Cowbell clangor powers Carolina fans

It started with a 'Saturday Night Live' video on the Jumbotron. Now, it's a full-time din.

Staff WriterMay 23, 2009 

  • Will Ferrell thrust '[Don't Fear] the Reaper' back into the spotlight, but it certainly isn't the only rock song in which the cowbell is prominently featured. Some favorites:

    Nazareth: 'Hair of the Dog'

    War: 'Low Rider'

    LL Cool J: 'Rock the Bells'

    The Rolling Stones: 'Honky Tonk Woman'

    Mountain: 'Mississippi Queen'

    Def Leppard: 'Rock of Ages'

    Did we leave out your favorite cowbell song? Tell us about it at share.newsobserver.com .

— There is, many Canes fans will tell you, no such thing as too much cowbell.

When the Carolina Hurricanes take on the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight at the RBC Center, expect hundreds of fans to bring their cowbells, ready to beat and shake the noisemakers in a boisterous, clang-filled show of support.

"If you can get it any louder and mess up the other team," says fan Kara Prater of Fuquay-Varina, "that's even better."

The cowbell craze grew throughout the season, with more and more cowbells showing up during the playoffs, says Pete Soto, the Canes' director of in-game marketing. A piece of an old "Saturday Night Live" bit, played on the JumboTron this season, inspired the phenomenon.

In the skit, actor Will Ferrell plays a member of Blue Öyster Cult, the rock band most famous for its 1976 hit "[Don't Fear] The Reaper." During a recording session for the song, actor Christopher Walken plays a record producer obsessed with getting the cowbell sound just right. He encourages Ferrell to let loose with his instrument.

"I've got a fever," Walken says, "and the only prescription is more cowbell."

In a spastic fit of physical comedy, Ferrell, in '70s-style beard and sunglasses, shimmies his way around the studio, banging the cowbell with abandon. The skit, which first aired in 2000, lives on via the Internet and has become something of a pop-culture touchstone. "More cowbell" T-shirts popped up, and Ferrell's character inspired countless Halloween costumes.

Soto, who is in charge of the scoreboard during Hurricanes games, began showing a clip of the dancing Ferrell after the Canes scored goals this season. It proved popular, so he began showing it more often. More fan brought cowbells, Soto featured them on the big screen, and a craze was born. It grows the more the Hurricanes win.

"Any time you have a good run in the playoffs, fans take hold of something," Soto says.

Remember the bathrobes of 2006? After Canes player Mike Commodore was photographed in a Canes bathrobe, fans took to wearing their own robes to games, topped with bushy red wigs to mimic Commodore's long, curly locks.

Fans have purchased cowbells at farm-supply stores and in music shops, as well as from The Eye, the Canes official arena store. The Eye has sold more than 1,200 of the $7 cowbells so far.

Tink, tink, tink, tink

Ginger Roth of Knightdale and her mom, Cookie Roth, are season-ticket holders and have three cowbells between them. Ginger Roth tends to get headaches from screaming during the games, so the bells offer her a way to make noise without the pain.

But more than that, the cowbells are "a Canes thing to do, and I do things that are Canes things to do," she says.

Don't fear the umlaut

Since the Ferrell skit, the cowbell, and especially Blue Öyster Cult's use of it, has endured more than its share of mockery. But the jokes don't bother Eric Bloom, singer and guitarist from the band who played cowbell on the original recording of "(Don't Fear) the Reaper."

All publicity is good, he figures. "It's raised our recognition a little bit," says Bloom, a New York Rangers fan speaking on the phone from his home on Long Island. "I can't complain."

The "Reaper" cowbell was an afterthought, he says, overdubbed only after the rest of the tune had been recorded. In the years since, the song has earned five-star status in the canon of cowbell rockers. But when asked if he thought the cowbell was particularly important to the song, Bloom could only laugh.

"That's like asking, 'Is this tambourine all right?' It's not a deep thought."

Sometimes though, it's the afterthoughts that count.

"The cowbell," he says, "has been very good to us."

And so far, to the Canes as well.

matt.ehlers@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4889

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