New Heathens
12Nov/10Off

The $350 Cowbell

I bought at $350 cowbell once. Something reminded me of this story the other day ("Low Rider" perhaps?) I thought it would bust me out of my blog slump.

One of the short-term drummers in the New Heathens was a jolly German guy. He was very talented and had been to school to learn jazz, but he’d never played rock and roll before. Also, like many Germans, he was very regimented.

For one of our songs he played a cowbell. At the time we essentially stole practice space by sneaking in on off-nights and weekends into a studio in the Music Building on 8th Avenue that was officially rented by another band I sang with. The room’s drum kit had both a cowbell and a tiny cowbell mount.

We had a gig on a Saturday in an East Village club (CBGB maybe?) I planned it like a military strike. Our drummer had a cowbell, but not a cowbell mount. I would go into the practice studio on Friday when it was empty and “borrow” the cowbell mount and give it to our drummer. He would then bring it back to the studio for our practice on Monday before the band that owned the kit came to practice on Tuesday. The band that played on Saturday didn't use a cowbell, so therefore wouldn't notice the missing mount. The room was empty on Sunday.

An hour before the show my phone rang. Problem. Our drummer traveled into the city from his home in New Jersey and forgot his cowbell. I could not go up to our practice studio to "borrow" one because there was a band inside. When asked if he could make do for one gig, the drummer responded that he couldn't play without (wait for it…) more cowbell!

This guy was my first experience with the peculiar type of pro musician who “joins” a baby band. The deal is this, pro musicians get paid a salary but some of them agree to join struggling bands and play for free in the hopes that the band will hit big and they will be justly compensated. In my experience their patience for not getting paid lasts about as long as it takes to book a whole bunch of gigs. At that point the bandleader gets an ultimatum: pay up or the pro walks and the band is forced to either cancel all the gigs or play with an unrehearsed sub who charges just as much.

Under the auspices that this guy was doing me a favor, I couldn’t really ask him to go hustle up his own fucking cowbell. So I went to Guitar Center and I bought a new one. Price of keeping a band happy.

As it turns out the band we shared a bill with let us use their drumkit, which had both a cowbell and a mount.

The next day the drummer called me again. He’d forgotten the cowbell mount at the club. I knew that if I didn’t get that mount back to our practice space, someone would figure out that I was stealing rehearsal time. I hopped in my car, went to the club, and fetched the mount.

I drove up to the Music Building, zipped up to “our” studio and put the cowbell mount precisely back in its place. Took me all of three minutes.

When I got back outside my car was gone. Towed.

Oh that special joy of fetching my car, its hazard lights still blinking, out of the tow lot on 12th Avenue. In order to spring my ride I had to pay the tow fee ($185) and the ticket fee ($115, “no-standing” zone). Add that to the $50 bucks I paid Guitar Center and that makes a $350 cowbell.

(All of which is water under this bridge now. I’ve got a brand new million-dollar view.)

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  1. As soon as any drummer tells you they need a cowbell, you should just say “you’re fired” and walk away.
    Nobody has ever missed not having one, and any real drummer would have just played without it and known NOBODY NEEDS MORE COWBELL.
    I have spoken.

  2. Please please PLEASE tell my downstairs neighbor this, J.D.

  3. Nate- Love the stories always- but this one is just plain awesome. Writing skills you have~


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