At a Susan Cowsill show, expect to hear category-defying original songs and Cowsills classics.
A member of the sparkling 1960s pop-vocal band the Cowsills, she's also a solo singer-songwriter. In addition, Cowsill applies her beautifully true voice to revelatory interpretations of other artists’ songs, especially during her “Covered in Vinyl” classic album performances.
Based in New Orleans since 1993, Cowsill will play the Red Dragon Listening Room at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23. It’s her first Baton Rouge show since a 2019 appearance that wowed concertgoers at the Dyson House.
Cowsill joined her harmonizing older brothers and mother in the Cowsills when she was 8. In the late ’60s, the group released Top 10 hits “The Rain, the Park & Other Things,” “Indian Lake” and “Hair.” She’s spent most of her working life in music, including a 1994-2001 run with indie supergroup the Continental Drifters.
Cowsill now performs with her husband of 18 years, drummer Russ Broussard; bassist René Coman (The Iguanas); keyboardist Mike Lemmler (George Porter Jr.); and guitarist John Fohl (Dr. John, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown).
“I’m a lucky girl here in New Orleans, because there are so many amazing musicians,” she said.
Last week, Cowsill and Broussard were still clearing post-Hurricane Ida debris from their home.
“We haven’t been doing anything but this,” she said. “As far as the Red Dragon show goes, it’s like, ‘Whoa, the show, that’s right. We should get that together!’ But music will serve itself up naturally.”
In 2005, Cowsill and Broussard lost nearly everything in the catastrophic flood that followed Hurricane Katrina. Next to that, Ida wasn’t so bad.
“Ida was a hurricane that came and went,” she said. “Not a levee break. Storms we can somehow get through. They fortified the levees and they worked.”
Cowsill was out of town with the “Happy Together” tour when Ida ripped through New Orleans. Broussard was traveling, too, with singer-keyboardist John “Papa” Gros. Despite the summer’s COVID-19 rise, the annual “Happy Together” tour salvaged the final month of its intended three-month trek. But because of the pandemic, there were no fan meet-and-greets or friends and family backstage. In that regard, Cowsill felt justified in putting her mom hat on.
“I’m sorry about that, but this year their lives and my life were more important than our social activities,” she said.
The 2021 “Happy Together” lineup also featured the Turtles, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, the Association, the Classics IV, the Buckinghams and the Vogues.
“ ‘Happy Together’ is one of the most joyous occasions I experience,” Cowsill said. “It’s as simple as we all heard that same song at the same time and it made us feel good. And every place was packed. People were in tears, because we were out and alive.”
The Cowsills in 2021 feature Cowsill and her brothers Bob and Paul; Broussard; Bob Cowsill’s keyboardist son, Ryan; Paul Cowsill’s guitarist son, Brendon; and bassist Mary Lasseigne.
“We knock them on their socks,” Cowsill said. “That’s what we do every time, because we’re the opener. It’s an important role for us and we take it seriously.”
Cowsill anticipates a 2022 release for the new Cowsills album. “The Rhythm of the World” contains newly composed and recorded songs, a cappella renditions of the band’s classics and surprises. It’s a dream come true for Cowsills fan Steve Nails, co-owner of Acadiana’s Dockside Studio, the idyllic Vermilion Bayou locale where the Cowsills recorded the project.
“The Cowsills are like the Beach Boys,” Nails told Goldmine magazine in 2018. “No matter what they sing, it sounds like 1969.”
“The Rhythm of the World” marked the first time Susan, John and Paul Cowsill wrote songs together. Compositions came together in as little as 11 minutes. And after performing together for more than 50 years, singing and harmonizing comes naturally for the Cowsills, too.
“It’s one of the first things I did,” Cowsill said. “So, it’s childhood, it’s play — almost.”
There’s also a third Susan Cowsill solo album in progress. Though she's compelled to write original songs, she especially loves interpreting the work of others.
“I do love to sing other people’s songs — and please don’t tell anybody — almost more than my own."
Susan Cowsill/Jolene Dixon
7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 23
Red Dragon Listening Room, 2401 Florida St.