By John Wirt
The Cowsills – the 1960s family band that released Top 10 hits “The Rain, the Park & Other Things,” “Indian Lake” and “Hair” – have recorded sumptuous a cappella renditions of their classics.
In January and May 2018, Bob Cowsill, 68, Paul Cowsill, 66, and Susan Cowsill, 59, recorded The Dockside Silhouettes EP at Dockside Studio in Maurice, Louisiana. John Cowsill, 62, added his vocals later at his home studio in Malibu, California.
In the decades since The Cowsills’ temporary breakup in the early 1970s, they’ve worked together in various configurations and apart. For the past four summers, Bob, Paul and Susan performed under The Cowsills banner on the Turtles’ Happy Together tour. John, an unexpected participant in The Dockside Silhouettes, plays drums for Mike Love’s Beach Boys.
The a cappella EP is one of two new Cowsills studio projects. The group has launched a PledgeMusic campaign to finance an album of new songs featuring voices and instruments. Meanwhile, copies of the unmixed Dockside Silhouettes were selling out on the Happy Together tour.
In 1967, the Cowsill siblings’ ages ranged from seven (Susan) to 19 (Bill). Their mother, Barbara, sang with the group, too. The Cowsills inspired The Partridge Family TV series.
Bob, Paul and Susan Cowsill have wanted to record new material for years. That’s also been a dream project for Dockside Studio co-owner Steve Nails. “The Cowsills are like The Beach Boys,” he said. “No matter what they sing, it sounds like 1969.”
Nails thinks of Susan Cowsill as a sister. She’s recorded solo albums and albums with the Continental Drifters (featuring her sister-in-law, Vicki Peterson of the Bangles) at Dockside. Cowsill and her drummer husband, Russ Broussard, also staged their wedding ceremony on the studio’s parklike grounds by the Vermilion River.
Geography proved challenging for The Cowsills’ planned album of new songs. Susan lives in New Orleans; Paul in Madras, Oregon; Bob in Los Angeles. Sessions scheduled for January 2018 at Dockside Studio fell through because the group’s PledgeMusic campaign wasn’t ready. Dockside co-owner Cézanne Nails, aka Wish, proposed Plan B – a cappella recordings of their classic hits. “I called them and two weeks later they were in the studio, just on faith,” Nails said. “They only knew it was going to be a cappella. That’s what I wanted. I was so sure it was going to work.”
The sessions produced recordings stacked with luxurious harmonies. The concept succeeds beautifully, even though The Cowsills were initially skeptical about an a cappella project.
Susan Cowsill: “At first it really was a ‘Wha-a-at?’ But this coocoo idea that Wish came up with became something amazing. Bob, it turns out, is an a cappella arranging genius.”
Bob: “No. I’m not going to answer to that! But once we got into it, it worked. This is us let lose in a vocal candy field.”
Paul: “Usually, when we open up our mouths, good things happen. But I didn’t expect this. I’m in awe.”
The Dockside Silhouettes features “The Rain, the Park & Other Things,” “Indian Lake,” “Hair,” “Poor Baby,” “We Can Fly,” “Love, American Style” and “Winter Wonderland.” The Cowsills’ upcoming voices-and-instruments album will be their first collection of new material since 1998’s Global.
Despite the deaths of Bill and Barry Cowsill, The Cowsills continues to be a family band. The group’s touring lineup includes Bob and his keyboardist son, Ryan; Paul and his guitarist son, Brendon; and Susan and her husband, drummer Russ Broussard.
The Cowsills band began when the family’s patriarch, William “Bud” Cowsill, recognized his children’s talent and brought guitars to the family’s house in Newport, Rhode Island. Brothers Bob, Bill, Barry and John formed a Beatles-inspired quartet. Within a few years the foursome grew with the additions of Paul and Susan and the siblings’ singing mother, Barbara.
Bob: “Everyone was born with this DNA. Everyone could carry a tune. How lucky. So my dad came home with guitars when we were 7, 8 years old. We were veterans at 16, 17 and 18.”
Regardless of the 50-plus years they’ve been singing together, The Cowsills still make the most of every performance.
Bob: “Every time we go out on the Happy Together tour, this night, that night and the next night, it’s like the first time.”
Susan: “When we make a joyous sound, it’s a transcendental moment. Those Gregorian dudes chant for a reason. It feels really good to make that resonating sound together. It’s in a human being’s soul to want to connect like that.”