Susan Cowsill Was Moved by Karla Bonoff, Shaken by Katrina
Celebrating the the release of their new double album Drifted: In the Beginning and Beyond, Susan Cowsill and fellow members of the Continental Drifters will reunite to perform two shows next weekend at the Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Los Angeles.
It will be another unique chapter in Cowsill’s career – her first professional gig was with her brothers when she was six or seven years old, before her family’s band, the Cowsills, became an international sensation in the late ’60s. Susan Cowsill was a member of five other bands after the Cowsills, including the Continental Drifters. At age 56, she sees so much more music to come.
“The future’s so bright I need to wear shades,” exclaims Cowsill, who, as a member of The Cowsills, recently completed the Happy Together Tour 2015 with The Turtles, The Association, The Grass Roots, Mark Lindsay, and the Buckinghams.
Cowsill says she is excited about an eight-day Concerts at Sea rock and roll cruise next January that will feature The Cowsills, Paul Revere’s Raiders, The Association, Bill Medley of the Righteous Brothers, and Gary Lewis and The Playboys.
She is working with her husband and drummer Russ Broussard on a new album for Georgia-based Low Watt Records, a label she signed with in February.
“He and I are also putting together a songwriter/healing-through-music workshop,” she says. “Look for that next spring. And God only knows what is in store for us. Life is a great big present to be opened, and we are tearing that wrapping apart.”
There are also the upcoming reunion gigs with the Continental Drifters, which formed in late 1991 with Carlo Nuccio, Ray Ganucheau, ex-Dream Syndicate bassist Mark Walton, Gary Eaton, and Danny McGough. Cowsill, along with Vicki Peterson of the Bangles, Peter Holsapple of the dB’s, Broussard, and Robert Mache – Steve Wynn’s former guitarist – subsequently joined the group. The band performed, recorded, and played reunion gigs in various permutations until about six years ago. At the reunion this month to celebrate the new double album, all 10 members are playing together on stage for the first time.
Cowsill – who was born in Canton, Ohio, but now calls New Orleans home – has always had the deepest respect for other musicians and their songs. Her 2010 solo album, Lighthouse, covered Jimmy Webb’s “Galveston (For Texas),” and she earlier released two Live at Carrollton Station albums comprised of other artists’ songs.
Lighthouse is a powerful album that was released about five years after the deaths of Cowsill’s brothers, Billy and Barry. Barry’s body was found after Hurricane Katrina – which destroyed most of Susan’s and her family’s material possessions. Barry’s death was officially called a drowning, though his body was missing for months, and some question the cause of death. Billy died soon after from health problems.
Lighthouse looks back at those difficult experiences but also shines a beacon of hope for Cowsill and New Orleans.
“Lighthouse is important to me for many reasons,” Cowsill says. “It documents our journey through Katrina, and all that came with that ride. Being able to express that through my music was cathartic to say the least. But one of the best by-products, by far, is people telling me how my songs in Lighthouse helped carry them through some very difficult times. Every one of us share the same experiences – different cities, towns, and scenarios, but our life’s journeys have a commonality.”
Cowsill says the best concert she ever attended was Paul McCartney’s show last October at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. McCartney played 39 songs at the marathon show, kicking off the night with the Beatles’ “Eight Days a Week” and ending with a second encore of Beatles songs: “Yesterday,” “Helter Skelter,” “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry That Weight,” and “The End.”
“Paul gave everything he had that night,” Cowsill exclaims. “His vocals were spot-on. His band was just amazing, and the songs are the soundtrack to my life. That’s a great combination for a great night of music.”
Despite McCartney’s moving performance, Cowsill says the most influential concert she’s ever attended was a Karla Bonoff show at the Manship Theater in Baton Rouge on May 3, 2006.
“As a young 18-year-old girl singer living in Los Angeles in 1978,” she says, “I discovered Karla Bonoff. She wrote the most authentic lyrics and melodies that just resonated with me – stories from the heart. I wasn’t a songwriter at the time, but I was paying attention. When I did start to write my own songs, all those years of listening to her stuff clearly had a great influence on me and my music.
“Then, when I saw her in Baton Rouge, my first Karla Bonoff concert, I was re-inspired to keep trying to write from my heart to express my feelings – not for the business, but for me.”