The real story behind ‘more cowbell!’

The Historic Everett Theatre welcomes classic rock artists Blue Oyster Cult on January 28, and seeing the ad stirred memories of a cult favorite Saturday Night Live skit that aired in 2000.
     If you don’t grasp my reference, check out this YouTube video starring Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken, who uttered the immortal line, “I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!”
     A few misperceptions endure from that skit. One, Ferrell’s character – cowbell-thumping Gene Frenkle – was fictional. No such guy ever was in Blue Oyster Cult. Two, Bruce Dickinson didn’t produce “Don’t Fear the Reaper.” Three, Jimmy Fallon plays drummer Bobby Rondinelli, who didn’t join the band until later; Albert Bouchard drummed on “Reaper.”
     In real life, several people claim to have played that beloved “Reaper” cowbell. My money is on the band’s producer, David Lucas, who once shared family ties as my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law. Lucas said he played the cowbell on the original 1976 recording at The Record Plant..
     “Whose idea was it to put cowbell on the track? Mine,” Lucas confirmed with me today, exactly as he had told Uncut magazine in 2013. “The song just floated and the drums were moving along but it needed four-on-the-floor to drive it. I had a cowbell in my studio around the corner, so I went and got it. I didn't crank it up. Sandy (Pearlman, manager) did the mix.”
     Lucas made an impression on me the summer after seventh grade, when we both visited family at Sylte Ranch in north Idaho. “Sergeant Pepper” had just been released, and I was amazed that this old guy (by my standards – I was 13, he was 30) said he loved the Beatles.
     This was June 1967, when most adults still vilified the Fab Four’s loud music and long hair.
     In the years that followed I delighted in hearing Lucas’ brilliant jingles on TV. “Reach Out and Touch Someone,” “GE We Bring Good Things to Life,” “Catch That Pepsi Spirit,” and countless others.
     A favorite was the "Slicker over, Slicker under" jingle for London's Yardley cosmetics, as seen opening this montage of 1960s ads. It's like a scene out of Austin Powers.
     Lucas is a good sport with all the fuss over “more cowbell!” and even reprised his Record Plant role in this 2009 live performance with Blue Oyster Cult. Today the longtime New York resident enjoys sunny skies at home in Boca Raton.

by  Jon Osterberg

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