JWelsh: An Ode To The Filler

Fillers were experienced in two ways. The first was an absolute surprise, leaving it up to the Trader to fill out that extra fifteen minutes with what he wanted, or simply continue with the music that was there from the previous generation. Maybe there were a few songs from the opening band that were worth hearing, or a great segue from the week before. Often, you could be turned on to a new artist whose only exposure to you was through the leftover length of analog tape. Another way to make the most out of Fillers was to request specific items. How long is this first set? Do we have twenty minutes of space? Can you put on, say, the Dead’s Raven Space from 04.19.82. Or maybe the Earthquake Space from the night before? I wanted to make the most out of the Trade or B&P, and it came down to time — how much time was left on the tape, how long would it take to send the tapes out and then get them back? Fillers helped in making that effort worth while.

As I have fully immersed myself in the “digital age,” I did not bring any analog tapes with me to New York when I moved two years ago. Where would I have put them? So, alas, I have a hard time recalling all of my favorite fillers. I do remember some, though. My favorite Rusted Root bootleg was from 05.02.92 (don’t laugh); there were a few choice songs from April of that year (early, primal Root). Then I think there was the collection of rare Phish songs — Dear Mrs. Reagan, Dog Log, In a Hole that took up some space. One of the most vivid recollections is a Great American String Band set with Maria Muldaur that was filler on the first Phil and Friends tape from September of 1994. The two seemed to go together so well.

It is not as though the practice is completely gone. Both the Grateful Dead and Phish have acknowledged the practice of their fans by placing fillers on some of their official releases. Soundchecks from 1998’s Island Tour, for example, were chosen by Phish to fill out that release. Or one of my favorites, the 09.02.80 post-Space filler that was picked for Dick’s Picks vol. 21.

These official fillers are nice treats, as well as a playful nod from these bands. But somehow they just aren’t the same as the hands-on practice of estimating time, scouring a setlist archive, looking over someone’s list, all so that you can hear ten minutes more of music to make you smile. As that is what it was all about. Simply more music.

What’s your favorite filler? Let us know by leaving a comment below…

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14 Responses

  1. I can’t recall which tape it filled, but my most vivid memory of a filler was on one of my first Dead bootlegs. It wasn’t some hidden gem from another show, or a soundcheck. Rather, it was one of Ken Nordine’s word jazz pieces called Inside of Is. The album from which it came was released on the Dead’s label back in ’92 and, if I recall, Garcia and Grisman provided the backing music.

  2. Like Hadley, I also can’t recall what tape it was, but the YEM, Llama, Funky Bitch with Carlos from Stowe ’92 was my favorite filler

  3. I think my all time fav was the full Sanford & Son theme at the end of a hot 93 MMW sbd I would have had around 95ish.

    Hadley, remind me to hook you up with an excellent DJ Food/Ken Nordine track.

  4. I always put filler on discs now that I burn for myself or others. No reason to leave so much empty space on a disc and most of the shows I burn for people have that retarded third disc that no one knows what to do with. I usually add some other stuff from the same band, depending on timing.

  5. Wow, this is a bit daunting. Without peeking at my ol’ cassettes, I’d say two all time faves are Robert Hunter’s “Tiny Wheels” (tacked onto set 2 of GD’s Swing Auditorium 1977!) and excerpts and outtakes from Andy Summers’ and Robert Fripp’s I ADVANCE MASKED. In the pre-Deadbase era, I had a tape mistakenly labelled “Kirkwood, MO 1970” which had an INCREDIBLE “Estimated Prophet” as filler, complete with Bob Weir robotized voice–obviously not of that particular vintage. Not sure what show that’s from, but thank Healy it was on that tape!

  6. Great essay Jeremy! I think I had a sweet Good Times Bad Times Zeppelin cover on one of my first tapes. I think the tape was from Burlington VT 94 but it was made for me around 98. I’m sure there are greats that I forget though. It’s been a while since I popped in a tape.

  7. Slow Rift soundcheck on 6-18-84
    Unbroken Chain acoustic rehearsals (from 1973) on 6-9-77

  8. Preservation Hall Jazz Band

    Ry Cooder


    Pornos 4 Pyros

    duke Ellington

    All of these were just a smidgin of some of ‘off the wall’ fillers off my tapes. (actually just went and blew off the dust from the tape cases and looked at a few)

    also, What really drew me in here was the pic of the Maxell XL II-90.

    when i had little money, it was tough to go and buy these at Sam Goodies for nearly twice the amount of the cheaper 60 min. tapes.

    thanks JWalsh for the contribution.


  9. I recall the “politics of filler” more than anything, i.e. the diversity of reaction that would be generated by the inclusion of filler from any band not the same or at least intimately associated with the band on the main tape.

    That a certain % of people would never even mention the filler was to be expected, as was the fact that those who did pay attention would have a wide range of opinions as to the filler’s musical merits. But what always amazed me was that such a significant minority would be turned off — nay, *offended* — by the inclusion of certain bands. The most obvious example would be if one were to include Phish filler on a Dead tape, which, harmless though that may sound, could generate incendiary response. Many “old-school deadheads” (a characterization I apply to myself) were “open-minded” in that they would be happy with The Dead -OR- Jerry Band as their filler. 🙂 This reminds me of the Jay Strauss “map of acceptable music” (or something like that) which I’d love to dig up. This type of “pure-bred” thinking would often manifest in explicit “do’s and don’t’s” filler policies listed on tape lists, which would always be a comical red-flag to me.

    While I don’t at all miss the mechanics, environmental impact, flaky trades, and wide-ranging quality of physical tape trading, I definitely miss that one-on-one, highly personalized process of expanding musical horizons. Some of my most long-lasting friendships in life were forged out of meeting folks through trading tapes online.

  10. 2 great examples:

    1. My Bomb Factory tape had the encore left off to leave room for the full Murat Gin as philler… good call, phan!

    2. I had a God Street Wine tape back in the day with a filler of Prince doing Purple Rain in his 80’s heyday complete with a 10 minute guitar solo by the purple wonder.

  11. On the bootlegs of my first Dead shows (3.23.86) was an audio recording of Bob and Jerry on the old David Letterman show in 1982. The chit-chat with them and the band is priceless. I love the picture of the Maxell XL II. If I had a dollar for every one of those I bought, at 1980’s prices, calculate for inflation, with interest, I may have enough $ to get to the lot the next time Phil comes around. Those tickets, that I camped out for in front of Buzzard’s Nest records for back then were less than $20 each-with ticket tron fees! Crazy.

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