Barry Cowsill

Singer/guitarist with the Cowsills


Barry Steven Cowsill, guitarist and singer: born Newport, Rhode Island 14 September 1954; married (one son, two daughters); died New Orleans c1 September 2005.

Barry Cowsill was a member of the Cowsills, an American family group whose ultra-sweet harmonies and bouncy rhythms were heard on such hit records as "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" and "Hair".

The family came from Newport, Rhode Island, and their musical adventure started in 1964 when their father, Bud, bought the two elder brothers Bill (born in 1948) and Bob (1949) acoustic guitars. They learnt to play them and added their younger brothers, Barry (1954) and John (1956), to form a band. Barry played bass and sang harmony and developed a very likeable and mischievous stage personality. When they played at a local hotel, they were spotted by a producer for the Today show and their subsequent appearance led to a contract with Johnny Nash's label Joda. In 1966 they had a minor success with "Most of All".

By then, the Cowsills band had become the family business, with Bud as manager and their mother, Barbara, becoming a member. They added Paul (born 1952) and Susan (1960) to the line-up and became known as "America's First Family of Music". Moving to MGM Records, they had a million-seller with "The Rain, the Park and Other Things" (1967), only being kept from the top by the Monkees' "Daydream Believer". The single later featured in the Jim Carrey film Dumb and Dumber (1994).

As the Cowsills loved harmony bands themselves, they paid tribute to the Fifth Dimension with "We Can Fly", which was a continuation of "Up, Up and Away", and to the Mamas and the Papas with "In Need of a Friend". They produced their own version of "Hair", which became another US No 2 in 1969, this time being kept off the top spot by the Fifth Dimension with a "Hair" medley of "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In".

The Cowsills appeared in numerous television variety shows and sang the theme song for the series Love American Style (1969). There were plans to centre a sitcom around the group, but the production company wanted to replace their mother with an established actress, Shirley Jones. The Cowsills lost interest and The Partridge Family was born. Many of the fictional Partridge Family's releases were written by Tony Romeo, who had written the Cowsills' hit "Indian Lake".

The Cowsills' biggest-selling albums were The Cowsills (1967), We Can Fly (1968), Captain Sad and His Ship of Fools (1968) and The Cowsills in Concert (1969). The group subsequently lost its audience by going psychedelic, with singles such as "The Prophecy of Daniel and John the Divine" and "Six Six Six".

In 1970 Mike Curb, the head of MGM records, stated that the label would get rid of any band which "exploited and promoted drug use". The Cowsills were dropped, presumably because they had had the audacity to record a song from a hippie musical, and the band broke up shortly afterwards.

Barry Cowsill settled in Monterey, California, with his wife and two children, although he was later divorced. In 1990 Bob, Paul, John and Susan revived the Cowsills as a touring act; but their mother had died in 1985 and Barry was reportedly plagued with drug abuse problems. He released a solo album, As Is, in 1998 and in 2004 he joined the family to perform "Hair" at a baseball stadium for the Boston Red Sox. That year he was found guilty of making crank calls to a former girlfriend.

Latterly, Cowsill lived in New Orleans and had been due to enter rehab the day after Hurricane Katrina struck at the end of August last year. His family last heard from him around this time and his body was recovered on 28 December.

Spencer Leigh

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