An instrumental contributor to the history of the synthesizer in dance music,
's influence carried far beyond his late-'70s prime. Artists, including the Pet Shop Boys and
, consider Cowley to be a major musical influence on their work. He explored uncharted territories of synthesizer sounds and instrument programming long before modern-day music conveniences. His work with the band
gained him fame and allowed Cowley to have his own glory as a producer, writer, and musician. His ongoing experimentation with electronic instruments resulted in some of the most recognized disco hits: "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" and "Megatron Man."
Born in Buffalo in 1950, Cowley spent most of his youth in northern New York and working in local rock bands. He studied at the University of Buffalo, with a concentration in English. In 1971, after a major relocation to San Francisco College, he began an intensive study of the synthesizer. Shortly after his studies began, Cowley's work was noticed by a local musician, Sylvester
, who asked Cowley to join his band in the studio. Cowley's synthesizer innovations resulted in the album Step II. The album made way for the global recognition of Sylvester
and gained Cowley a job as a backup tour musician with the artist and his band. Slowly, his work on the synthesizer became synonymous with Sylvester
's sound and was important in creating hits like "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)," "Dance (Disco Heat)," and "Can't Stop Dancing."
Though touring with a band kept him far from home, Cowley remained close to the roots of the San Francisco club scene. In 1981, Cowley found kinship with Marty Blecman
, a producer/keyboardist who had worked at Fantasy Records, a predominately jazz and rock label. The two formed their own label, Megatone Records, in the summer of 1981. His first solo hit was the single "Menegry" b/w "I Wanna Take You Home," which hit the disco charts in late October of the same year. In 1982, the first release on Megatone was the single "Megatron Man" and a full-length album of the same name.
Cowley found more success in the '80s with several chart-topping hits. At the time he released "Megatron Man," he also teamed up with San Francisco singer Paul Parker
. Both wrote and produced the dance-oriented single "Right on Target," which hit the disco charts at number one. He found even more chart-topping success teaming up with Sylvester
once again to produce the single "Do You Wanna Funk" for Megatone. In 1982, Cowley produced his final album, Mind Warp
, for Megatone. He died of AIDS on November 12, 1982.
He is recognized by many people as being an important pioneer in the use of the synthesizer in dance music. Blecman cites Cowley as patching his own programs by hand to create a certain sound that Cowley felt was necessary in order for a track to be complete. Initially founded as a partnership, Megatone Records was incorporated in 1983 and moved to Hollywood, CA, in 1994. Blecman headed the record label until his death on September 20, 1991. Blecman dedicated 1990's The Patrick Cowley Collection to his memory.