BARRY COWSILL (1954 - 2005)
The body of Barry Cowsill, one of the singing Cowsills, the family band
that inspired the Partridge Family, was discovered on December 28th
on a wharf in New Orleans. Local authorities believe Cowsill, 51,
died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the city on
August 29th. Cowsill reportedly left phone messages for his sister
Susan on September 1st, and was not heard from again.
Billed as "America's First Family of Music", the well-scrubbed
Cowsills helped make flower-power music palatable to the mainstream.
They had two Number 2 hits, "The Rain, The Park And Other Things"
and the title track to the hit rock musical "Hair". They
were nearly reality-television pioneers: the filming of their daily
life together was briefly considered for a TV program, before producers
decided to fictionalize the story as The Partridge Family.
Newport, Rhode Island's Cowsills were formed in the early 1960s
when their father, Bud, gave his two oldest boys, Bill and Bob,
guitars. Barry, born in 1954, took up the bass, and younger brother
John became the drummer. Later, the group would be joined by brother
Paul, on keyboards, and their kid sister Susan, on vocals. Their
mother Barbara performed with the group as well.
The four original band members recorded their first single, "All
I Really Wanta Be Is Me", in 1965. Playing a weekly residency
at a Newport lounge called Bannisters Wharf, the group was discovered
by a producer for NBC's Today Show. Their television performance
led to a contract with Mercury Records, which recorded a string
of singles to little notice. Producer Artie Kornfeld brought the
group a song he co-wrote, "The Rain, The Park And Other Things",
and he convinced Barbara Cowsill to sing with her children. That
song, a dreamy, heavily orchestrated pop nugget, became a smash
for MGM in 1967.
In the wake of the single's success, Paul and Susan Cowsill were
soon added to the group. "We Can Fly" reached Number 21
in 1968, followed by "Indian Lake", a California pop song
influenced by the Beach Boys and the Mamas and the Papas, which
made Number 10 later that same year. By now a pop sensation, the
Cowsills hosted their own television special and made appearances
for Ed Sullivan and Johnny Carson.
The group had one last moment of glory in early 1969, when their
recording of "Hair" spent thirteen weeks in the Top 40.
But despite the success of The Partridge Family, which debuted in
1970, the Cowsills' 1971 album "On My Side" yielded no
hits; the group would soon dissolve amid financial and personal
Bill Cowsill, who was once considered as a possible replacement
for Brian Wilson in the Beach Boys' touring band, was the first
family member to release a solo album, 1971's "Nervous Breakthrough".
Some of the siblings eventually fell out of the music business;
Bob, John, Susan and Paul briefly reunited in the late '70s, recording
a set of songs that went unreleased. It was the first of the Cowsills'
periodic comebacks, most recently in 1998, when they released an
Internet-only album. Barbara Cowsill died of emphysema in Tempe,
Arizona in 1985.
Through the years the Cowsills retained some ties to their native
New England. In 1988 Barry contributed a cover version of "Everybody's
Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey" for an album
called "Boston Does the Beatles". In 2004 the Cowsills
reunited to play at Fenway Park before a Red Sox-Yankees playoff
game. They sang the national anthem and "Hair".
During the 1990s Barry and Susan both became involved with the
New Orleans music community. Susan joined her then-husband, former
dBs frontman Peter Holsapple, ex-Bangle Vicki Peterson and others
in the L.A.-New Orleans band the Continental Drifters. Barry Cowsill
released an album, "Barry Cowsill: As Is", in 1998. He
was said to have been preparing to record another album in New Orleans
at the time of his death.
(Jim Sullivan, Rolling Stone)