Brain Says: You Should Learn These 6 Drum Fills

By Brain

We first met Brain when he was simply famous. Now he’s an enigma, capable of jamming sample-friendly break beats one second on his Gonerville LPs, then copping serious ’tude with Guns ’N Roses the next, or getting twisted with Tom Waits and Primus, then somehow slipping in a quick tour with Buckethead or Bernie Worrell. He sure knows a lot about drum fills, too.

With any life-changing experience, you always remember where you were when you first felt it. Do you remember where you were when you first smooched with that hot babe from high school, or what about the first time you “did the do?” You definitely remember where you were then.

What about the first time you barfed after your twelfth booze drink. I definitely remember. I was laying on the ground in the men’s bathroom at the Century Theater praying to the white porcelain god, bumming out that I never got to see what happened after the Alien popped out of that dude’s stomach.

So when DRUM! asked me to write about the six fills I thought were most important, it was cake. The first fills that jumped to mind were jelly-fills, chocolate fills, and my favorite custard fill—oh wait, we’re not talking about cake, are we? For real, the first drum fills that came to mind are so powerful that they also bring with them the memories of where I was when I first heard them. Here’s how it all happened.

1. The Who’s ‘Baba O-Reiley’

Drummer: Keith Moon
Band: The Who
Album: Who’s Next
Song: “Baba O’Riley”

BYOS: Bring Your Own Sledgehammer. In high school my friends and I would throw these house wrecking parties for houses that needed to be demolished. The idea is you party in the house and then you smash the house down. At the time, my friends were cranking Who’s Next and the song “Baba O’Riley” came on.

No one had ever run through a wall, so my friends were challenging me to run through a sheet-rocked wall. The fill from “Baba O’Riley” hit me as I hit the wall. The way Keith Moon keeps the bass drum pumping eighth-notes throughout the fill gave me the power to bust through the wall. I recovered from the wall but I never recovered from the impact of the fill.

2. Frank Zappa’s ‘Soup n’ Old Clothes’

Drummer: Vinnie Colaiuta
Band: Frank Zappa
Album: Shut Up And Play Yer Guitar
Song: “Soup n’ Old Clothes”

It’s Only Rocket Science. My high school drumming buddy, Keith Wald, and I used to have drum battles. We used to set up our drums in the Sears parking lot and battle all night. Right before one of the battles, I had just gotten Frank Zappa’s Shut Up And Play Yer Guitar box set through the mail (which, by the way, has the sickest drumming of all time on it. If you don’t know, now you know!).

Anyway I had been listening to it all day trying to learn some beats and fills. In particular I was studying the Vinnie Colaiuta fill at the beginning of “Soup n’ Old Clothes,” which has that classic “I don’t think he’s gonna make it” Vinnie vibe. I figured if I could learn this fill and play it that night at the battle I’d smoke Keith out. I smoked him out so bad that the last thing I heard about Keith, he was in a think tank at Stanford studying rocket science.

3. Led Zeppelin’s ‘Black Dog’

Drummer: John Bonham
Band: Led Zeppelin
Album: Led Zeppelin IV
Song: “Black Dog”

Professional Skateboarder or Professional Drummer? I was skating at Winchester Skate Park and a friend of mine had a cassette of Led Zeppelin IV. His favorite song was “Black Dog” and he kept wearing me out by playing it over and over again. At the time I was pursuing a professional skateboarding career while dabbling in drumming.

But after hearing that ridiculous fill in the middle section of “Black Dog,” I was so blown-out by it that I quit skating and ran home to figure it out. I sat behind my drums and practiced that fill all night, and I’ve never left since.

4. The Beatles’ ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’

Drummer: Ringo Starr
Band: The Beatles
Album: Magical Mystery Tour
Song: “Strawberry Fields Forever”

Flotation Tank. My engineer friend Oz Fritz was a floater, and I didn’t quite know what that meant. One day we were hanging out at his pad, and he asked me to float, which involved throwing me into a metal tube with water in it. Viola! I too was a floater. I thought, “What’s the big deal with this floating business?” Oz had told me it was like meditating.

You could make peace with your mind or you could actually have an out-of-body experience. Yeah right, whatever dude. While floating, I noticed he was playing the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour album, and right then I heard the intro to “Strawberry Fields” and Ringo’s fill (the drums sounded like they were being thrown down a flight of stairs).

Suddenly, I found myself dancing nude in a field, smiling with no worries, eating strawberries, totally happy. It was gonerville—just totally absurd. Anyway, that fill still haunts me to this day.

5. Prince’s ‘Rockhard In A Funky Place’

Drummer: Prince
Band: Prince
Album: The Black Album
Song: “Rockhard In A Funky Place”

Prince’s Black Album Turned Me To Crime. My roommate at PIT in L.A. was a huge Prince fan and told me about this super rare album called The Black Album. Years later, I was recording at a studio and the Producer for Bobby Brown was recording upstairs. During our breaks, I would hear the funkiest grooves coming through the ceiling.

I thought “Wow! Bobby’s really kicking some beats now,” until I heard the unmistakable high falsetto voice of Prince. I knew then that this wasn’t Bobby Brown nor was it any Prince album I’d ever heard, and I realized it must be The Black Album.

That night I took the key from the front desk, broke into the upstairs studio, and that was how I stole Prince’s Black Album. My favorite song was “Rockhard In A Funky Place.” The fill from that song struck me because it’s so minimal; it’s only two hits but where they are placed is so funky. It became my signature fill on every album I recorded that year. Thanks Prince.

6. The Police’s ‘Man In A Suitcase’

Drummer: Stewart Copeland
Band: The Police
Album: Zenyatta Mondatta
Song: “Man In A Suitcase”

No Story. This last fill doesn’t come with a story. I just figured anybody who has the cahunas to play a fill and end with a little baby splash without even a kick drum to support it is a bad mother $%$#%&%—shut your mouth!

This article was originally published in the August-September 2004 issue of Drum!

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