"More cowbell" is an American pop culture catchphrase originally derived from an April 8, 2000 Saturday Night Live comedy sketch which fictionalized the recording of the song "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Öyster Cult. The sketch featured guest host Christopher Walken as music producer "The Bruce Dickinson" (as opposed to Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson) and regular cast member Will Ferrell, who wrote the sketch, as fictional cowbell player Gene Frenkle. The sketch is often considered one of the greatest SNL sketches ever made, and in many "best of" lists regarding SNL sketches, it is often placed at number one.
The sketch is presented as an episode of VH1's Behind the Music documenting the band Blue Öyster Cult. It begins with what is said to be film from the 1976 recording session that produced the band's biggest hit, "(Don't Fear) The Reaper". The producer (played by Christopher Walken) introduces himself as "The Bruce Dickinson" and tells the band they have "what appears to be a dynamite sound."
The first take of the session begins soon after. The recording seems to be going well but the band stops playing after a few moments because the cowbell part is rather loud and distracting. Dickinson, to the surprise of most of the band, asks for "a little more cowbell" and suggests that the cowbell player, Gene Frenkle (Will Ferrell), "really explore the studio space this time."
Frenkle's exuberance in following this advice causes him to bump into his bandmates as he dances around the cramped studio, thrusting his pelvis wildly in all directions, and the band aborts another take. Dickinson enters the studio exasperated at wasting "two good tracks" and says that the second one "was even better than the first." Frenkle sheepishly agrees to tone down his performance in the spirit of cooperation. Dickinson warns Frenkle not to tone it down too much, as they're "gonna want the cowbell on this track." However, Frenkle passive-aggressively plays the cowbell very close to Eric Bloom (Chris Parnell)'s ear and fails to keep time with the rest of the band. Frenkle suddenly knocks over Bloom's microphone stand, ending the take prematurely. The rest of the band expresses frustration with Frenkle but Dickinson remains focused only on getting more cowbell onto the track.
Frenkle then makes an impromptu speech to the rest of the band. He declares that Dickinson's stature lends a great deal of weight to his opinion about the cowbell part and that the last time Frenkle checked, they didn't have "a whole lot of songs that feature the cowbell" and therefore he would be "doing himself a disservice, and every member of the band" if he "didn't perform the hell out of this." At the climax of the sketch, Dickinson exclaims: "Guess what? I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!" The band agrees to let Frenkle play the cowbell part his way, with Dickinson claiming they will be "wearing gold-plated diapers" when they are done with this take. When asked what he means by that, Bruce sternly comments "Never question Bruce Dickinson!" As the band begins another take, the sketch ends with a freeze frame on Frenkle with the superimposed message: "In Memoriam: Gene Frenkle: 1950–2000."
The actors who appeared in the sketch had trouble keeping straight faces. They found Ferrell's acting, along with Walken's performance, so funny that they were all on the verge of breaking up laughing and ruining the sketch several times. On "Take Two," Walken can be seen through the booth glass, laughing, as Ferrell's shirt comes up, while he is dancing and playing the cowbell.
Comedy versus reality
The song "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Öyster Cult indeed features a cowbell, but it is overshadowed by the main instruments playing throughout the song. According to Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, the lead singer for the song, the sketch accurately portrays the look of the band during the 1970s, but inaccurately portrays some of the details of the actual recording:
- The sketch has the recording session taking place at "Sunshine Studios" in late 1976. In reality, the song was recorded at the Record Plant in New York City, in late 1975 or early 1976. (The album the song first appeared on, Agents of Fortune, was released in May 1976.)
- Parnell plays the group's lead singer, "Eric." While Eric Bloom was a member of the band, Roeser performed lead vocals for "(Don't Fear) The Reaper."
- Gene Frenkle is a fictional character invented for the sketch, although his appearance was modeled on Eric Bloom's appearance at the time. Despite the fact that Frenkle is fictional, fans occasionally expressed their sympathies to Blue Öyster Cult over his death.
- Christopher Walken portrays producer Bruce Dickinson (not to be confused with the Iron Maiden vocalist of the same name). Although Dickinson has produced many songs and albums for many different artists, he was not the actual producer of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." The song was produced by David Lucas, Sandy Pearlman, and Murray Krugman. Bruce Dickinson was a mid-level manager at Columbia Records whose name appears on Blue Öyster Cult reissue CDs and a greatest hits compilation as the "reissue producer." Lucas has claimed credit for being the one who suggested the addition of a cowbell to the track.
- Daniel Levitin notes that Walken's walk, appearance, and diction appear to be an impersonation of one of the song's actual producers, Sandy Pearlman.
- There are conflicting claims as to who actually played the cowbell in the original recording.
- Producer David Lucas, on his website and in interviews when he was inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, says that he was the one who played the cowbell.
- Eric Bloom has said that he played it, but that the original idea came from David Lucas.
- According to former band bassist Joe Bouchard, the cowbell part was overdubbed by his brother Albert after the rest of the song had been recorded.
- Albert Bouchard was the drummer, not Bobby Rondinelli, who did not join the band until the late 1990s.
Reappearance on Saturday Night Live
On May 14, 2005, on an episode that Will Ferrell hosted, the Gene Frenkle character made a reappearance on the set of Saturday Night Live as musical guest Queens of the Stone Age played their first song of the night, "Little Sister" – which features a jam block, an instrument similar to a cowbell. In his Gene Frenkle costume, Ferrell played the song's jam block part using a large cowbell along with the band, drawing much applause.
At the end of the May 16, 2009 Will Ferrell/Green Day episode, Green Day performed "East Jesus Nowhere" with Ferrell on the cowbell. Ferrell's appearance was unrehearsed and it was unknown to Green Day that Ferrell would appear. Additionally, Ferrell was unfamiliar with the song and not aware of the sound-break near its end. As the sound-break continued, Ferrell elaborately played single "final" cowbell beats, expecting the lights to fade, then began to leave the stage. Lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong called him back, saying, "Wait, god damn it!" and began his vocal. Ferrell came to the microphone and asked, "Wait, is this song still going on?" and Armstrong answered, "Yes," laughing.
- Jimmy Fallon as Albert Bouchard on drums.
- Will Ferrell as Gene Frenkle on cowbell.
- Chris Kattan as Buck Dharma on guitar.
- Chris Parnell as Eric Bloom on lead vocals and guitar.
- Horatio Sanz as Joe Bouchard on bass guitar.
- Christopher Walken as music producer "The Bruce Dickinson".
Comments by individuals associated with the sketch
Christopher Walken 2007: "I was eating in a restaurant in Singapore, and an Asian couple was at the next table, and the guy turned to me and he said, 'Chris, you know what this salad needs?' I said, 'What?' He said, 'More cowbell.' Recently a guy asked me if I would say 'More cowbell' on his answering machine. And I did."
Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, Blue Öyster Cult co-founder, lead guitarist and songwriter of "Don't Fear The Reaper," 2005: "We didn't know it was coming. We all thought it was phenomenal. We're huge Christopher Walken fans. I've probably seen it 20 times and I'm still not tired of it." as well as “We never really thought much about the cowbell, until then. Now, we have to make sure we have the cowbell!”
Eric Bloom, Blue Öyster Cult lead singer 2001: "I even have it on tape, and it still pretty much blows me away. Buck (Dharma) has it on MP3 and we listened to it in his car one day. It's almost as funny to listen to it as watching it."
Bruce Dickinson, reissue producer: “I usually, when I get that question, I say yes, they’re referring to me, but I’m not the guy who really produced the record. And of course that confuses them a little more.”
- Farhi, Paul (January 29, 2005). "Blue Öyster Cult, Playing Along With 'More Cowbell'". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-01-03.
- Sauro, Tony (September 17, 2009). "Blue Oyster Cult's innovative use of a cowbell will never be forgotten". The Record (Stockton).
- "Blue Öyster Cult, 'Don't Fear the Reaper'". 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (Rolling Stone). Archived from the original on 2013-05-02. Retrieved 2013-05-02.
- Arena, Joe (June 30, 2011). Blue Oyster Cult cowbell ringer honored. WIVB-TV. Retrieved 2011-06-30.
- "He Really Did Want That Cowbell". Just my Show: Retro Pop Culture Podcast. July 15, 2011. Retrieved 2011-07-19.
- "David Lucas Music – Biography". davidlucasmusic.com. Retrieved 2011-05-29. "Lucas sings the background vocals and is the one who played the now famous cowbell"
- George, Eli (June 30, 2011). "Blue Oyster Cult cowbell ringer honored" (text, and video clip). WIVB-TV. Retrieved 2011-07-01.
- Galipault, Gerry (July 7, 2001). "A cowbell salute to Blue Öyster Cult". Pause & Play. Retrieved 2007-01-03.
- SNL Green Day Ferrell performance
- Saturday Night Live in the ‘90s: Pop Culture Nation – May 6, 2007 TV special, Broadcast Video Inc.
- "Nobody Does It Like Walken" by Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel, October 25, 2004, pg. E1
- "Q&A With Christopher Walken," by Jeff Gordinier and Tom Betterton, Details.com Retrieved 2010-01-09
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to More cowbell.|
- SNL More Cowbell Skit Script: http://www.cowbells.com/pages/snl-more-cowbell-skit-script
- Even More Cowbell! – Timeline of events from Wired magazine.