Blue Oyster Cult hits the Downs tonight

Jul 6, 2018

In the 1970s, Blue Oyster Cult established itself as a groundbreaking arena rock band. In an era when the same bands came along every year, BOC, as it is affectionately known, added all the cool elements to its live performance, including lasers, fog and a giant, fog-breathing Godzilla that appeared onstage during the band’s performance of the song of the same name.

BOC will be at Batavia Downs tonight, performing “Godzilla” and other selections from its 51-year career, which dates to 1967 when the group formed as Soft White Underbelly before changing its name to Blue Oyster Cult in 1969.

Like many contemporaries from the 1970s, BOC built up its following with extensive touring, and in true 1970s fashion, the band’s commercial breakthrough came with a live album, “On Your Feet or on Your Knees” released in 1975.

The band capitalized on the success of its live album by following up with “Agents of Fortune” in 1977, which contained the song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” On its initial run, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” (which many people at the time misheard as “don’t feel the reefer.”) hit No. 7 on the Billboard singles chart. Like many songs from rock bands of the era, the “single version” was edited to make it hit radio friendly.

In April 2000, “Saturday Night Live” forever changed the discussion of the song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” when it was featured in an iconic sketch on SNL known affectionately as “More Cowbell.” Often cited as one of the most memorable skits in “Saturday Night Live’s” history, “More Cowbell” has Blue Oyster Cult in the studio with producer “The” Bruce Dickinson and the world’s most famous cowbell player Gene Frenkle.

There are a slew of inaccuracies in the sketch-none of which take away from the hilarity of Christopher Walken’s performance as the producer who blurts out “Guess what? I got a fever, and the only prescription is more cowbell!”

BOC recorded the song quickly in a famous New York City recording studio, The Record Plant. Those involved in the recording agree that the cowbell was a late addition to the song and, while noticeable, the cowbell is hardly as prominent as it is in other songs from the era (“Hair of the Dog” by Nazareth, “Mississippi Queen” by Mountain and “We’re an American Band” by Grand Funk all feature more cowbell than “Reaper”).

Gene Frenkle was the product of sketch writer Will Ferrell, as was “The” Bruce Dickinson, who was an employee of Columbia Records, not a record producer, and not to be confused with the lead singer of Iron Maiden. The actual record producer and cowbell player on “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” is none other than Buffalo NY native, and Buffalo Music Hall of Fame inductee David Lucas. In addition to adding cowbell to “Reaper” Lucas wrote commercial jingles, including AT&T’s “Reach Out and Touch Someone” back in the 1980s.

At Friday’s show, you will see a lot of “More Cowbell” shirts and, on occasion, fans will smuggle their own cowbell into shows. If you are unfortunate enough to sit next to one of them you will wish there was a lot less cowbell.

Tickets to Blue Oyster Cult with special guests Bruce Wojick and the Struggle, Wanted by The FBI, 7th Heaven start at $10 and are available online at the Batavia Downs website or at Batavia Downs.

By Thom Jennings, Batavia Daily News