Was the ‘SNL’ ‘More Cowbell’/Blue Öyster Cult Skit Based in Fact?

The Blue Öyster Cult is a classic rock band most known for their 1970s hits like “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” and “Godzilla” — with one major exception. They earned a spot in television history when Saturday Night Live portrayed the band recording “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” in a skit often referred to as “More Cowbell.” This raises an interesting question: Does the SNL skit have any basis in fact?

Will Ferrell with a cowbell in the SNL sketch "More Cowbell"
A moment from “More Cowbell” | Mary Ellen Matthews/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

The unusual place the Blue Öyster Cult’s ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’ holds in pop culture

“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” might be the most legendary song by the Blue Öyster Cult. The track holds a special place in pop culture, having appeared in everything from John Carpenter’s Halloween to Rob Zombie’s remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween to a Banksy installation. Perhaps the song’s most famous appearance in pop culture is in “More Cowbell.”

“More Cowbell” is a fake episode of VH1’s Behind the Music. It depicts the Blue Öyster Cult working with a producer named Bruce Dickinson (played by Christopher Walken) to record “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper)” Dickinson demands the band’s cowbell player, Gene Frenkle (played by Will Ferrell), play his instrument with increasing intensity.

“(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”

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Dickinson tells Ferenkle to “explore the studio space” as he plays the cowbell, prompting him to dance around his bandmates in a way that annoys them — and has caused many audience members to erupt into laughter. At the end of the sketch, a title card said Frenkle passed away in 2000. What’s true here and what’s false?

The facts behind the ‘SNL’ sketch — and how the Blue Öyster Cult responded to it

So is there any truth to the SNL sketch? Aside from the fact that “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” uses a cowbell, not much. According to the book Origins of a Song: 202 True Inspirations Behind the World’s Greatest Lyrics, Dickinson is a real producer but he did not produce “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper).” In actuality, David Lucas produced the song and called for the use of a cowbell in the track. 

“More Cowbell”

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In addition, The Washington Post reports Frenkle is fictitious. However, “More Cowbell” did capture the look of the band around the time they recorded “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” This doesn’t mean the Blue Öyster Cult takes issue with the SNL sketch.

The band’s co-founder and lead guitarist, Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser said “We all thought it was phenomenal. We’re huge Christopher Walken fans. I’ve probably seen [the skit] 20 times and I’m still not tired of it.” 

Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken in "More Cowbell"
A moment from “More Cowbell” | Mary Ellen Matthews/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty Images

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The skit seems to have resonated with the public as well as with the Blue Öyster Cult. In an interview with The Guardian, Blue Öyster Cult member Eric Bloom noted how common the phrase “more cowbell” became.”[T]he phrase has since become part of the English language. It’s something I get asked about all the time. I was reading Autoweek, an American car magazine. In the middle of a car review, along with some stuff about acceleration, it suddenly said: ‘What this car needs is more cowbell.’” “More Cowbell” certainly made waves — even if it’s largely fictitious.