[We are grateful to Ashley Baier user @ay_bear for this piece, posted seven years to the day after the release of Fuego (June 24, 2014). -Ed.]
No matter what your opinion is of the song "Fuego," as a jaded vet or a n00b, one thing can’t be denied: the piece features a a tour de force of drumming. In just over nine minutes, Jon Fishman takes the listener on a journey through a ’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover- inspired groove — a truly quintessential pattern composed by Steve Gadd which every drummer eventually studies — and blistering drum’n’bass before setting up a singalong shout course with the type of fill that drummers dream of playing in front of thousands in a rock arena.
You know the fill I’m talking about. The one that’s the precursor to white lights washing over the crowd of dancing and WOAH-ing fans (is it ok to whoa? Asking for an anti-wooer). You’re hugging your bros. The fact that Trey just ripcorded "Tweezer" doesn’t matter. You are… enjoying "Fuego"?
Everyone is loving the moment because Jon Fishman sets you up with the perfect fill every time.
The last Phish show that I attended was December 29, 2019, at Madison Square Garden (are we at AC yet?) and "Fuego" appeared halfway through the first set. Measures before this fill, when all but Trey’s rhythmic guitar drops out, I leaned over to my friend and said, “Whatever Fishman is about to play is going to be awesome.” Sure enough, he lays down a powerful and perfectly placed 8th note fill that expertly sets up the final chorus of the song.
I left the show that night wanting to know more about that fill, so I began transcribing every version that has been played. The song has been performed 66 times, and in true Phish ethos, the fill is almost always unique to the performance; in fact, no fill was identical until the 15th iteration of "Fuego" (8/3/14 at Alpharetta) matched that of the 13th (7/30/14 at nTelos). Almost every version only utilizes bass drum and snare drum except for six (8/1/14, 10/18/14, 10/28/14, 1/1/16, 9/1/19, and 12/4/19) and — with all but three exceptions — is derived from 8th notes (7/25/15, 8/2/15, and 10/29/16 contain triplets). And Lord, 2014 really was something else with the band playing "Fuego" at 41% of shows that year.
After I was done nerding out ZZYZX-style, I decided to turn the transcription into my own exercise for the drum set, because clearly if you’ve made it this far, you’ve realized that I’m a drummer. I have combined all of the iterations of this fill into one 67 measure piece of music. In other words, this is what happens if every version of this fill is played sequentially:
For drummers: how to utilize this exercise
The most important way to initially approach this etude is as a timing exercise. Strive for completely even 8th notes between the hands and feet at all dynamics and at a variety of tempi. Once this is mastered, there are innumerable ways to apply this exercise to the drum set as a coordination exercise.
For example, create an ostinato pattern with your right hand and right foot in the style of a bossa nova and play it over a "Twist" jam. Once you have established a solid foundation, re-orchestrate the music to be played with a rim click and pedal hi-hat. Then try coming up with a New Orleans inspired groove with your right hand and left foot while your left hand plays the bass drum line on snare and your right foot plays what is normally the snare line over "Blaze On" (this is a true mindf**K). To develop speed around the kit, try re-orchestrating the fills so that the floor and rack toms play through the music over a "Timber" jam. All examples here can be heard in the video above. The possibilities are endless. Get creative, and as they say in "Fuego," keep it rolling! -Ashley
*It should be noted that Fishman almost always plays the snare drum notes as flams, and though some of the fills have pickup notes, I’ve omitted them for the purposes of this exercise.*
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great work phriend
I have a mini-obsession with the fill at the beginning of mikes song from magnaball. I nearly wet myself publicly when he threw that down in all its john bonhamish glory - he clearly had some strong espresso shots or something that day because he came out of the gates hard. To be clear is as simple as it gets, but just a powerful way to set the tone.