Bill Cowsill (RIP 2006)

Band members                             Related acts

- Bill Cowsill (RIP 2006) -- vocals, rhythm guitar, bass


   backing musicians:

- Graig Benson -- drums
- Patsy Clinger -- drums
- Doug Hastings -- rhythm guitar
- Grant Johnson -- piano, organ 
- Sneeky Pete Kleinow -- pedal steel guitar

- Stephen Lalor -- rhythm guitar
- Judi Pulver - background vocals 
- Bob (Waddy) Wachtel -- lead Guitar


- Blue Northern

- The Blue Shadows

- The Co-Dependents

- The Cowsills





Genre: pop

Rating: 3 stars ***

Title:  Nervous Breakthrough

Company:  MGM

Catalog: SE 4706

Country/State: Rhode Island

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: gatefold sleeve; cut top right corner

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 266

Price: $40.00


Best time to play:  Slow day at the office ...


I'm not a particularly sentimental guy (my wife will tell you I have the sensitivity of a brick), but there's something extremely sad about Bill Cowsills' story.  Arguably one of the most talented of the Cowsill family, he was also the first to leave the band (kicked out in 1969 after father Bud Cowsill discovered him smoking weed).  In spite of the acrimonious family split, MGM Records decided to stick with Bill, signing him to a solo career that saw the release of 1971's "Nervous Breakthrough" (just as the label was dropping the rest of the Cowsill clan from their recording contract).  Ah, the irony of it all ...


inner sleeve photo


Produced by Bill, the album featured a mixture of originals and cover tunes (though at least a couple of the tracks including 'II x II' and 'Nobody' were apparently penned by Bill under various alias.  Bill's affection for a good pop song was apparently throughout the collection (check out the sunshine harmonies on 'When Everybody's Here', but tracks like 'Take The Gun' made it obvious he was more than happy to break free from the top-40 constraints imposed by the Cowsill famly's poppy, all-American image.  I'm not embarrassed to admit I enjoy quite a bit of The Cowsills catalog and Bill's debut was every bit as good as many of those earlier efforts.  In fact, freed from the bubblegum pop shackles that surrounded The Cowsills, this set's occasional stabs at more experimental material ('Wish I Could Say The Same About You') made for an overlooked treat.  The collection was also interesting for showcasing what a nice voice Bill had.  While in The Cowsills Bill was just one of many talented performers; frequently relegated to the background behind sister Susan.  He was particularly appealing on country-rockers like 'Ride (Southbound Wind)'.  And now for the bad news - side two was largely a waste of time with most of the grooves devoted to a series of three needless pop and R&B covers.  Shame that Bill didn't round the album out with more original material.  Sadly, neither single, nor parent album did anything commercially.


"Nervous Breakthrough" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) When Everybody's Here   (Bill Cowsill) - 2:52   rating: *** stars

If  you were expecting to hear Cowsills'-styled pop, then the lead off track 'When Everybody's Here', might not have been a total surprise.  Imagine a Cowsills-styled pop song cross-pollinated with a country-rocker (echoes of Rick Nelson) and you'd have a feel for this song.  I've always wondered if there was more than a touch of irony in the lyrics.   Nice harmony vocals and a sunny melody made it easy to see why MGM tapped it as a single, though I've only seen promotional copies:





1971's 'When Everybody's Here' b/w 'Wish I Could Say The Same About You' (MGM catalog number K-14166) 





2.) Take The Gun   (Stephan Lalor) - 3:12   rating: **** stars

The kind of song The Cowsills would never have recorded, 'Take The Gun' was a killer slice of pop-rock.  With a propulsive melody and some tasty Waddy Wachtel lead guitar (how many of you knew that Wachtel supported The Cowsills ?),  this was the track that should have been tapped as the single.   

3.) Wish I Could Say The Same About You   (Bill Cowsill -  D. Clinger) - 3:11  rating: **** stars

With a slightly lysergic country-tinge, 'Wish I Could Say The Same About You' was actually one of my favorite performances.  Slinky and commercial at the same time, Cowsill seldom sounded as cool as on this track.  Another track that seems to have a bit of irony embedded in the lyric - wonder if any of it was aimed at father Bud Cowsill ?  

4.) Nobody   (D. Cooper - E. Shelby - B. Beatty) - 2:57  rating: **** stars

A stark, highly personal, and beautiful acoustic ballad, had anyone been listening, 'Nobody' should have given James Taylor and other early-'70s singer/songwriters a run for their money.  One of the album highlights, especially when the multi-tracked vocal kicked in.    

5.) Ride (Southbound Wind)   (Stephan Lalor - K. Magness) - 3:35   rating: **** stars

My choice for standout performance, 'Ride (Southbound Wind)' was the kind of country-rock that put the emphasis on rock.  Imagine Badfinger recording a track with Poco and you'd have a feel for this one.   The track also showcased Bill's talents as a bass player. 


(side 2)

1.)  I Only Want To Be With You   (Mike Hawke - Ivor Raymonds) - 1:43   rating: ** stars

The album's first disappointment, the pop-heavy cover of  'I Only Want To Be With You' simply couldn't come close to Dusty Springfield's classic version.  Nice Wachtel solo though ...

2.) The End Of The World   (A. Kent - S. Dee) - 2:58   rating: ** stars

Another disappointment, Bill's cover of the pop chestnut 'The End Of The World' was simply too sappy to score.  Once, again, the song highlight came in the form of Wahctel's slide guitar.   

3.) The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)   (R. Clark) - 2:05   rating: ** stars

And strike three - deciding to cover the Betty Everett hit 'The Shoop Shoop Song' was essentially suicidal.  Bill's cover added absolutely nothing to the original.    

4.) II x II   (David W. Ray) - 5:30    rating: *** stars
Credited to David W Ray, ' II x II' was actually a Bill original.  Reportedly in dire need of cash, Bill had previously sold rights to the song to his father who promptly had The Cowsills record the song for their 1970 album "II x II".  Bob Cowsill had uploaded some comments on various albums and songs - hopefully he won't mind me borrowing the comments pertaining to this song: "II X II, which is credited to the songwriter David Ray was actually written by Bill. He needed money at the time, we needed a song, so apparently my Dad bought this from Bill, publishing and all. Bill's version slowed the song down, stripping off some of the pop ornamentation that The Cowsills added to their cover.  Nice way to end the song.



Bill's health had been poor for several years.  Only 58 and suffering from emphysema and other medical problems, he passed on in February 2006.  Ironically he died the same day the rest of the family was attending a memorial service for brother Barry (who died in the Katrina flood of New Orleans).