Their story began when the two oldest Cowsill brothers, Bill and Bob were given guitars by their father, William "Bud" Cowsill. By the time the early 1960s rolled around, they had recruited younger brothers Barry and John to play bass and drums, respectively, and as Beatlemania dawned, the four began performing live at school dances and church socials throughout their native Newport, RI. Soon the Cowsills landed a regular weekend gig at a local club called Bannisters Wharf, and in 1965, recorded the single "All I Really Wanta Be Is Me" for the Joda label. The record generated little response however and after an appearance on NBC's The Today Show, the group signed with Mercury Records and turned out three more singles. "Most of All", "Party Girl" and "A Most Peculiar Man". All of them flopped.
Their producer at Mercury, Artie Kornfeld remained confident of the Cowsills' commercial appeal and independent of the label, set up yet another recording date. This time however, he convinced their mother Barbara to contribute vocals to the session, and had the group record a song that he co-wrote called "The Rain, the Park and Other Things." Kornfeld took the tapes to MGM, which issued the song as a single in the fall of 1967. The song took the U.S.A. by storm and eventually rose to number two nationally, selling over a million copies.
In early 1968, sister Susan and brother Paul were added to the line-up and an entire album was quickly put together. Two more singles were issued, "We Can Fly" and "In Need of a Friend", but neither could match their earlier success. By the late fall of that year, it seemed like the Cowsills were destined to be a "one hit wonder", but a bouncy bubble-gum type song called "Indian Lake" saved them from that fate when it reached the U.S. Top Ten. Another dry spell set in for the group, as songs like "Poor Baby", "Path of Love" and "The Candy Kid" went virtually ignored.
It was during 1969 that the rock musical "Hair" became a major hit and the Cowsills had the good fortune of releasing a clean, crisp, commercial version of the title song. Despite going up against the heaviest rock bands of the day, the Cowsills scored another number two hit in the U.S.A.
It was around that same time that Columbia Pictures' television division sent a group of screenwriters to observe the Cowsills' daily lives for a possible series based on their story. Although the Cowsills may have been briefly considered to play themselves, the producers decided to fictionalize the band as "The Partridge Family."
By the time The Partridge Family hit the airwaves in 1970, the Cowsills' career was on the decline and in the wake of the 1971 LP "On My Side", the group disbanded. Later that year, Bill Cowsill (who was briefly considered to replace Brian Wilson in the Beach Boys' touring line-up) issued a solo LP, "Nervous Breakthrough", which met with little success. In the late 1970s, Bob, John, Susan and Paul recorded some new, original material with producer Chuck Plotkin, but due to lack of financing, the sessions went unreleased. The rest of the siblings were musically inactive.
On January 31st, 1985, the Cowsills mother, Barbara, died of emphysema at the age of 56, in Tempe, Arizona.
As the 1990s dawned, Barry mounted a solo career, Bill founded a country group called the Blue Shadows, and Susan joined the Continental Drifters, an all-star New Orleans-via-Los Angeles combo also featuring her husband along with onetime Bangle, Vicki Peterson.
In 1994, "the core four" - Bob, John, Susan and Paul, contributed a newly-recorded Cowsills track, "Is It Any Wonder", to the "Yellow Pills - Volume One" pop compilation and a new studio album, "Global", followed in 1998. They later hit the oldies circuit and started playing small clubs and showcases in the Los Angeles area and across the country. In 2000, John became a member of The Beach Boys touring group, playing keyboards and singing lead vocal on "Help Me Rhonda", "Wouldn't It Be Nice", "I Can Hear Music", "Wild Honey", and "Darlin'". In 2008 he switched to drums and was on hand for the band's 50th Anniversary Tour in 2011. As of 2015, he was still touring with The Beach Boys.
On January 6th 2006, a press release announced that the body of Barry Cowsill was discovered on December 28th on a wharf in New Orleans. Local authorities believe that the 51 year old Barry died in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which hit the city on August 29th, 2005. He had reportedly left phone messages for his sister Susan on September 1st, and was not heard from again. Susan and her family lost their home and most of their belongings, but they were all safe during the hurricane and it's aftermath and returned to live in New Orleans in January 2006. More bad news came on February 17th, 2006, just after a memorial service for Barry, when the family learned of the death of their 58 year old brother, Bill. He had been battling emphysema, osteoporosis and other ailments.
Bob, Paul and Susan continued to perform several shows per month as The Cowsills while still maintaining their separate careers. In 2007 they toured as part of a package called The Original Idols Live!, hosted by Barry Williams, who played Greg Brady on The Brady Bunch. For 2012, their website listed shows scheduled in California.
For more, be sure to read Gary James' Interview With Bob Cowsill