Cowbell, Vibraslap: The Unforgotten Staples

In SNL’s famous “Behind the Music” Cowbell skit [transcript], Christopher Walken is the producer during a Blue Oyster Cult recording session. Will Farrell is hard-driving on the cowbell through “Dont Fear the Reaper” — a little too hard-driving, his bandmates think. But Walken insists: “More cowbell. I got to have more cowbell.” The piece has cult status for a reason — we all know deep inside that the cowbell has been woefully under-appreciated in music history.

NPR makes amends with their tribute piece: There’s Just Something About That Cowbell, while The Cowbell Project archives every song readers can think of that centers on that luscious, penetrating sound. The site even calls Christopher Walken “The Patron Saint of the Cowbell.” You can also get Cowbell T-shirts to proclaim your adoration.

It’s the cymbal’s evil third cousin. It’s the dark ring that pounds in the back of your brain and lets you know, it’s time to rock. The cowbell is an instrument that can’t be overused. It should never be underused.

I’m glad for the cowbell that it’s finally being recognized for its place in rock history, I really am, but also feeling sympathy for the even less-lauded Vibraslap. If the cowbell is underutilized in modern rock/pop, the vibraslap is all but forgotten. Once upon a time, the vibraslap was a staple of both big orchestral rock and high school bands; now it’s less than a footnote. (MP3 excerpt from ELO’s “Jungle”):

Granted it’s kind of buried in the mix there — someone point me to a more prominent sample please — I got to hear more vibraslap.

Music: Brian Eno :: M386

17 Replies to “Cowbell, Vibraslap: The Unforgotten Staples”

  1. i’m still a sucker for guiros, those Mexican shhhhk, shhhhk, percussion devices you rub with your hand. best example i can think of is the live Dark Star on Live/Dead but they were once a staple of a certain kind of groovy music.

  2. “The quijada is a donkey’s jaw that is played by striking the wide part of the jaw with the fist to obtain a rattle sound (an instrument called a vibraslap is a copy of this instrument), and is also scrapped with a thin stick.”
    – Alex Pertout

    Read the whole article:

    It’s an actual donkey’s lower jaw with the teeth still attached to it, they rattle when the jaw is struck.

  3. You can find the Vibraslap used in almost any song by the group Cake. In fact I have been told that they have a guy in the band that does nothing but play the Vibraslap.

  4. I’m making a list of all the groovy songs I can think of that make use of the wonderful yet sorely under rated vibraslap:

    Low Spark of High Heeled Boys by Traffic
    Feeling Alright by Joe Cocker
    Orange Crush by R.E.M.
    Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne

    please feel free to contribute…

  5. Elton John’s “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirty Cowboy” has a very clear use of the vibraslap in the chorus.

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