Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Great Bill Cowsill

This is where the pure gold is. If you like great vocals and great songwriting, especially if your preferences run along Gene Clark, Everlys or Hank III lines. In case you don't know about Bill let me try to hip you...

I was lucky enough to simply stumble upon Bill with Jeffrey Hatcher live with the Blue Shadows group at an outdoor event during some local or provincial holiday back around 1993. It was a hair-raising sound they were laying down, and unforgetable. When their first album was released shortly after I made sure to get the cassette shiny new at the same Sam the Record Man I bought my fave Velvet Underground, Los Lobos, Dwight Yoakam and Doug & The Slugs tapes at (that's what I was into those days). On The Floor Of Heaven... what a masterpiece then and now! I'd actually heard eastern Canadian Jeff Hatcher and The Big Beat before, they'd had a song Man Who Would Be King that was very rockabilly cool but not in any Stray Cats, Neil and The Shocking Pinks or Razorbacks show-offy way (supercool though all those cats were). In a way I'd heard Bill before as well, through an oft spun 45 single of Indian Lake.

There just is not one weak song among the twelve originals on that first album, On The Floor Of Heaven. It has to rank as one of the greatest debut recordings for a group bar none. It would be damning with faint praise to describe If I Were You, a Cowsill/Hatcher collaboration, Byrdsian, that's because had those five cut this wistful number back in the day not only could they have not done it any better, it might well be thought of now as their best song among many greats. No lie. Then you have Deliver Me (check the video at the bottom), written by Jeff but mainly sung as high and lonesome as it gets by Bill. He always seemed to wear a Star Trek badge but it failed to get him beamed up whatever night inspired this killer performance. A Thousand Times and When Will This Heartache End are sweetly pained songs even the Everlys would've loved to have recorded I think, and On The Floor Of Heaven or The Fool Is The Last One To Know could've kept even the Louvins together a bit longer. Seriously, you can't believe you're hearing another stone classic when you (lucky you) put this album on for the first time. I Believe would've a feather in Carl Perkins' cap, and closer Is Anybody Here the same in Roy Orbison's. But who needs any of those stars great as they are or were, because the Blue Shadows based out of Vancouver will never be topped for the definitive renditions. That's why it's such a shock, even after going down a storm at SxSW at the time how the darn album was not released in the U.S.! It makes me want to apologize for Shania Twain if her decent pop made masterpieces chock filled with adult human feeling plus musical chops and hooks galore unmarketable to the big wig Columbia fools of 1993-1994. I'm also sorry it has taken me this long to rave here about these musical treasures.

"To my mind, that is the finest piece of work I ever did. It is just so good. The writing is so good. The production is so good. It is a nice little piece de resistance." - Bill Cowsill (1948-2006)

Bill Cowsill, fired from his family pop band for smoking the devil weed... the best was yet to come. Prior to The Blue Shadows forming Bill was a member of another Canadian combo called Blue Northern. His fantastic Vagabond appeared as a B-side with them and they released one EP and an LP.The follow up to On The Floor Of Heaven, Lucky To Me, has some ace tracks as well, and there equally astonishing rarities and outtakes on second bonus disc that comes with the reissue of On The Floor Of Heaven...

1 comment:

Nicolle said...

Thanks for this, I thought I was the only one who knew and loved the Blue Shadows. My new years resolution has been to be more discriminating about the music I listen to. It is so easy to be complacent and not seek out the good stuff that doesn't have the expensive marketing.
I saw the Blue Shadows in 1994 in North Vancouver at a neighborhood pub and never forgot their amazing vocal harmonization. Just dug out my 'On the Floor of Heaven' CD and was playing it today.
Take care.