More Than Cowbells
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In what is arguably one of the top 10 skits in Saturday Night Live history, actor Christopher Walken plays a fictional music producer giving advice to a fictional version of the rock band Blue Oyster Cult.
Walken’s demand in the skit for “more cowbell” slipped the surly bonds of sketch comedy and became both a durable internet meme and a durable American idiom.
Eric Bloom, Blue Oyster Cult’s lead singer, recounted the day that he realized how deeply “more cowbell” had permeated the culture.
“I was reading a car magazine,” Bloom told the Port Washington Patch, “and it said ‘This car needs more cowbell.’ And right away you know what this means.”
The “more cowbell” skit brought fresh attention to Blue Oyster Cult, but it also brought 17 years’ worth of “more cowbell” questions.
The band’s members have answered them all, graciously, even though the skit has about as much to do with Blue Oyster Cult as Spam has to do with steak.
Blue Oyster Cult perform at the Foellinger Theatre on July 7.
In truth, Walken’s character wasn’t entirely fictional. It is widely assumed that he was meant to evoke Sandy Pearlman.
Pearlman, who died in 2016, was the architect of Blue Oyster Cult – the band’s Svengali.
“Sandy created the band,” Bloom told Vintagerock.com. “There would not have been any BOC without Sandy Pearlman. He saw Donald (Roeser aka “Buck Dharma”) and a few others jamming one night. I think he was out of graduate school already. He was a very bright guy with a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship. He was the editor of ‘Crawdaddy!’ at the time, one of the first rock n’ roll magazines.
“[Pearlman] saw Buck jamming with some people,” he recalled, “and thought he was great, and said he had an idea for a band called Soft White Underbelly. The band was sort of a collective for a while, people in and out … Sandy put it all together. He was the mentor and the guiding force.”
Bloom told Classic Rock magazine that Pearlman had a “platonic idea of what Blue Oyster Cult should be.
“He had his own vision: ‘the American Black Sabbath’ or ‘the thinking man’s rock band,'” he said. “It certainly got us off the ground, his push.”
Pearlman had some unique promotional strategies, Bloom said – like writing articles about the band filled with absurdly false details.
“He wrote that we played at the Mount Rushmore rock festival,” he said. “Of course, there was no such thing, but he said that the highlight of the show was when ‘Eric Bloom jumped off of George Washington’s nose.’
A few years later, Bloom recalled, the band had a hilariously fateful encounter with a hitchhiker.
“‘Are you guys a band?’ he asks us. ‘Yeah’, we tell him: ‘We’re Blue Oyster Cult’. The guy says: ‘No kidding! I was at the Mount Rushmore festival!’ He said he saw me jump off the nose.”
Pearlman enlisted the talents of some illustrious scribes to write lyrics for Blue Oyster Cult, including singer-songwriter Patti Smith and authors Michael Moorcock, Eric Van Lustbader, Jim Carroll and John Shirley.
Pearlman produced eight of Blue Oyster Cult’s albums before parting ways with the band in the late 1980s.
Despite his lack of intimate involvement with the band after 1990, Pearlman wasn’t exempt from being asked about the “more cowbell” sketch.
“Actually, I needed less cowbell,” he told Reality Check TV in 2010.
These days, the current line-up of the band (featuring two original members, Bloom and Roeser) tours incessantly.
Bloom told the Aurora Beacon News that he loves the performing a lot more than he does the travel.
“If we could advance 500 years into the future, when they have matter transmission like in Star Trek, it would be a wonderful thing,” he said. “Go to concert venue, play a show then go home to sleep in your own bed and not have to go through TSA, check bags, fly all day and change planes and get picked up and go to a hotel, etc. That’s the downside of the day. The playing of the show is really the best part.”
Blue Oyster Cult change their setlist every night, Bloom said.
“Obviously people want to hear the hits, so we play them,” he said. “But I do try to keep it fresh and change it up a little bit on a regular basis. Once in a while we’ll dig deep. There are the very, very hardcore fans that would like to hear certain songs, and I’ll pay attention to that.”
The band has a nightly pre-show ritual and it involves the Fab Four.
“We have a routine,” Bloom told the Lodi News. “We get to the dressing room a half an hour or 45 minutes before we play [and warm up]. We play Beatles songs, I’d say, nightly. The Beatles lend itself to a vocal workout because their songs have so many elements. We’re all big Beatles fans.”
Bloom said the band constantly writes new material, but there isn’t much incentive to release it.
“These days the music business is in disarray for bands like us,” he said. “There’s no label interest for bands of our ilk. The only thing that could possibly happen would be a self-done internet kind of thing.
“If you look at the trades these days, there’s no bands like us on the charts,” Bloom said. “And it would be very unusual for classic rock acts like us to get any traction. So, if you want to take three, four months to just go off the road to make a record, it’s very difficult to think that you might get some commercial success with it.”