Rockers Hendrix and Joplin Honored with USPS Stamp

Published in Pawtucket Times, February 28, 2014

Miriam R. Plitt, like many of the baby boomer generation were  ecstatic with the announcing by the United States Postal Service (USPS) of its unveiling of a new line of commemorative stamps, including music culture icons. These stamps will be sold as forever stamps and are good for mailing first class letters at that price any time in the future even if stamps price increase, she says.

The long-time Oak Hill resident was elated that two of her 60s favorites, Jimi Hendrix, on of the most celebrated guitarists in the 20th century and legendary singer and songwriter Janis Joplin, who pushed their way into the public psyche at the Woodstock festival at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in the Catskills near the hamlet of White Lake in the town of Bethel, New York, made the cut.

“Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix reaches my soul, they speak to me,” notes Plitt, who chairs Pawtucket’s Advisory Commission on Arts and Culture, who grew up loving Rock and Roll when this musical style became entrenched in her generation. “Any time I hear these musicians, I just go into my own world and dance,” she says.

“Joplin and Hendrix are not artists that came onto the nation’s musical scene and left,” she observed, but they have had an impact on preceding generations even setting high standards for other musicians who came after them.

Now in her mid-sixties, Plitt notes that this is a terrific honor for her generation, having musicians that her contemporaries listened to growing up to be placed on a first class postage stamp.

Pushing the Musical Boundaries with His Guitar

According to Mark Saunders, USPS spokesman, this month, the Jimi Hendrix stamp will be released on March 13 at the South By Southwest Concert in Austin, Texas and available nationwide that day.  It’s a natural venue for Jimi Hendrix fans to purchase the stamp, he says.

            According to the USPS’s bio on Hendrix (19421970), the musician was considered to be one of the most influential electric guitarists in the history of popular music, this being a key factor for the honor of being selected by the USPS.

            Combining influences from rock, modern jazz, soul, and the blues with his own innovations, the legendary Hendrix created a unique style that influenced musical guitarist of his era and continues to inspire musicians well into the 21st century.

            As shown at Woodstock, Hendrix pushed the boundaries of what his guitar could do, manipulating various devices to produce sounds that could be loud—the quintessential psychedelic music—or melodic and gentle. A master at the controlled use of distortion and feedback, he expanded the instrument’s vocabulary in a way that had never been heard before—or since.

While Hendrix is remembered as one of the most innovative guitar players of all time, he was also a gifted songwriter, combining visionary, sometimes haunting imagery with deft pop hooks.

            Rolling Stone ranked Hendrix #1 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time, and #6 on its list of the 100 greatest artists of all time. His band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 and the U.K. Music Hall of Fame in 2005. The band’s first album, Are You Experienced, is considered by many critics to be one of the best rock albums of all time, and in 2005, the Library of Congress selected it for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry, a list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”

In 1993, Hendrix was awarded a posthumous Grammy for lifetime achievement.

Through Hendrix’s mastery of the guitar and use of controlled feedback as a melodic element, he revolutionized and redefined popular music. His music sounds as innovative and fresh today as when it was first released, winning legions of new fans who just might by commemorative stamps with his image.

Bluesy Voice Propelled Her to the Top

Joplin (1943-1970), an icon of the 1960s whose bluesy voice propelled her to the pinnacle of rock stardom, gets her image on a stamp, too. Her stamp will be issued later in 2014.

When announcing the issuance of the Joplin stamp, the USPS detailed her musical track record, too.  Joplin broke onto the national music scene with an explosive performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. Known for her rebellious public persona, Joplin roared and wailed her way through uninhibited, soulful performances.

Her time at the top, however, was very brief. She recorded only two hit albums and performed at the Woodstock concert, but in October 1970, just three years after she became a star, she died at the age of 27 of a drug overdose. The album she was recording at the time of her death, Pearl, went on to cement her reputation as one of the premier white blues singers of all time. “Me and Bobby McGee,” written by Kris Kristofferson, became a number one hit.

As the years passed, Joplin’s legacy was increasingly recognized by critics. She was inducted into the Cleveland, Ohio-based Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005. Rolling Stone included Joplin on its list of 100 Greatest Artists. Some of her most popular songs include “Piece of My Heart,” “Ball and Chain,” and “Cry Baby.”

Washington Posts Reporter Lisa Rein reported in a February 21 article that while stamp designs for both Hendrix and Joplin were scheduled for 2014, other pop and music icons were selected for 2015 and beyond. Specifically, Rein’s commemorative stamp listing also included Beatle John Lennon, NBA Basket Ball player Wilt Chamberlain, celebrity chiefs, recording artist and musician James Brown, late night talk show host, Johnny Carson.  She noted that the USPS even was considering the reissuing of Elvis Presley stamp.

However, USPS Spokesperson Saunders, stated that while Hendrix and Joplin are confirmed for release this year, the others cited by Rein are only being considered at this time, subject to change and most certainly not finalized.  “We may or may not move forward with these stamps,” he says.

            Yes, there is controversy even in the world of stamps.  When hearing that Beatle John Lennon might be honored by having his image on a stamp, collectors voiced their opposition and concerns.  Traditionally, only Americans subjects have been selected, they say.  But, Saunders explains that the USPS has the discretion to select subjects that have made a significant impact to American society and culture, citing examples of Mother Teresa and Winston Churchill. This opens the door to John Lennon’s consideration, he says.

            Bringing more relevant stamps reflecting popular pop culture icons to market is a way to attract younger buyers and increase USPS revenues, notes Saunders.  “With 300 million customers across the nation, our diverse stamp program has something to offer everybody,” he adds.

Saunders notes that “We receive over 40,000 suggestions of subjects on stamps each year.” Many people suggest the inclusion of Rock stars on stamps.  Most certainly, “Joplin and Hendrix will appeal to fans of Rock music from the 60s and 70s,” he says.

            Will Joplin and Hendrix’s commemorative stamps be a big hit with the American public?  It’s a mixed bag says, Ken Martin, Executive Director of the American Philatelic Society,” a nonprofit group representing 34,000 stamp collectors, educators and postal historians in 110 countries.  “Some collectors feel that people commemorated on stamps should be without flaws,” he says, noting that some might just not agree with Hendrix or Joplin’s music style or the way they lived.  However, others might just love them.

            But Martin concedes that “a little bit of controversy adds to promotion of the released stamp and may well increases sales.”  He recognizes that the USPS is broadening the scope of the diverse stamp program to reach out to a broader section of the population.

            Countering the concerns of collectors who may well frown upon the USPS issuing stamps of people with nontraditional or controversial lifestyles, like Hendrix and Joplin, Rick Bellaire, Vice Chair of the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame, has another take on it.

            Bellaire says that the sudden deaths of Hendrix and Joplin, especially coming as they did [from drug overdoses], one after the other in the Fall of 1970, “were a great blow to the music world.” These musicians were “such giants that there could never be anyone to replace them nor carry on their work,” he says, noting that their “highly original styles promoted deep Rhythm & Blues to the young, white masses in the guise of psychedelic Rock ’n’ Roll while always making sure the audience knew the source material.”

            “I am proud of the U.S. Postal Service for honoring these two masters, judging them not by their personal lives and lifestyles, but by their groundbreaking work as musicians and their generosity of spirit,” says Bellaire.

            For more information on submitting to the USPS your suggestion for a stamp design, go to http://about.usps.com/who-we-are/leadership/stamp-advisory-committee.htm.

The Cowsills to Play the City’s Slater Park Fall Fest

Published August 9, 2013, Pawtucket Times

Some may think that the American musical sensation, The Cowsills, coming to the City of Pawtucket to jam, is as likely as a lightening bolt striking the same person twice. For one of the most successful family musical acts of the 1960s, this pop and rock ‘n roll group who came from Newport, was recently honored at the RI Music Hall of Fame and they are coming back to Pawtucket.

It was obvious to Slater Park Fall Fest organizer, Patty Zacks, that this would be a perfect match for Slater Park. When she watched the Cowsills perform at their April 28th ceremony at The Met, as they were inducted by the Pawtucket-based Rhode Island Music hall of Fame (RIMHOF), that this was a group she needed to present to her Event Planning Committee as a consideration for the Slater Park Fall Festival. The four surviving members (Paul, Bob, John and Susan, including two of their children) brought the house down at the Met, bringing back memories to the aging baby boomers surrounding the stage who danced and swayed to the familiar music they listened to more than four decades ago.

With the decision to book them for the Slater Park Fall Festival, the Comfort Inn, Hope Global, Lens Hotdog Haven, TD Bank, Tunstall Health Care, Webster Bank, all came to the plate to cover the costs of booking America’s musical family.

On September 22, 2013, the Cowills will open for the Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance Pops in the Park concert, beginning their 80 minute set at 3:30 p.m, concluding at 5:00 p.m. (In case of rain look for their performance to take place same date and time at Tolman High School.)

During their opening act the Cowsills will play tribute to the decade of the 60s. While playing their own hit tunes, that will also play scores in tribute to their two deceased brothers Bill and Barry. Look for songs of the Partridge Family and other great songs musical hits from the 60s to be played.

Coming Home Last April

Looking back, Bob Cowsill says being inducted into the RIMHOF was just a blast. “It was such an uplifting, positive experience,” he said. “We had friends and relatives in the audience and it was very special for us to have them there,” especially seeing our fans.

As to the honor of receiving RIMHOF’s prestigious recognition, “When your home state comes calling and wants to recognize something that you accomplished in your life, well it does not get better than that”, notes Cowsill..

Cowsill actually had heard about the upcoming Pawtucket Arts Festival, noting that “we had great hope that we would return to perform. It is the same way a baseball team prefers to “play at home” that’s sort of what if felt like coming back to Pawtucket, a home where there would be many family members and friends scattered throughout the audience, he noted.

The Rhode Island Years

The Cowsills grew up just an hour’s drive from Pawtucket, on Aquidneck Island, where their names are still carved into a tree on the family homestead. The band was founded by four of the Cowsill brothers (Bill, Bob, Barry and John) in 1965. Within two years, it would encompass the entire family, with brother Paul, sister Susan, and their mother, Barbara (called “Mini-Mom” by her children) coming on board. Their father, Bud, became their manager. (Bob’s twin brother Richard is the only sibling who never joined the band.)

The Cowsills later became the creative inspiration behind the 1970’s television show, The Partridge Family, still in syndication today. In 1969, a twenty-something Michael Eisner, who would later become Disney’s CEO, came to visit the Cowsills’s at their home in Santa Monica, California. “He checked us out and quickly realized we were just musicians not actors,” Cowsill remembers. Wes Ferrell and Tony Romeo who wrote “Indian Lake” for the Cowsills would ultimately pen “I Think I Love You” for the Partridge Family theme song,

Even with the Cowsills not getting a central casting call to act in the upcoming television series, the Partridge Family, “the family angle just continued to evolve,” says Bob, stressing that it should not be considered “premeditated.” When it became difficult to interest musicians on Aquidneck Island to join the fledgling band, Cowsill notes that it became obvious that the younger siblings were the answer to filling the empty slots.

He notes that the group’s first big career break in 1964 came after playing in the basement disco of the MK Hotel, 38 Bellevue Ave., in Newport. From this performance came an invitation to play on the Today Show. Their 20 minute performance caught the attention of singer Johnny Cash and the group signed their first recording contract with his JODA Records label, releasing their first single, “All I Really Want To Be Is Me,” in 1965.

Taking on Simon and Garfunkel

Cowsill recalls how his group’s first single was pitted against “The Sound of Silence” on a WPRO radio contest. When the votes were tabulated, the Newport band “won by a landside,” with their family and friend’s overwhelming the switch board with their votes. Over forty five years later, he still laughs when remembering the Cowsills’ victory over America’s most recognizable musical duo, Simon and Garfunkel.

From the late ’60s into the early ’70s, the Cowsills appeared on many popular television shows, among them: The Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand, The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, the Mike Douglas Show, and the Johnny Cash Show. They even hosted their own NBC TV special called “A Family Thing.”

Cowsill remembers singing with Johnny Cash, especially the spiritual tunes sung by the great Country Western singer. He says that getting booked on The Ed Sullivan Show was like climbing to the proverbial mountain top. “It was live television back then. If you goofed up, you goofed up. There is a lot of pressure with the whole country watching you,” he says.

“Bewilderment,” says Cowsill, thinking about his two performances on The Ed Sullivan Show. The group had contracted to appear ten times which would have put them on Sunday’s most popular show more times than The Beatles. But a fiasco over a microphone that was accidentally turned off between Sullivan’s son-in-law and Bud Cowsill resulted in the cancellation of the remaining eight shows, he said. “Dad was just a hot head, he just crossed the line one too many times. In this situation it just cost us appearing on eight Ed Sullivan Shows.”

Before the young Cowsills had their first hit record, they were hired as one of the headliners, along with Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, The Byrds and The Beach Boys (all Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees) for Soundblast ’66 at Yankee Stadium in New York. “We were in pop wonderland. It was just unbelievable. Somehow, my father worked magic and got us to Yankee Stadium for this show. We were not famous at the time but apparently good enough to play for the crowd.”

“I still can’t believe we got this gig,” the aging Cowsill said. “I am 16 years old and playing in Yankee Stadium with these nationally recognized musical groups. At sound check, he and his brother Paul sat on a bench in the dugout just watching everything. “My jaw must have dragged on the floor,” he said. .

A Gold Record to Remember

In 1967, the Cowsills first MGM release, “The Rain, The Park & Other Things,” sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold record. This song would ultimately reach No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 in Cash Box and Record World.

One year later, the band scored another near million-selling hit with the song “Indian Lake,” reaching No. 10 on the charts and in 1968, the band hit No. 1 again with their version of “Hair,” a three-million seller which brought them a nomination for 16 Magazine’s Best Group of 1970. “Hair” was banned from Armed Forces radio in Viet Nam for being too controversial, noted Cowsill, stating that “we were amused at the time because our brother, Richard, who was in Vietnam reported back that they were playing it everywhere!”

The Cowsills would become spokespersons for the American Dairy Assn. (ADA) with their “Milk Song” appearing in commercials and their images in print ads promoting milk. The group would be referenced in trivia game questions and twice on David Letterman’s Top Ten List.

In 1969, The Cowsills became the first rock group to record a theme for a television show, “Love American Style.” Their melodic sound has also been featured in movies such as “The Impossible Years” and “Dumb and Dumber” and other TV shows including “The Wonder Years” and “The Simpsons.”

Recently, a feature-length film, “Family Band – The Story of The Cowsills,” which documents the rise and fall of the group was featured on cable TV in March, running for five months. The Showtime documentary took eight years to produce. “The strength of the move comes from the story line itself,” Cowsill said, stressing that it drove the hour and a half documentary. Many of the viewers saw their families in his family’s drama, he said.

Today, Cowsill and his siblings John, Susan and Paul, plus two of the band member’s sons, continue to play concerts across the country at casinos, fairs and music festivals, and this year on Sunday, September 22 at 3:30pm – they will perform for us at Slater Park. For more than 27 years, the sixty-three year old musician has been playing at Pickwick’s Pub in Woodland Hills, California, every Friday night, once again performing the songs of the Beatles and The Byrds. During the day, Bob Cowsill coordinates medical conferences across the country, providing medical coding services to emergency departments, and assists in developing and installing software for use in emergency rooms.

For more information about the Cowsills, to leave a message on the group’s guestbook, or to sign a petition to get them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, visit: http://www.cowsill.com.