Skip to main content

The Cowsills discuss their first studio album of new music this century

Bob, Paul and Susan Cowsill link a 1960s flip side to their new Omnivore album “Rhythm of the World.”

Get classic pop and other music on vinyl and CD at the Goldmine shop

  

From Omnivore Recordings on CD and digital formats, photo order: Paul, Susan and Bob Cowsill

From Omnivore Recordings on CD and digital formats, photo order: Paul, Susan and Bob Cowsill

The Cowsills reached the Top 40 four times in the 1960s with “The Rain, The Park & Other Things,” “We Can Fly,” “Indian Lake” and “Hair.” Additionally, their 1969 flip side “Love, American Style” was used as the theme for the television show of the same name. Bob, Paul and Susan Cowsill have toured often in recent years with their Cowsills show, including the next generation of Cowsills in the band, and have entertained so many oldies fans with their sibling harmonies on The Happy Together Tour.

GOLDMINE: Welcome back to Goldmine and congratulations on the album we have been waiting years for, but first let’s go back to 1968. Between your hits “We Can Fly” and “Indian Lake” was the single “In Need of a Friend” from your We Can Fly album, listed as “I Need a Friend” on the back cover. The flip side, also from that album, had a similar theme with “Mister Flynn,” reaching out to an old stranger who may need a friend.

BOB COWSILL: With “In Need of a Friend,” Billy and I wrote that after we moved to New York City and lived in a three-bedroom apartment with all nine of us. We wrote it in the middle of the night. It is a ballad, and we thought the family was sleeping and I remember Mom coming into our room asking us to keep it down. When MGM put out that ballad as a single, we thought they should have released “Gray Sunny Day” instead, the second song from the album, which was peppy. “In Need of a Friend” made it about halfway up the Top 100 and I am nostalgic about that era because this is right before things really took off for us and we could move into our own apartment. It had a mature lyric which I believe my mature brother had more to do with that than me.

PAUL COWSILL: To the Goldmine vinyl fans, “In Need of a Friend” was one of the first stereo 45s that was created. 

GM: Flipping over that stereo 45 to “Mister Flynn,” was there a real Mr. Flynn?

PC: It was about the guys we would run into at the stage door who would be the naysayers for the day.

SUSAN COWSILL: They would say, “You can’t come in right now. Wait two more minutes. You can’t drink this water. You can drink that water over there instead. You need to be quiet.”

BC: What we found out about this type of person, which we saw at many of the venues, is that they themselves had the dream we are living. They were in a band or wanted to be on stage like us and it didn’t work out. We learned to be empathetic to people like that watching others living the dream they always wanted.

SC: It was about a lonely old man, and we have got to be nice because he wanted to have the spotlight, too, and didn’t get it.

Cowsills Flynn

The Cowsills

Fabulous Flip Side: Mister Flynn

A side: In Need of a Friend

Billboard Hot 100 debut: March 16, 1968

Peak position: No. 54

MGM K-13909-SS

GM: Going with a similar empathetic theme on the new album is “Lend a Hand,” where homelessness is addressed.

BC: “Lend a Hand” is our suggestion that it might be good if we all help each other. When you drive around, you know how a homeless person will take a corner and it will become their corner. This man lived where I would drive with a shopping cart holding all of his possessions. Once in a while you roll the window down and give him a dollar and you’ll be dealing with this gentlemen at that same stop light each time you approach that intersection. You just think about him and wonder what his story is. You know he doesn’t want to be there holding those signs.

SC: There is a lady living on the corner in my area who is around my age and is dressed like me, even with a hat like I have. She showed up recently and I wondered how did she just show up here now at age 64, homeless and looking like me.

BC: They all have a story, so you can’t get mad at them.

PC: If we don’t lend a hand then we all fail.

GM: Speaking of hands, Mary’s hands on her bass come through on that song and many of the songs are amazing. Who is this non-Cowsill?

SC: She may be our MVP because she just creates a part. Her take on it is that we give her a song and she is allowed to paint around it.

BC: When we would go in the studio, Mary Lasseigne on bass along with Susan’s husband Russ Broussard on drums were working out the rhythm in their corner while we were in our corner determining our parts. We never told Mary or Russ what to play. They created their own section to match what we came up with. It was a remarkable experience. Mary wrote the parts by just listening to a lead vocal and an acoustic guitar.

PC: Mary is really an accomplished musician. She can read and write music and is quite unbelievable.

SC: She is in New Orleans, like me, and is a very popular musician in the group Cowboy Mouth which has a huge NOLA following.

GM: Moving from bass guitar to tremolo guitar on “Hawks on the Line,” that is a wonderful western sound.

SC: Isn’t that fun?

BC: We wanted to not write a country and western song, but truly a western song.

PC: I live on a farm in central Oregon in the middle of nowhere. I would be driving to town on our farm road and would notice all these hawks. My wife LouAnn and I would count the hawks on the telephone lines, poles and irrigation lines. One day I counted thirteen hawks in a row, and I said to LouAnn, “These hawks are talking to me.” I thought I would write a song about the hawks. It started as poetry and then I came up against a wall. I had a friend named Renee who I worked with in the movies, and she loved hawks and identified with them. She would talk about her hawks and how they would come in the spring and leave in the winter. Once I determined that this is a song about Renee, who passed away, then the rest came flowing out. I was in a dressing room reading the words to Susan as we always collaborate on lyrics and Bob was sitting in a chair and asked, “What is that? Is that a poem?” I said, “I guess so, or it could be a song.” Then Bob brought in a melody, like he did on all these songs, which just seizes the day.

BC: With the western tremolo I was thinking about Duane Eddy’s guitar playing and it was great that you picked up on that.

PC: On all these songs we were laughing in the studio because each song had a sound that reminded us of some of our favorite songs by others. It is a blend of all of our influences. 

GM: Bob, you co-wrote “Nuclear Winter” with Peter Bunch. Who is Peter?

BC: I had a band called Channel 9 with Peter in the 1980s and 1990s playing a mix of covers and original music. When we wrote “Nuclear Winter” it wasn’t as relevant as it is today. We are shocked and saddened about that. 

GM: The bridges that you wrote on the album are smooth except the bridge on “Nuclear Winter,” which is an abrupt attention getter.

BC: There is a military beat to the track on purpose as a warning.

PC: The title song “Rhythm of the World” is a juxtaposition to “Nuclear Winter.”

GM: I played “Lend a Hand,” “Nuclear Winter” and “Rhythm of the World” for my daughter Brianna, who you’ve met, and she said, “I love how they’ve modernized their sound, but their messages still hold true with the 1960s and 1970s vibe of raising issues in protest songs and hoping for peace and a better world. Bravo Cowsills!”

SC: Aw. We love you, Brianna!

GM: Paul, “Goodbye’s Not Forever” is such a soothing song. Tell us about the boys you are missing who inspired this song.

PC: They are two teenage boys who had childhood muscular dystrophy and I had been with them for about six years. I would get up in the morning, bathe them and do their teeth as a total caregiver. We had a ball. Then time came when I had to move on. The youngest, Drew, was on his way to high school. I went to school with these kids as well. I was sitting outside of Drew’s school looking out the window of a GMC Yukon. I was looking through these branches and I took out a pen and starting writing down all the thoughts that were coming to me. Then I went home and wondered if I could write music to those words before I call Bob. I was able to achieve something that I had tried for a long time.

BC: Paul came into the studio with this song he wrote, and we heard it and asked, “You wrote that? Where are the other thousand just like it?”

GM: It is a wonderful song and Ryan’s organ adds a nice touch.

BC: We were thinking “A Whiter Shade of Pale” Hammond B-3 organ approach for it. 

GM: Initially I hear “Midnight Train to Georgia” every time I listen to your song. We talked about a tribute to Renee, well the album ends with your tribute to your brother Barry, “Katrina.” The acoustic guitar reminds me of Chicago’s “Beginnings” and I don’t know if it is Brendon or not playing that part.

BC: That is actually my index finger across the guitar. I couldn’t use a pick. I was thinking that introduction sounded like “Pinball Wizard.”

GM: Well, what sounds like The Who to me is Russ’ drumming. He is telling a Keith Moon-like story.

BC: His drumming on “Katrina” is magnificent.

SC: Having gone through Hurricane Katrina physically was quite an experience to play that out on his drums.

PC: What is also interesting in letting Russ and Mary do their thing is we got this Cajun earthy sound guiding this music. We had Cowsills doing our Cowsill thing but then bringing in this Cajun Southern Louisiana rhythm section really helped make it authentic for the topic of the song.

BC: When Barry passed away in that hurricane, for a long time we wondered, “Who is going to write ‘Katrina?’” It came to me as a first-person account. He was born in 1954, not me, but I sing, “I was born in ’54 when a Category 4 called Carol came ashore, so I’d been there before through her stomach on the floor. I could hear that ocean roar.” Apparently, he died in a wave. We tell his story and in the end we send him to heaven vocally.

GM: Susan, you certainly paid tribute to both brothers Barry and Bill on your Lighthouse album, which was my favorite album of 2010 and Barry’s composition “River of Love” from that album was my favorite song of that year.

SC: Thank you very much.

BC: Losing Barry and Bill was a double hit.

GM:Katrina” ends the album so perfectly and purposefully that you can’t play another song after that. It gives me chills especially after my wife Donna and I and our community just went through Hurricane Ian here in Florida.

BC: You’ll hear Barry in the very end in the climb part struggling and the last words are “It’s over.”

GM: I like all eleven songs on the album and what an album cover. It reminds me of a 1960s spy television show.

BC: We could be The Three from U.N.C.L.E. Danny Clinch took that great photo and then the design was by The Visual Strategist.

GM: With The Happy Together Tour concluding and this album’s release now, will you be doing Cowsills shows to promote it?

SC: Oh, heck yeah!

BC: We stay very busy. We’ll be in Rhode Island on October 22 and from November 1 through December 9 we’ll be at the Andy Williams Moon River Theater in Branson, Missouri in a Christmas show with The Lettermen.

GM: That sounds wonderful. Do you still have relatives in Rhode Island?

BC: Yes. Lots of relatives and old classmates. It is like going home.

SC: We are going to see so many people who we haven’t seen in four years.

GM: I have also been enjoying your podcasts. Your time with Pat and Debby Boone was a lot of fun as was your episode with your brother John.

BC: We were shut down due to COVID, but we did two things. We tediously mixed the Rhythm of the World album over eight months with Frank Filipetti remotely and we started the podcast with executive producer Rock Positano. We learned all about podcasting and Zoom technology. It took us weeks until the three of us would appear in one square and now we have 62 episodes available online. It is a historic library of pop music discussions. Everyone has a great story to share.

PC: These mega stars are very comfortable with us. We get into some pretty cool stuff.

BC: Plus, we have a great team behind us. We are happy to be together, to be back and to be with you again.

PC: Thank you so much.

SC: You are a peach for always supporting anything we do, and you have been with us for so many years. We appreciate it a lot.

Brianna Kurtz and Susan Cowsill, June 2019, arriving in Jacksonville, Florida for The Happy Together Tour 2019

Brianna Kurtz and Susan Cowsill, June 2019, arriving in Jacksonville, Florida for The Happy Together Tour 2019

 

Related Links:

cowsill.com

omnivorerecordings.com

Goldmine Fabulous Flip Sides now in its eighth year

goldminemag.com/columns/fabulous-flip-sides