It’s like we’ve become a small town now, with a lot of people in it,” says Susan Cowsill. Like many who were forced from their homes when Hurricane Katrina redecorated New Orleans, Cowsill found on her return that the landscape wasn’t the only thing that had changed. “If you manage to find a place, the rents are very, very, very high, but if you’re coming home, you just kind of suck it up.”
New Orleans has been home to Cowsill since ’93, when the Continental Drifters relocated from L.A. to set up shop in town. She and drummer husband Russ Broussard left the band in ’02. Cowsill released her first solo record Just Believe It in September of last year.
She’s been in the music business since childhood. Her family’s band, The Cowsills, were ’60s pop icons and the model for the Partridge Family, with hits including “The Rain, the Park and Other Things,” “Hair”and “We Can Fly.” In the ’80s she worked with Dwight Twilley and Giant Sand before joining her then-husband Peter Holsapple and ex-Bangle Vicky Peterson in the Drifters in the ’90s.
Cowsill’s solo sound is an extension of the rootsy sound of the Drifters, but with a bit more history and life experience to broaden it. “I come from so much more diverse musical background than that, and I love me some ’60s pop vocals,” Cowsill says. But she admits her solo music is a direct derivative of her Drifters roots. “I never even played a guitar or wrote a song before the Continental Drifters, so my education comes from that school. Anything I do is directly associated with that.”
But that doesn’t mean her music is easily pigeonholed, and Cowsill is over being concerned with labels. But some do wonder why it took so long for her to showcase the original material on Just Believe It. “What took me so long is that everything happens in the time it’s supposed to happen. But then there came a time in my career and my life where it was time to sit down and follow my own path, and see where I had come from and what I did while I was there and where I was now.”
Where she’s at now is in her new home in the garden district of New Orleans. “We call it one of the good things from Katrina.” The only downside is the rent increase, which went from $450 for her former residence to $1,500 for this one. “I just decided that we’re just gonna make that much more money this year. Gonna get a big hit record, and it’s all gonna be OK.”
Cowsill says the outside world’s perspective on what is going on in her adopted city is based on rumors. “There’s more places open,” she says, listing Howling Wolf, Jimmy’s, the Circle Bar and Carrlollton Station and the River Shack. “We’re actually doing really well. I think you have to come down here to get a proper perspective on it.”
She’s even come to terms with the death of her brother Barry, whose body was discovered under a New Orleans wharf in December, a victim of Katrina’s flooding. “There’s all kinds of tragic and sad elements of it. And then there’s the element that his other new life is beginning, and his journey has just taken a left. And I hope he sends postcards,” she says with a hoarse chuckle.
Barry’s passing has even managed to do what Dick Clark was unable to do–get The Cowsills together again. “The next big event for The Cowsills musically is going to be his wake in Rhode Island,” she laughs. “And we are going to have a great giant party and celebrate Barry’s life, doing it really the only way we know how–with our instruments and our voices.” x
Susan Cowsill plays The Pour House in Raleigh Saturday, Feb. 11 at a special early show at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10.