“In defense of the cowbell”

I’ve never really had a problem with cowbell, although I do believe there’s such a thing as too much cowbell. Not everyone shares this sentiment, of course.

More-Cowbell from pepe conde on Vimeo.

But in moderation, the cowbell is just fine. In my drumming days, I had one as part of my kit. Joe Gleiss offers some cowbell love (in appropriate amounts) at GetIntoThis.com.

I like the cowbell. I like the cowbell a lot. It’s my favourite idiophone.

I can picture an artist searching through his dusty cupboard of unused instruments searching for the ‘new sound’ like he’s artiste-cum-Goldilocks. He picks up the sitar and gives it a little noodle, but decides it’s not right; he doesn’t feel like writing a raga today.

He picks up the accordion and gives it a blast, but again, it’s just not right. At the back though, he see’s the cowbell placed behind the theremin and smiles. “Oh, the subtle cowbell, you can sneak onto any track, if it tries hard enough.” So he attaches it to his drum kit and gives it a good clonk.

From Drive My Car by The Beatles to Hey Ladies by Beastie Boys, the cowbell is renowned for giving a tune, just a bit more bite. Without the decisiveness of a cowbell, The Beatles ended up in a muddy ocean of a 1000 thousand overdubs and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

I feel like the cowbell has edged on being a cliché, something that should only be associated with one genre, but the importance of the ‘bell came to me quite recently, at a Car Seat Headrest gig at the Invisible Wind Factory.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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