NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Friday, April 10, 2015, 2:00 AM
Bob Cowsill would be the first to admit that anyone seeing his 1960s teen-pop band, the Cowsills, in their prime would have howled over the clothes.
“The whole group would come on stage in bright orange Nehru jackets or matching purple tuxedoes,” Cowsill says. “What was anybody thinking? This is not what you want to look like at 17.”
Apparently the members of his family band had no choice in the matter. They were utterly controlled by their dad, William “Bud” Cowsill, who served as their manager.
They also had no choice about his decision that their mom would join the group that previously consisted of the family’s six kids. “When you’re 16 or 17, this is the worst news in the world,” says Cowsill, now 65. “It was very uncool to us, but the public loved it.”
Indeed, the novelty of a real family cast as a teen act helped the Cowsills earn several Top Ten hits in the late ’60s, including “The Rain, The Park and Other Things” and “Indian Lake.” For a minute, they had the One Direction effect.
It’s that legacy the surviving Cowsills will celebrate Saturday with a special, 50th anniversary show at the Cutting Room.
The rare situation of a group comprised of siblings (five boys and one girl) with their mom provided the inspiration for the high-cheese, ’70s comedy/music series “The Partridge Family,” starring Shirley Jones and David Cassidy.
Initially, the show’s creators tested the real life Cowsills to play the kids of Jones, whom they had already cast in the show.
Current incarnation: From left, Richard Cowsill, Susan Cowsill, Paul Cowsill and Bob Cowsill of the Cowsills.
“But we couldn’t act,” Cowsill says. “Also, my dad insisted they put my mom in the show, which was never going to happen.”
Such tensions and controversies came to define the Cowsills, lending a sad edge to their story. That was deepened by the early deaths of three of the siblings, as well as both parents.
The group started on a happier note. Their use of seven voices allowed them to braid thick harmonies on their catchy, but lightweight, songs. They played together from their early to mid-teens. That gave them the experience to imitate the lush vocals of the Beach Boys and the Byrds.
Still, the family image and those clothes kept them from being taken seriously. They were called a “bubble gum act,” the worst put-down of the era. “We stepped in right in the middle of acid rock and Vietnam,” Cowsill says.
The contrasting pluck of their songs struck a reactionary nerve, leading to their breakthrough No. 2 smash with “The Rain..,” the Top Ten “Indian Lake” and another No. 2 hit cover of the title song from the musical “Hair.”
Their success inspired Ed Sullivan to propose a run of 10 appearances on his show. But on the second stint, lead singer Bill’s mike wasn’t on and their dad chewed out the show’s producer (who also happened to be Sullivan’s son). Sullivan canceled the rest of the run.
Cowsill feels the group’s end came because of his intolerant dad. He even fired oldest son Bill from the band, banishing him from the family as well.
Things went downhill fast for nearly all concerned. The money they made in their fat years vanished in bad deals. Several members dealt with depression, including mother Barbara. A heavy smoker, she wound up dying of emphysema at 56. Father Bud died of leukemia at 66, in 2005, while three of the sons succumbed well before their time.
Bill died from the same disease that killed his mother at 58, Barry drowned in Hurricane Katrina at 50 and Richard died of lung cancer last year.
Despite all the tragedy, Cowsill insists that the joy of the music buoys those who remain. Since 1980, various group members have performed reunion shows. Now the act consists of Bob, Paul and sister Susan, who long ago hipped-up her image as part of the Continental Drifters.
They’re rounded out by four of the members’ children. “Even now,” Cowsill says, “we’re still a family band.”
Sat. 7 p.m.
The Cutting Room