From left, Susan, Paul and Bob Cowsill, at the Cutting Room on Nov. 17. (Photo: May Pang)
The Cowsills have become at least once-a-year regulars at the Cutting Room, yet they still find ways to keep their one-of-a-kind show fresh.
Sure Bob, Paul and Susan Cowsill always play the hits, recount the history behind them, and cut each other up lovingly while doing both. But in filling out a long set (“We only had four [Top 40] hits!”) with other songs they’re associated with (including their theme to Love American Style and “I Think I Love You,” the big hit from TV’s Partridge Family, which was based on The Cowsills) or also emblematic of the 1960s, they added in some great new covers.
So they followed opener “The Rain, The Park & Other Things”—their No. 2 hit from 1967--with among others, a new one for the Cutting Room, The Beatles’ “This Boy,” prefaced with a shout-out to May Pang, one of several celebs in the crowd. Bob then noted that before The Beatles had taught everyone how and what to play and wear, The Cowsills had been a folk music group, this revelation leading in to the traditional folk-blues song “Samson and Delilah”—recorded by Peter, Paul and Mary as “If I Had My Way.”
Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Puff, the Magic Dragon” followed, and “If I Had a Hammer”--this seamlessly and surprisingly segueing into Paul’s terrific lead on the Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll Be There.”
The youngest and only female of the six Cowsill performing siblings (brothers Bill and Barry are deceased, and John is drummer for the Beach Boys), Susan revealed that she was so young when she joined the group (at age eight in 1967) that “everybody sounded like us—and I thought we were the Mamas & the Papas!” Sure enough, the surviving Cowsills trio did a perfect version of the Mamas & the Papas hit “Monday, Monday.”
Looking ever the fetching flower child—if not “the flower girl” of “The Rain The Park & Other Things”—Susan was perfect, too, in her take on Lulu’s classic “To Sir With Love.” And she reveled in sticking it to her older brothers in the gentle sibling squabbling that makes Cowsills shows so much fun.
“It takes a lot to be a Cowsill,” she said at one point. “I’m just telling you: At some point you break!” Adding that she actually has a solo career, she said her brothers were “so old they sometimes let me sing one of my songs while they rest,” and with that Bob and Paul left the stage for Susan to sing her beautiful song “Real Life.”
They ended as usual with the last of those Top 40 hits, 1967’s “Hair,” then as usual stayed well over an hour signing everything the long line of fans shoved in front of them while posing for any number of selfies. Fifty years later, it was the ultimate feel-good night from the ultimate feel-good group.
And there’s even a feel-good postscript: The Cowsills will return for the fourth straight year of The Turtles’ annual Happy Together Tour, and are undertaking a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new album, with one of the rewards being a visit to Paul’s farm during “hay baling season.”
The Cowsills sing "Hair"