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The Bruce Dickinson (Christopher Walken) delivering the trademark line: "...more cowbell!"

"More cowbell" is an American pop culture catchphrase originally derived from an April 8, 2000, Saturday Night Live comedy sketch fictionalizing the recording of the song "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Öyster Cult. The sketch featured guest host Christopher Walken as fictional music producer Bruce Dickinson and Will Ferrell, who wrote the sketch, as fictional cowbell player Gene Frenkle. In the television special Saturday Night Live: 101 Most Unforgettable Moments, this sketch is moment number five.

Contents

Synopsis

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 band members are impressed at this compliment because of Bruce Dickinson's supposed high standing in the music industry.

The first take of the recording 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, not to mention off tempo. However, Dickinson feels quite differently and, 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." 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 (and Jimmy Fallon playing the drummer starts laughing at the sight of Frenkle, whose sunglasses had flown off during the altercation with Bloom, causing him to barely be able to say his lines), but Dickinson remains focused only on getting more cowbell onto the track.

Gene 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. 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."

Comedy vs. reality

The song "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" by Blue Öyster Cult indeed features a cowbell. However, the sketch takes liberty with the actual events surrounding the recording.

  • 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.[1][2]
  • 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.[1] It is much quieter than portrayed in the sketch. Eric Bloom, however, claims that he was the one who played it.[2]
  • Christopher Walken portrays a character named Bruce Dickinson, who is identified as the producer of "(Don't Fear) The Reaper." However, the song was actually produced by Sandy Pearlman.[3] Bruce Dickinson was a mid-level manager at Columbia Records whose name appears on a Blue Öyster Cult greatest hits CD as the "reissue producer." This Bruce Dickinson is not the lead singer for British heavy metal band Iron Maiden, hence the humor in his boastful declaration of being "THE Bruce Dickinson," as the character was based upon a far less famous figure.

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.

Promos for the April 5, 2008 Christopher Walken/Panic! At the Disco episode of Saturday Night Live referenced the "More Cowbell" sketch. However, the cowbell did not appear during the actual episode.

On May 16, 2009, Will Ferrell hosted the show and during Green Day's performance of "East Jesus Nowhere" while the credits were rolling, Will came on stage partway through the song playing the cowbell.

Sketch performers

Comments by individuals associated with the sketch

Will Ferrell 2007: "The cowbell sketch, I'd written it early in the first half of the year...it just didn't get picked for whatever reason."[4]

Jimmy Fallon 2007: "The cowbell sketch in dress (rehearsal) wasn't as funny. And then Will changed his shirt, he wore a smaller shirt."[4]

Christopher Walken 2004: "I hear about it everywhere I go. It's been YEARS, and all anybody brings up is 'COW-bell.' I guess you never know what's gonna click."[5]

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."[6]

Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser, Blue Öyster Cult co-founder and lead guitarist 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."[7]

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."[8]

Influence in popular culture

The influence of the sketch is widespread. The sketch caused so much interest in the cowbell that it has been adopted by sports teams to promote fan involvement in matches,[9] most famously with the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays of Major League Baseball.

Notes

  1. ^ a b Farhi, Paul (2005-01-29). "Blue Oyster Cult, Playing Along With 'More Cowbell'". Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A46074-2005Jan28.html. Retrieved 2007-01-03. 
  2. ^ a b Galipault, Gerry (2001-07-07). "A COWBELL SALUTE TO BLUE ÖYSTER CULT". Pause & Play. http://www.pauseandplay.com/boc.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-03. 
  3. ^ "Sandy Pearlman". Breathing Protection. http://www.breathingprotection.com/sandy_pearlman.htm. Retrieved 2007-01-03. 
  4. ^ a b Saturday Night Live in the ‘90s: Pop Culture Nation - May 6, 2007 TV special, Broadcast Video Inc.
  5. ^ "Nobody Does It Like Walken" by Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel, Oct 25, 2004, pg. E1
  6. ^ "Q&A With Christopher Walken," by Jeff Gordinier and Tom Betterton, Details.com Retrieved on 2010-01-09
  7. ^ "Blue Oyster Cult, Playing Along With More Cowbell," By Paul Farhi, Washington Post, January 29, 2005, Page C01 Retrieved on 2010-01-09
  8. ^ "More Cowbell! A Salute To the Late Great Gene Frenkle," By Gerry Galipault, July 7, 2001 Retrieved on 2010-01-09
  9. ^ "Pump up the volume". Sports Illustrated. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/basketball/nba/2002/playoffs/news/2002/05/09/mavs_cowbells_ap/. Retrieved 2007-01-03. 

It may be of interest to note that Jimi Hendrix says "more cowbell" at the beginning of the song "Stone Free".

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