These days, people know Creed Bratton as a character on NBC’s hugely popular show, The Office. From mud orgies, to cult leading, from kleptomania, to not knowing his co-workers names, Creed gives audiences a spit take every time he’s on screen. Creed Bratton, the actor, was the lead guitarist for the 60s folk rock group The Grass Roots, who scored hits like “Live For Today” and “Midnight Confessions.” After feeling too artistically controlled by his group and his record label in the late 60s, Creed left the biz and set his sights on acting.
Creed Bratton is a fictitious character and a real person, and therein lies the secret formula. Creed took the time to share stories and laughs about his life, his new album, and how this may be the last season of The Office.
I was really taken with your song, “Original White Hat Guy.” Tell me about this character.
“Original White Hat Guy,” now that is one based on a real situation. I’m driving up from LA to Coarsegold, where I grew up near Yosemite National Parks. I had a Porsche back in the Grass Roots days, now I have a really nice Porsche car, too, but in between, I was struggling, it was one of my clunky ones I was driving. I stopped to get gas at this place called The 22 Mile House and it was like some Sam Shepard play.
It’s twilight. The sun’s dropping down and there’s hardly any sunlight left at all, and this woman’s wearing sunglasses. She was an attractive girl and I couldn’t help but notice that behind her sunglasses, she had a black eye. So she reached over to put the gas back in the pump and this guy grabbed her by the arm and bruised her. And I looked up and I saw this guy watching me watch her from inside the car. And that was the catalyst for that, I thought, “I’d like to be the original white hat guy and take her away from all this stuff.”
But you don’t do that cause you’re gonna get shot. I know the people where I grew up.
Sounds like that kind of area where you take the law into your own hands.
Man, where I grew up, my neighbors were shot by some drunk Indian right through the screen door. He wanted their car and they wouldn’t give it to him. We all had guns. It was a dangerous place. It builds character, I guess… or makes you into a character like me.
Do you have plans to bring your band anywhere or do a tour?
Well I got an agent and a manager for the music stuff, but it’s just so difficult cause I’m shooting an independent film now, which is a musical by the way, which I sing in, called The Ghastly Love Of Johnny X. It’s really a trip. It’s gonna be like The Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Ed Wood meets all the schlock, 50s campy stuff. We haven’t seen a movie like this in a while and that’s what really attracted me to the project. I’m just finishing it right off. I got two days, I wrap that movie, then I go immediately to do a table reading for The Office, then we’re back in a week, boom!
We all know we hit the lottery with The Office.
The audiences have, too. It’s such a great show.
Oh thanks man. This could be our last year man.
Yeah. Steve’s not gonna do it anymore, he says, now with the kids. And I think seven seasons, that’s long enough, too, you know. And I wouldn’t want to do it without Steve. I mean, you never know. If they say they want you back, you would, but I can’t really see it without Steve.
Is it a riot working with him?
Oh my god! It’s so hard not to laugh. He’s so funny. He’s a comic genius. No doubt about it. The second and third season, even that far in, I was still biting the side of my cheek not to laugh. That little quivery deranged rodent look that Creed gets on his face sometimes, it’s not really acting, it’s just biting the inside of my mouth not to laugh. That’s what that look is.
Do you have any crazy stories from your days in The Young Californians, The 13th Floor, The Grass Roots?
You’ve heard about the one catching sharks in the hotel room, dropping acid and I couldn’t play, dropping my pants, and Bill Graham screaming at me from the side of the stage?
A good story though, a really good story, we are booked in Florida and our agent signed the contracts and got us down there to do two shows a night. We ‘d always do two shows, it’s a club, we take a break, and come back in and do another one, you know. This venue, we did the one show and they walk us out and say, “We’re gonna take a ride.”
“Well where are we going?”
“We’re riding to the airport cause you’re flying across the state to do this other gig, like an hour flight to another town.”
We said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, we aint flying in that little plane.”
He said, sure enough, “Yeah you are.”
So we called and got our manager outta bed, and he called and they looked at the contract, and we’re waiting, waiting, waiting, and he said, “Yeah, he fucked up. You gotta do it, you’re contractually obligated to do this.” So we said, “Shit.” We put our bass and two guitars in this little tiny plane, and we were flying at night, across the fucking Everglades! [Starts laughing] And of course we’re smoking dope.
And you’re probably thinking about Buddy Holly.
And we’re thinking about Buddy Holly. Thank you very much. I needed that. And all of a sudden you hear the guys going, “Uh huh, yeah I see.” And you hear the guy [on the radio] going, “Ok, Roger, approaching landing, amber light at east end of the runway, west end of the runway, green light.”
Well I look down and I see a blue and yellow light, I don’t see an amber and green light. And I go, “Hey you know those look like the right colors.”
The plane driver says, “Hey, you play guitar, I’ll fly the plane.” I said, “Look, really.” The guys [in the band] said, “Creed, what are you doing?” I said, “Well, just something hinky. And the guys said, “Come on! Come on!” And I went, “Oh fuck, alright,” so I sit back.
I know my intuition. I got really good intuition. I got good gut instincts. So we land on this funky runway that’s not supposed to be landed on. We blow out a tire. We end up in a ditch canal. We were right down in the water with the plane. We look over and you can actually see, and this is no fucking joke, alligator eyes sticking out on the top of the water. We’re going, “Great, we’re gonna fucking get eaten by alligators.”
They're probably little alligators but when you’re stoned, THEY’RE FUCKING HUGE! Tyrannosaurus Rex going to kill you alligators.
And [the pilot], he’s livid. It’s his fucking fault. But he’s livid at me, cause he wants me to say something so he can get crazy. All of a sudden, over the top of the knoll, like a couple of Hum-Vee’s, and you see guys, with dogs, and military people with machine guns. We’re on a restricted military base. They put us in the brig with the pilot. They impound the plane. Needless to say we’re at the total wrong place. Later on we heard, “Well they told the guy the right colors, he just flew into the wrong base.”
Ok. I’m not gonna say I told you so. But we missed the gig. And then of course, we owed the gig. It’s not the producer’s fault. When I drop acid and can’t play, we gotta come back the next night and make up the gig for Bill Graham.
So, welcome to rock and roll. We think when we’re not in that beer stained mattress in the back of the van that we sleep on, and staying at Holiday Inns, when we think we’re gonna be flying around now, we’ve really made. It’s still crazy! But you wouldn’t change that stuff, that’s rock and roll. It’s great.
Bad situations make for a great story.
Yeah, regular old predictable stuff’s not funny. When you risk your life, that’s when adventure starts.
When watching The Office, you’d think that a lot of your character’s crazy back story is made up, but hearing all these stories, is a lot of it in fact inspired by real life event?
The basic character had a crazed past, a rock and roll past. There’s stuff, in polite company, I wouldn’t talk about. I’d lose my G-rated audience.
Basically my premise was that he was so burned out on drugs that he passed out on a Greyhound bus and ends up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. He’s living in a dumpster and Ed Truck takes pity on him and gives him a job. He found out he didn’t know how to do anything, but he was so weird and intimidating that no one wanted to fire him. And they did try to fire him and he kept weaseling his way out of it, so they gave up and basically ignored him, you know. I don’t think you’re gonna find anyone in an office who basically doesn’t do any work. That guy in Dilbert, Wally, he’s one of my role models.
What would you say are your biggest musical influences?
Probably, back in the day, the first thing I can remember being turned on to was country western swing. My grandparents had a country western band at the time, you know Bobs Wills and the Texas Playboys, and you know, Hank Williams, and stuff like that. The first stuff I really liked a lot. I played a lot of classical. I played first chair trumpet for years through grammar school and high school. I liked classical music a lot. I liked Dixieland. I think Dixieland got my juices flowing a lot. And then of course once I heard rock and roll, then I was gone, that was it. Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, Everly Brothers…
Did you play in your grandparents’ country western swing band?
No, but my stepfather played some drums, and my mother was a really good mandolin player, and I was playing guitar. My grandfather showed me some chords when I was 13, and then I just started listening to the radio and learning on my own. But we would all play on Friday or Saturday night when they were all drunk and I’d come in there, looking around, like, “What the hell is going on?” But I’d bring out my guitar and I’d play with my mother and she was a great mandolin player. And they’d just get three shits to the sheet, and uh [chuckles], three sheets to the wind and shit-faced. [chuckles] three sheets to the shit. You can quote me on that, Chris.
That’s gonna be a bumper sticker in a year, I think.
[Laughs.] And then we’d sit there and play all that old country stuff. “Across The Alley From The Alamo,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and things like that.
Was there a defining moment when you were listening to rock and roll?
All of a sudden, when I realized it was art and it wasn’t just entertainment was when I was in England in 1964, I heard Rubber Soul. And that was kinda like an epiphany for me. I was at a girlfriend’s house in Kensington High Street and I think I stayed in her room there for a couple weeks just listening to it over and over again, just mind boggling. I always loved music and it took me off places, but when I started thinking, ‘Hey you know, well this is something I’d like to do,’ was Rubber Soul. There’s something about the whole thing, the simplicity of it, the harmonies, there’s a magical synergistic thing going on with those guys on that album. It’s so simple, too. It’s so good.
On your latest album, Bounce Back, there’s quite a range in your lyrical content. What is it that appeals to you about mixing such varied styles and emotions?
<p>People ask me, ‘Well what chose the style of music and what were you going for?” I write songs. I write ‘em and they come to me. I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes, 3 or 4 in the morning and write a song down, and wake up the next day and go, ‘Oh, I see it there, I wrote a song last night. I’ll be driving around and phone my message service at home and leave lyrics on it. I’m always writing down lyrics. I keep a pad wherever I go. Even on my hikes, in my fanny pack, I keep a pencil and pen in there to write.
The album title, Bounce Back, is a lyric taken from the song, “Rubber Tree.” But out of the context of that song, does that phrase refer to your personal journey in the performing arts?
Absolutely. People had really written me off. He had his shot. I’ve had people say, “You’re done. You’ve had it. You had your 15 minutes of fame with The Grass Roots. That’s it.” And I’d never buy into that, but people did. They’d say, “Why are you doing this?” I never thought it was over. I kept plugging away cause basically, what else can I do Chris? I write, I act, and I write. You know, so here I am on The Office with this album, and I bounced back. In my own personal life, I cleaned up my act from all the craziness I used to do. I bounced back from being a crazed partier. I bounced back with my acting career and I bounced back with my music. And it all sounds better and it is all better than it ever was before. So, Bounce Back, it’s a good title given where I am.