The History of the Cowbell




"Tonight I Have To Leave It" - played by Shout Out Louds

(listen for the ringing of cowbell in song)






Saturday Night Live is responsible for helping to elevate the cowbell to legendary status with the hilarious skit “More Cowbell”,  which featured an over-the-top cowbell playing member of Blue Oyster Cult (Will Ferrell), performing one of the band’s most well-known songs “Don’t Fear The Reaper”.

In fact, it’s probably the best known cowbell “riff” in music history at this point in time.


SNL "More Cowbell" Video:



Classic Rock and Funk are the top two genres that come to mind when you think of the cowbell....

However, ...we examine the cowbell’s influence among the hip, Indie music set.  As the name “cowbell” suggests, the instrument was originally meant to be worn around the necks of cows or other animals, so that herdsmen could more easily locate cattle that had wondered off.   The bell was crudely made, but served it’s function well and is still used in this context today.  Somewhere along the path of cowbell history, it lost the clapper and was played with sticks.  It soon became integral in Latin-American music, and eventually found it’s way, most notably, into Rock & Roll and Funk.   It’s popularity was due in part to it’s ability to cut through the loudness created by a full electric band.  It was especially effective in live situations when the drummer wanted to show off a bit or accentuate a beat.  This showy, cutting sound became synonymous with Rock & Roll ego,  but had the added hilarity of not taking any real talent to master.  This is a reason why the SNL skit was completely brilliant in it’s satire and why it caught hold in popular culture quicker.....(Let's) look at the cowbell in a different light.


Indie music is known for being homemade, anti-corporate and individualistic, even though we now find the bigger “Indie” bands on major labels.

Could we find Indie songs that utilize the instrument that is second only to the guitar solo in swaggering pomp?   The answer is yes, but ....finding cowbell Indie music is 100 times harder than finding it in classic rock, funk or Rhythm & Blues.   Luckily, the official online alter to the cowbell can be found in The Cowbell Project,  which has done a ton of work identifying songs that feature this clanging bell of legend.


Check out this list of cowbell used in famous and not-so famous songs:



Does the world really need a cowbell??

Yes! More Cowbell!      



Watch this video clip

"Mr Cowbell Goin Crazy"