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More Cowbell!

March 18, 2014

The “More Cowbell” sketch aired on Saturday Night Live in 2000, and is one of the most famous in the show’s history. It’s set up as a mock episode of the documentary show Behind the Music, set at a recording studio as Blue Oyster Cult records its cowbell-heavy 1976 hit “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” But how accurate is it?

  • More Cowbell SNLThe sketch presents the song as being produced by a hotshot music industry player named Bruce Dickinson (portrayed by guest host Christopher Walken). In reality, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper was produced by Blue Oyster Cult’s manager, Sandy Pearlman. Strangely, a man named Bruce Dickinson actually has worked with Blue Oyster Cult – he remastered their back catalog for greatest hits collections.
  • The centerpiece of the sketch is Will Ferrell’s portrayal of Blue Oyster Cult’s emotionally fragile and underused cowbell player, Gene Frenkle. This has never been such a person in Blue Oyster Cult.
  • Curiously, the sketch has caused the world to hear the song differently. The cowbell is not as pronounced as the sketch makes it out to be. However, it was initially recorded so low that it was barely audible on the finished track. The band recorded Albert Bouchard, brother of bassist Joe Bouchard, to record a new cowbell track after the fact. The first, subpar cowbell part had been performed by BOC’s lead singer Eric Bloom.
  • In the sketch, lead singer Eric Bloom is depicted as singing the song (played by Chris Parnell). But Bloom didn’t actually sing “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper. Lead guitarist Donald Roeser wrote the song and sang lead. In fact, the two best known BOC songs (“Reaper” and “Burnin’ For You”) were both sung by Roeser. However, Parnell’s character looks like Roeser. In the sketch, Roeser, as the lead guitarist, is portrayed by Chris Kattan.
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