, all night, MaryAnn, All day, all night” that’s two chords. I was seven years old, you know, what do you want from me. But it was songs like that that we were learning on the guitar and then we added Barry to be a drummer because we had heard and seen enough that you had to have a drummer. But this was the days – we didn’t have video, we didn’t have VHS, we had VH1, no MTV, we had nothing. We are on this island in Newport, Rhode Island, and if your friend, Johnny Flanders, learned a G chord, bar chord up in Portsmouth, you got on your bike, you drove to Portsmouth and he showed you his chords and he showed you songs that he learned because he was a kid who played guitar, was one of our neighbors and friends, and he got good too, so he could learn stuff faster than us. So we had a drummer and two guitarists. We didn’t know what a bass was until The Beatles came out. Now The Beatles, what they gave bands – guys like us – was material. Now we had a bunch of songs we could learn. Up until then you’d do a couple of Everly Brothers, a Ricky Nelson, a lot of instrumentals, Telstar – you know “Walk Don’t Run,” your bands I mean. What do you do before The Beatles, you know? “Sleep Walk” or stuff like that. But when The Beatles came out we heard them first, of course. You’d hear on the radio and you saw pictures. That’s all you had. They didn’t do TV yet because Ed Sullivan hadn’t booked them. You’d try to learn this stuff by ear and we got good at doing that. And we then eventually – when they hit The Ed Sullivan Show - and we saw McCartney and we said, “What the heck is that?” and we go “That’s a four string guitar!”
Woo: And he’s playing left handed to boot.
Bob: I’ll never forget it. It was just extreme. We were just kids but you go on and then you learn what a bass was. So they’re doing it as a foursome with a bass. So we moved Barry to bass and put John on the drums. That’s exactly how we did it just from those Ed Sullivan Shows. We said, “OK we got to have a bass” and Barry listened and learned about bass because you could hear it once you learned what to listen for in the records, then you could sit and listen to it and “Ah that’s what the bass is. There it is.” And that’s how you learned stuff back then.
Jeff: What was going on with your hair?
Bob: Ah, we put the butch-wax away, which was this pink stuff – honest to God it was like Vasciline but it truly existed. It was called butch-wax. And we all had kind of military hair just because Dad was a lifer in the Navy and I don’t know, it’s what you knew. So we were in Newport cuz he was stationed there. We’re all just military kids. We got rid of the butch-wax and we brushed it down and that was very intimidating to my Dad. That was intimidating to grown-ups. We remember that. We laugh about it now, like how innocent, you know, but back then that was a big deal. The hair was coming down and we started to pattern ourselves after The Beatles. I had to have a Gretsch guitar. Bill had a Rickenbaucker 12-string. Barry had to play a Hofner bass.
Woo: Do you still have any of those old instruments?
Bob: Oh God, I wish, I wish, I wish. The only thing I have now is a Gretsch Tennessean – like is a ’65 that Bill had it and gave it to me and I let my son, Jason, have it for awhile. I’ve got it back. We keep it in the family. It’s the one remnant. I wish I had kept everything. I would have a room that you would not believe.
Woo: We’re speaking to Bob Cowsill of The Cowsills on UIC radio Rock of Ages Mr. Woo and Uncle Jeff Bob, in the live shows that you did in the early days, how - I guess I’m speaking of television – how often would you actually play live – obviously on the Sullivan show I would think – and how often would you lip-synch?
Bob: If it was a local little TV show that you were adding to because you were on tour, you would lip-synch. And you would do that for two reasons. #1, they technologically weren’t going to be able to handle setting your band up and mic-ing it and getting the right mix out on television. And #2, if you did try and do that, which we did on a number of occasions, it was horrible. It just wasn’t smart. Not that you were playing horrible, they just didn’t know how to mix rock and roll. They didn’t know what to do with rock and roll. They didn’t know what a bass guitar was, you know what I mean?
Bob: So, the safe thing was to lip-synch. And that’s what made The Ed Sullivan Show so special at the time, and such a big deal. Because, not only was it a live TV show, but you were also going to perform live. You don’t lip-synch on The Ed Sullivan Show.
Woo: That was the policy.
Jeff: And he invited you over too, didn’t he? He didn’t just leave you where you were to play. He brought you over.
Bob: When we saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show. we kept watching them look up and wave to something up high, you know. “What are they waving at? What are they waving at? What’s up there? What’s up there?” And so when we got on, now you’re told before the show, ‘Now if Ed calls you over, go over. If he doesn’t call you over, don’t be an idiot.’ He did that on the spot, and we were told that if he does it means he really likes you and all that business. So he called us over. But hey, I’m 18-years-old, when he waved us over I’m going nuts. “Oh my God, he called us over. We’re coming over to Ed Sullivan.” So we go over there and I standing there – that’s why I’d love to see a video of that show because I know what I was thinking . I remember. You remember some of it, you know, and I was standing there going, “Oh my God, that’s what they were looking at.” And I’m looking at the balcony. The theatre had a balcony and up in the balcony was where all the nutty fans were. So I looked up and all these people were yelling and screaming up there and so I waved too. And I though, “Oh wow man this is too big, too big.”
Jeff: You returned there later too, didn’t you, for the Letterman program?
Bob: Umm the Letterman took over that – I don’t
Jeff: Oh you were there for the NBC Letterman show
Bob: No, I don’t remember doing Letterman. We always did The Tonight Show but it was Johnny Carson. Remember, we were pre-Letterman. I mean Letterman is funny. I saw him into his show once – he’s used our name twice, David Letterman – the one time the guys goes, “And now the man who thought the music business would never be the same since The Cowsills retired, David Letterman.” I was sitting there going, “Oh I guess that’s funny, ha ha ha” and the other time he used our name was, he had a top 10 list. I guess – I can’t remember the story, but we’d given Iran 500 million dollars. So his Top Ten list was what was Iran going to do with 500 million dollars that we all found out we gave them. And like #6 was ‘Bring The Cowsills out of retirement.’ And so I go, “Alright, who’s the fan that works for The David Letterman Show. To me those are funny references, you know.
Bob: But we did The Tonight Show a lot. Johnny Carson was cool because he liked our Mother. And so – that she was there, you know, when we sat on his desk and and if you sat in his chairs – cuz that was another thing. Johnny Carson – you generally played live and if he called you over good. He might not. He might just walk over to where you’re singing and say, “Hey here they are.” But he called us over and Mom sat next to him and talked to him and we just sat there, staring off.
Jeff: Hey you talked about your Dad a little bit, what was the role that he played in your career?
Bob: He did two things for me. He showed me that work and hard work, is perserverance. And belief in yourself, even if you don’t think anyone else around is believing in anything you’re doing, can bring something right to the top and make it a big, huge success, which he did with his family. And we did end up on top. I mean when we had “Hair” that was riding the real top of the wave and we were selling millions and life was just awesome. You’re right on top, OK. He taught me that. And then he also taught me that if you’re not smart, and if you fail at either implementing the plan that you have to stay there – to take the success and make sure that it serves you well – yours and others futures – that if you don’t pay attention to that you’re going to plop right back down where you came from. And it’s going to take a lot shorter time for that drop to happen then you took climbing to the top and living the few years you stayed up there. So, I learned two good things from him.
Jeff: Was he a sort of day to day presence with you guys? Was he on the road with you?
Bob: He had a very much ‘in your face’, military kind of style that was the only style he knew. He entered the Navy when he was 16 and then they got married when I think he was like 18 or 19 and she was 17 or something like that because Mom got pregnant with Bill. And went and had seven kids in rapid succession. I would question anyone’s intelligence at that age doing that. So, right away, they are in way over their heads. But this whole talent thing surfaced years later because we, as children, pursed it, all on our own. We took it to a certain level that at some point Dad could finish with the Navy and take over managing this thing and see if it’s what we think it all is. And it was that. And it made it really big. But, he was not prepared and didn’t choose well. Some of his decisions and people choices, in terms of who’s going to manage this thing. We came out of Rhode Island, kind of a Navy family, and then we start making millions and millions of dollars and living pretty good too, I might add.
Jeff: So you had a good deal on the royalities?
Bob: No, that was one of the fallouts in terms of what went wrong. We are the classic story. It’s amazing that it still happens but it did with us. A mis-managed account. A mis-managed business, by a guy who had a very ‘in your face’ style with his children so that in the end it was sort of gonna probably implode if it didn’t explode probably, you know. Because we were all teenage guys coming of age within this structure of fame and fortune and it was a good place to live, believe me, but there were other things going on that overrode even it’s significance in our live to the point that we lost it all.
Jeff: The odd man out in all this was your brother Richard and he clashed with your Dad. Is that right?
Bob: Well Richard, he’s my twin brother. He was – yeah seven children. You put six – six end up in the group. I mean Mom came in for “The Rain, The Park, and Other Things” and then we had that hit, established ourselves as a fivesome – the four boys and Mom. Then with the next record We Can Fly, Susan and Paul came into the group. And Richard, by this time, was still working behind the scenes with Dad and I honestly think that part of the plan was he was going to be one of the guys behind the scenes who was going to be with Dad running the empire. You know he may laugh if he hears me say that, but I think at one point it was probably. Cuz he was always working with Dad in the back. And to be honest with you, God bless him today, we play with him at the festival he comes up and sing, you know. He didn’t get the sing gene like in the way, the level the rest of us got it. And that’s just the way that happen. But that’s a hit for a kid to take because he’s off – and he clashed with Dad and it was rough from the get go with him and Dad. Any of us and Dad. He took him on so it was a bigger fight for Rich.
Jeff: And he served in Viet Nam, didn’t he?
Bob: Well I think, he enlisted. So his answer was to go run off and split and join the Army, Richard. Of course Dad ran off and split and joined the Navy at 16, you know so I’m going “OK that move makes sense to me.” But he joined at a bad time. And he did go to Viet Nam. He and I were in the class, in 1967, where we were the first lottery for the draft where they tossed our birthdates in a barrel, a lottery barrel, and we literally gathered around a TV one night as they pulled birthdates out of the barrel, a ball with a birthdate on it. And if you were pulled early, within the first 100 birthdays, you were going to be drafted and you were going to Viet Nam. We all knew that. Now Richard and I birthday was pulled 256 and that is the only reason I didn’t go to Viet Nam was because they didn’t get to my birthdate for that year. That’s the only reason. I would have gone.
Woo: That’s some terrifying television.
Bob: Well now that I’m 54 and I’ve had five children and I’ve had five seniors in high school and I think that every time one of my kids was a senior in high school that I as a senior in high school had to sit through an evening of television like that, it just floors me. It floors me. I can’t believe I would have just enlisted the next day and gone over to that country. I’m just blown away. Cuz I tell you, not one of my five kids looked ready to defend my country when they were seniors in high school, I’ll tell you that. I must have been some other kind of senior, man. I don’t know what they were thinking. But anyway, so there we were on The Ed Sullivan Show , six of us and he’s not. That can have a profound effect on somebody in life, depending on who that somebody is and how they react to it. He was troubled by that for years, and he admits it. He still is. It’s just a rough deal, but it happened. It’s history and some of the history that all of us have. It’s hard to come to terms with to the point where you can relax about it.
Woo: Now that there’s another generation of Cowsill kids, was it an extra thrill to be able to make Global and have your kids be old enough to see you in the creative process and to show them what you used to do and how well you still do it?
Bob: It’s fun with the kids in that, from us they view people who are singers and artist still. I mean we all work and have jobs and are raising children and families, but within that context I have always been a singer. I’ve always sung at night, whether I’m paid for that school tuition or not, whatever reason. I’ve sung at night out here, four or five nights a week for 20 years. I’ve been a Pickwick’s Pub for 20 years.
Woo: And you’re singing tonight, yes?
Bob: Absolutely, absolutely at Fox and Hound’s tonight. I’m singing tomorrow and Saturday and so the kids have all – and Susan has always been a singer. John has always been playing with Jan & Dean or now with The Beach Boys. Barry has always sung. Bill has always sung. We will continue, out of the public eye more or less, other than the framework of the little environment we are in. We’re always continues being artists making records. Paul, Susan, John and I made this album with Chuck Polkin in the late ‘70’s called Cocaine Drain album that is a really good piece of work.
Jeff: When is that going to come out?
Bob: Well, I don’t know. Never, maybe. Out on what? It’s like
Jeff: Robin Records
Bob: Well Robin Records was – when we went in and did Global we did Global because we had these songs. We felt they were really good and artistically we were ready to do this and go in and go into the studio without anyone looking over our shoulders, without any record company, not that we had a record company or anything. It was a pleasure recording in an environment that was strictly artistic and it was all about the song and that’s all we were doing in there. And even when we were done, it was like, the feeling was like ‘alright this is the best thing we ever recorded, see you later.” And that thing sat for five years. Just sat there, because we were just done. I mean what were we going to do with it then? The internet wasn’t even around. This was like 93, 94, 95. It was just sitting there. I mean I need to master it and do things to it, but sitting there done basically.
Woo: It was your brother-in-law who was the impetus to get the thing moving, yes?
Bob: He, my brother-in-law Jim, he was always – this internet, these computers. All this is happening during this time. And now we have to ‘surf the net’. I’m going, “Surf the what? What is that?” “You go out and you just look at” “I don’t have time to go out and look at stuff.” So he embraced that new technology and learned all about it and he did show me. He said, “Come here” and he typed in the name Cowsill and at the time it was just to show me. And some article came up about my brother Paul’s kid playing baseball for the Angels and I was like blown away. I go, “Holy cow, reading about Brenden right on the computer.” That’s how new that was. You go nuts on that stuff in the early days.
Woo: He’s playing for the California Angels?
Bob: Yeah he had – Anaheim Angels – he got drafted. He’s not there anymore. He went to high single A at Lake Elsinore and had his best season and then sort of lost the passion and just walked. But he was a good pitcher.
Woo: Bob, the story of Global reminds us so much of a recent guest, Dwight Twilley who’s been – I think – I don’t know if you yourself have done some vocals with Dwight or played on his CD’s. I know Susan and possibly John has played with him?
Bob: Oh sure, back in the Dwight days, that was Susan’s connection, you know. Susan was singing with him a lot. John, for sure, was. I did a couple vocals in a studio up with Richey Povler I remember. But he was moe, Dwight was more from Susan’s world than anybody else’s. He’s a battler. He’s the guy who makes great records you know, but it’s just hard to get a deal.
Jeff: And both of you at one time or another have embraced the title power pop.
Bob: Oh power pop. That’s what we do. Look, here’s what happen. Pop music disappeared. I mean we can all talk about the ‘80’s and all that was in the 80’s and even in the ‘70’s and we can have that discussion but pop music – which by definition to us is great melodies, great harmonies, great guitar work, good keyboard playing, good pounding drum sounds, you know good bass, the whole package wrapped around some unresistable melody, right? That disappeared to us from the radio stations for sure and then, I don’t know, somebody said it sometime but it surfaced in country music. It’s like all of a sudden I put on some country station out here and those sounds, those guitars, those harmonies, I’m hearing them on country-western records and I’m going, “look at that they are applying the production techniques of our side and they’re making these pop country records which they still do today to me.
Woo: Oh indeed
Bob: And then there was a resurgence. You started hearing really good melodies on the radio and on some of these stations. There are different stations and then you had to learn about the different kinds of radio stations now cuz you could go find what you were looking for if you were hip to that. That’s a big difference. Back in the old days it was like KHJ and you’re a millionaire, or wasn’t on KHJ and no one heard about you or whatever the big stations were.
Jeff: Caller radio
Bob: Yeah, radio. But radio is never going anywhere. I mean it’s always going to be here. It’s still critical. I mean we took Global - Jim has this idea like, “Hey website.” “Website, OK let’s do it” After going through that experience, I’d suggest to everybody to have a website, if you can have a website.
Woo: Well let’s mention your website. It’s www.cowsill.com
Bob: Cowsill or Cowsills.com I don’t even think you need the www anymore
Woo: And Robin Records
Bob: Robinrecords.com gets you the same websites I mean the only thing we’ve ever had on there in terms of buying anything is Global. We’re not really there, we just – that is really there for our fans, the few that are left you know, and it’s actually a lot of fun as a memory. Our website is more a history. It’s a memory of a lot of things that happen in our lives. Now it’s a pretty comprehensive website, although we have a store and everything. You can buy thong panties for pete’s sake. It’s incredible what they do. And leave a note and say hi. Are you kidding, we love that. But I would suggest that everybody have a website if they can.
Jeff: But you’re – on that website your family story is sort of an open secret, isn’t it? I mean you can go in and there’s a piece, biographical piece about each of you and all kinds of photos documenting your lives or at least your time playing music together.
Bob: Yes it’s become a real database of your life if you have one like our. I mean we have a lot to say. We weren’t the biggest group in the world for pete’s sake but we held our own for a few years when the biggest groups in the world were happening. Big and current, you know.
Bob: And so, we’re proud of that. And also in addition to that, we stand by our records. I mean “Indian Lake” OK that’s a piece of fluff, but even when we were doing fluff we were doing it serious and we were totally into vocals and music vocals the way Brian Wilson was into it, using it as instruments. And I always felt, although on Global, see I can’t even say what I was about to say that we were cut short on that but we weren’t because we kept recording and writing. Throughout all these years, we have a ton of material, all of us, all the way through Global and beyond. So, some of it got documented along the way, some of it didn’t, but to us, that kind of documentation is no different than anybody else’s. Just because 80 million people didn’t buy something, doesn’t downgrade its value to us anyway because we made a couple of really good records.
Jeff: Well and this is why we ask about Cocaine Drain because you’d talked about Chuck Polkin as sort of a teacher for you, is that right? You talk about songwriting 101 that was happening for you at that time.
Bob: Yeah we bumped into Chuck at a good time because we had written some songs and basically we needed guidance. We were just playing around town, playing some clubs and trying to figure out this writing thing because we hadn’t been together in a long time. Paul, Susan, John and me. Chuck came along as a producer and an artist with Electrosylem and had some track records on his hands and seemed like a real smart guy when we hooked up with him. We definitely did click on an artistic level. And he worked with us. We didn’t go into the studio for a year but we were working with that guy in terms of songwriting. Back then it was truly all about the song and it still is to me today but back then it really was. And he was a real good guide. And then he went on as a producer and produced this record with us and that’s when I learned just a ton of stuff about recording and sounds and spacing them and all that goes along with that. So, going through that experience with him, I mean the project died in the water. It died in the water, broke our hearts but we couldn’t do anything about it. It was a series of events that involved everything from Bruce Springstein to Susan and Dwight and their relationship. It was – my head was spinning. This was right before “Darkness On The Edge Of Town” and he was just Bruce Springstein. He hadn’t stepped forward and become the superstar yet. So we met him at Clover and he’s just like a guy. I shook his hand. I looked at him and went and in my head I’m going , “God, I didn’t know he was short. I really didn’t know he was short.” But, I’m shaking his hand going “Wow, cool. The Boss.” you know and all that. But then he goes on to, oh God, he’s this big star now after “Darkness” and that’s when Chuck began working with him and that was Chuck’s career then. It was his career. Who could blame him?
Jeff: We can not – you know we’re winding down timewise, but we can’t leave without talking to you about The Partridge Family.
Bob: We love The Partridge Family. Now I heard that David Cassidy towards the end there – the end being the run of The Partridge Family and The Cowsills and all that – he used to get uptight and didn’t want the talk about The Cowsills anymore. Our attitude was our name was never in the paper more than when The Partridge Family came out. Cuz first of all there was this press because we were going to do it. I mean we were going to be the kids on it, but they didn’t want our Mom and there’s all these stories and they didn’t think we were going to be good as actors anyway and they were right. But it was going to be Shirley Jones the whole way and they didn’t want Mom. And we were right about that. So, it ended up we didn’t have to do it. And believe me, you guys, you didn’t want us to do it because heck man I was like 20, Barry’s like 18, 17, John’s like – we don’t want to go to work 10 hours a day. We want to tour and record. We had a happy life right then. “Hair” was out you know. I said, “Wait a minute. I got to get up at 5 in the morning to go do a TV show?” It’s like, as kids, we don’t want to do it. As business people it probably, well I don’t know, maybe it wouldn’t have worked with us. They had a big hit. It launched careers, in terms of Shirley and David Cassidy for sure and Susan Dey really, an acting career so I always felt like without us it wouldn’t have occurred, it’s true, but there’s a lot of stuff before us that we wouldn’t have occurred without it so where do you put the importance. But the show was a hit and we were always mentioned in the articles when they wrote about it.
Jeff: You never went anywhere in a school bus, did ya?
Bob: No, but our first tour was on a bus with a big sign on the side of it.
Woo: You know Bob I could swear recently that I heard “The Rain, The Park, and Other Things” in a TV commercial. I can’t remember what product it might have been, but I don’t think it was your version.
Bob: No, it was a Clariton commercial. I saw it running out here a lot cuz I hear some guy singing, “I love the flower girl” kind of like Robert Goulay. I’m sure that’s a cost issue. If you use the original recordings it’s thousands of dollars for that and if you remake it like that it’s hundreds.
Jeff: And speaking of commercials you were of course the spokes people for the American Dairy Association.
Bob: The only thing I would do is this. You’re right. We made a bunch of commercials for the American Dairy Association and I have them on a reel to reel. My kids think they are absolutely hilarious, and they are cuz it’s all about milk, you know. And it’s back with rock groups – pop groups they didn’t make – they didn’t do stuff like that, right? I would love for the ADA to resign The Cowsills to a milk deal for one year and we re-create some of those commercials but we look like we look today and I’ll tell you they’ll be the most talked about commercials ever made. I guarantee you that.
Woo: You could do ‘Got Milk’ commercials with the milk mustaches.
Bob: Well I know what this crew looks like today. I tell ya, it’d be frightening. It’s be hilarious.
Jeff: Now if we here at the bunker could somehow broker that deal for you, would you agree on 5 percent for us?
Bob: Absolutely. I’m going to go on record right now.
Bob: Right now
Jeff: We’re recording Bob
Bob: But yeah you guys got to stay together because you’re going to have to go 2.5 percent each.
Jeff: Oh good point.
Bob: We’re all going to have to get along until it’s over.
Woo: We’re joined at the hip
Bob: Alright we got public documentation. You get 5 percent.
Jeff: Bob, what’s the set list for tonight?
Bob: I walk in basically. I start at like 9 o’clock and it just runs off the top of my head. I play for four hours and I’ve been told that I do between 55-60 songs a night. The first set is going to be Beatles, the soft Beatles. It’ll be like “Hide Your Love Away” and “Norweigen Woods” and “And I Love Her” and “Michelle” just cuz it’s early in the night. By midnight we’re doing “I Saw Her Standing There” and all kinds of stuff like that. So basically I do a bunch of ‘60s. Tomorrow night going to have the band with me at Pickwick’s. Susan will be in town. She’ll come over. Barry is going to be in town. He’s going to come over and jam at the club tomorrow and Saturday night with me. So that will be extra fun.
Woo: That will be excellent.
Woo: With The Cowsills / Bangles weekend coming up.
Bob: Yeah, yeah we’re going to have a fun time at the wedding.
Woo: That’s great. Well Bob we thank you very, very much for joining us.
Jeff: Thanks a ton Bob.
Bob: I appreciate you being interested and wanting to know. I really do. We’re around and we’re well. You’ll be hearing from us soon, maybe in milk commercials.
Jeff: We’re working on that even now.
Bob: Alright You know where I am. You got my numbers.
Woo: Absolutely. If you can hold on for one more second we’re going to play another cut from Global This is “What I Believe”
Song: What I Believe