On the 1965 Junior Walker And The All Stars track “Shotgun” we hear a recurring fill that mimics a series of gunshots and is also a very nifty fill. This syncopated fill is useful in practically all musical situations as a great go-to. It’s so useful it could literally the only fill you need to play for the rest of your life.

It’s so iconic, that even a non-drummer bandleader may ask you to play a “shotgun fill,” which would be this exact fill.

This month we take a look at a few legendary drummers: Al Jackson Jr., Mick Fleetwood, and the drummers of Motown. Al had the incredibility to see the big picture when developing a drum part for a hit record—he knew when to save the big fill and when to keep it simple and effective. Mick always plays for the song and creates fills that are integral to the tunes. The Motown drummers always added a signature fill to the tunes they played on but were unfortunately not properly credited, thus leaving us to wonder if it was Benny Benjamin, Richard “Pistol” Allen, Uriel Jones, or perhaps Larrie Londin on those grooving tracks.

The ‘Shotgun Fill’ (Benny Benjamin, Pistol Allen, or Larrie Londin)

The Shotgun fill is a series of broken sixteenth-notes grouped in three, with two sixteenth-notes and one sixteenth-note rest repeated (Ex. 1). Although there are a few smaller fills here and there within the tracks cited here as examples, this one is clearly the prominent fill and really the hook of the tune (notated sticking is merely a suggestion).

Ex. 1

On the same collection of tunes as the Shotgun record, a slightly modified version of this fill pops up again on the Junior Walker song “Shake And Fingerpop” (Ex. 2). With the bass drum underneath, it is a bit trickier than it looks.

Ex. 2

Groovemaster Roger Hawkins adds a bass drum to further hipify the Shotgun fill on Aretha Franklin’s “When the Battle is Over” on the fade out (Ex. 3).

Ex. 3

And who can forget the most iconic Shotgun fill of all time, Phil Collins’ huge drum entrance on his hit, “In the Air Tonight” (Ex. 4).

Ex. 4

If you are looking to build your fill library, simply take a look at the rhythms you are playing. Perhaps you just need to add a bass drum under your fill or in the gaps, or maybe you can start your dusty old fill on a different beat. Even if you’ve heard yourself play them a million times, your fills are most likely impressive to someone who hasn’t. In all likelihood, your fills are your sound, and it doesn’t take much to get a lot of mileage out of one idea.

Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.