Susan Cowsill is usually associated with two cities: Newport, Rhode Island, the original home of her singing family, and New Orleans, her home for the past two decades. But some of the time between was spent in Los Angeles, where she moved with the rest of the Cowsills in the late ’60s. She was there as a young teenager when the fabled Laurel Canyon singer-songwriter scene was heating up, and it’s informed her own music ever since.
She’ll return to that era in a new series, “Echoes of Laurel Canyon,” that launches at the International House Hotel on November 30 and will continue on the last Thursday of every month. Cowsill is no stranger to doing other peoples’ material: She’s performed dozens of classic albums straight through, often with magical results, in her “Covered in Vinyl” series (currently on hiatus). These shows, however, will be unplugged and up-close, saluting a particular songwriter with a guest artist each month. The guests get to choose their favorite Canyon-related artist, then she and the guest pick favorite songs and share vocals. Alex McMurray opens the series doing Neil Young; set for coming months are Alexis Marceaux doing Carole King in December and John Boutté doing James Taylor in January.
As a child of the ’60s, she grew up with the usual reference points and pre-teen crushes. “I grew up being a Cowsill and a Monkees fan—I was of course going to marry Davy and that was that. So that was my adolescence, but my teenage time was spent in the Canyon. I got to be a fly on the wall while it was going on—I knew the artists, the drug dealers, you name it.” By 1975 she lived on Wonderland in the Canyon, and even had the honor of nearly being arrested. “There was a photo booth that was robbed at gunpoint, and I got mistaken for one of the suspects. There were five cop cars in Laurel Canyon, and as they’re writing me up I see Marlon Brando walk by. So I came out with a lot of tales to tell.”
Her enduring love for that era’s music should be no surprise to anyone who’s followed her solo albums or the Covered in Vinyl series. “It really seemed that these girls and guys were telling our whole life story—that introspective outfit expressing all of our happy-sad, mad-glad angst. Just give me Sweet Baby James and I’m off and running.”
Cowsill expects to be plenty busy in the coming year: She and husband/musical partner Russ Broussard are now laying down tracks for her long-overdue third solo album. The Cowsills have also signed on to do the Happy Together tour for the fourth time next year.