Patrick Cowley was born in Buffalo, New York to Ellen and Kenneth Cowley. Cowley's family originated in the Horseheads and Corning areas of New York and lived in Rochester. During his teenage years, Cowley became a successful drummer with local amateur bands before attending Niagara University and later the University at Buffalo to study English. In 1971, at the age of 21, Cowley moved to San Francisco to attend the City College of San Francisco where he studied music, specifically the use of synthesizers.
Cowley met San Francisco-based musician Sylvester in the late 1970s. Sylvester had asked Cowley to join his studio band after hearing some of his early synthesizer recordings.
Cowley's own hits included "Menergy" in 1981, a frank celebration of the gay club scene, and "Megatron Man", which hit #1 and #2 respectively on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart in 1981. That same year, Patrick Cowley became the DJ at the "Menergy" parties at The EndUp in San Francisco. He also wrote and produced the dance single "Right on Target" for San Francisco artist Paul Parker, which also reached #1 on the Billboard dance chart in 1982. A collaboration with Sylvester, "Do Ya Wanna Funk", made #4 on the Billboard dance chart that same year. Cowley also did a 15'45" long remix of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love", which is now a collector's item. His final album, Mind Warp, was composed as he felt the increasing effects of HIV infection, and its songs reflect his increasing detachment from conventional reality as the disease progressed. Cowley only released three solo albums, but groups including the Pet Shop Boys and New Order cite Cowley's style as a major influence.
Cowley wrote and produced songs for several San Francisco musicians including friends Paul Parker and Frank Loverde. He was associated with many other musicians such as Kat Mandu, Maurice Tani and Linda Imperial.
Amid the concomitant emergence of nu-disco in the late 2000s and early 2010s, profiles of Cowley in Gawker and other high-profile outlets have contributed to a resurgence of interest in his oeuvre. 2009 saw the release of Catholic, a compilation of postpunk-flavored collaborations with writer/singer Jorge Socarras from 1976-1979. School Daze, a collection of electronic instrumentals (influenced by Giorgio Moroder, Isao Tomita, and Wendy Carlos) recorded between 1973 and 1981, was released by Dark Entries Records in 2013. The album contains several soundtrack cues from the eponymous gay porn film.
During a world tour with Sylvester in late 1981, Cowley complained of feeling increasingly unwell. Upon returning to the United States, he visited a doctor who diagnosed food poisoning. Weeks later, with his condition only worsening, doctors again failed to identify what was wrong with him. At this early stage in the history of the HIV and AIDS, misdiagnosis was common and so Cowley, who was gay, was discharged from the hospital (in 1982) after doctors could do nothing more for him.
After discharge, Cowley went on to complete two albums, his own Mind Warp and Sylvester's All I Need, which was later retitled Do Ya Wanna Funk after its chart-topping hit. Cowley died at his home, in San Francisco, on November 12, 1982. He was 32 years old, an early victim of AIDS (which was then still known as GRID). A couple of tracks were also completed for a planned Sarah Dash album that year, which was cut short by Cowley's death.
His was the first AIDS funeral I attended. At MCC in the Castro. Sylvester got up to sing but started sobbing instead. --Mark AbramsonFurther Readings:
The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the Seventies in San Francisco by Joshua Gamson
Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (January 24, 2006)
Amazon: The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the Seventies in San Francisco
Amazon Kindle: The Fabulous Sylvester: The Legend, the Music, the Seventies in San Francisco
A journey back through the music, madness, and unparalleled freedom of an era of change-the '70s-as told through the life of ultra-fabulous superstar Sylvester
Imagine a pied piper singing in a dazzling falsetto, wearing glittering sequins, and leading the young people of the nation to San Francisco and on to liberation where nothing was straight-laced or old-fashioned. And everyone, finally, was welcome-to come as themselves. This is not a fairy tale. This was real, mighty real, and disco sensation Sylvester was the piper. Joshua Gamson-a Yale-trained pop culture expert-uses him, a boy who would be fabulous, to lead us through the story of the '70s when a new era of change liberated us from conformity and boredom. Gamson captures the exuberant life, feeling, energy, and fun of a generation's wonderful, magical waking up-from the parties to the dancing and music.
The story begins with a little black boy who started with nothing but a really big voice. We follow him from the Gospel chorus to the glory days in the Castro where a generation shook off its shame as Sylvester sang and began his rise as part of a now-notorious theatrical troup called the Cockettes. Celebrity, sociology, and music history mingle and merge around this endlessly entertaining story of a singer who embodied the freedom, spirit, and flamboyance of a golden moment in American culture.
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