Former lead guitarist in '60s hitmakers The Grass Roots, Creed
Bratton has carved out a successful career on NBC's hit comedy
The Office playing a strange and wacky office worker (who often
has the best lines) named… Creed Bratton. But despite his newfound
success on the boob tube as Dunder-Mifflin's favorite eccentric,
he's never lost his love for music. Today Creed Bratton is bouncing
back in a big way with his latest CD, Bounce
Garnering major coverage in Rolling Stone and the
New York Times, the CD isa delightful mélange of winning folk and rock
grooves, jumpin' rhythms, memorable wordplay, and dreamy soundscapes.
At age 67, Creed is having the time of his life. We caught up with
the charming and likeable actor/musician on the set of The Office,
located in a non-descript industrial cul de sac of LA's San
Fernando Valley, populated by grimy auto shops, a plumbing and
irrigation company and a laundromat. While the location for this
popular series is plain and distinctly unremarkable, Creed's life
has been nothing short of a series of remarkable adventures. And the
ride ain't over yet folks. Join us for an all encompassing
conversation with The Office resident weirdo about his
colorful life in the trenches of the entertainment biz.
Creed Bratton's not your real name.
Nope. I was born William Charles Schneider. We talk about that on
The Office sometimes. If I ever have bad debts I transfer them
to William Charles Schneider. Too bad he doesn’t exist. My father
died when I was two in World War II and my mother married a few
years later to a guy named Ertmoed and I became Chuck Ertmoed. So I
was in Europe with this trio called The Young Californians and
somebody asked me what I was going to do with my life and I told
them I was gonna go back home and try and become an actor. Then I
told them my name was Chuck Ertmoed. I woke up the next morning and
we were drunk. There was a tablecloth there and I changed my name to
Creed Bratton. That’s been my name since 1966.
You come from a musical family.
Correct. My grandparents had a semi-professional band called The
Happy Timers. My grandmother played drums and my grandfather played
guitar. They played all the old Bob Wills Cowboy music. So I grew up
hearing that stuff. My mother was a really good mandolin player. My
grandparents showed me some chords and then I picked up more by
listening to the radio. Whenever I saw anybody play I really paid
close attention and learned by watching and observing.
Your goal wasn’t to be a musician but an actor.
Right. I was a drama major in college and I came to LA to become an
actor. The whole Grass Roots thing just took off. I always played
music to make money, because I could. I’d been making money playing
music professionally since I was seventeen years old.
How did you come to join The Grass Roots?
I was playing in a group called The 13th Floor and we were playing
around the Valley. I met Warren Entner [future
Grass Roots member] in Israel. I was
working on a movie called Cast a Giant Shadow. He came up and
I was playing with a bunch of guys at a folk festival. He gave me
his number and I called him when I got to LA. We wrote a song
together called “Beating Around the Bush.” Then someone told us
there was a club we could play to make money. And I really needed to
make money. One thing led to another and we started playing all the
time. One of the clubs we played regularly was called Middle Earth,
also in the Valley. We also played a lot at a club called the
London Fog which was located next to the Whisky A-Go-Go.
When did you change the name to the Grass Roots?
P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri had a band with Bill Fulton, who
eventually sang with Tower of Power. Joel Larson played drums. They
were called The Bedouins, which is Arabic for “nomads.” That group
fell apart and they had already cut the song “Where Were You When I
Needed You” with a studio band. They had a semi-hit with that song
and they needed a band. So along came us. They brought us in and we
recorded “Beating Around the Bush” and “Let’s Live For Today.” Our
manager, Jerry Cohen said, “Look, you can go back and be The
Thirteenth Floor, or you can take the Grass Roots name, which
already had a semi-hit and we’ll cut an album with you.” So we
decided to do that. “Let’s Live For Today” was a big top 10 hit.
Warren and I played on that, Rob [Grill]
didn’t. Hal Blaine played drums on that song. From there the band
really took off and Rob [Grill]
played a huge part because he had a great pop voice. Our bass
got drafted so we put up a sign at the Musicians Union saying,
“Touring band needs a bass player.” We auditioned a bunch of people
but frankly when we heard Rob sing we knew he was the guy plus he
was a good bass player too. From there I was with them for the next
four or five years. I remember we were playing in Oxnard,
California and “Midnight Confessions”’ was on the charts. We had
just released the Feelings album and on that album we wrote
all the songs and played on all the songs too. A lot of people still
think it’s one of our most honest records. Anyhow, the Wrecking Crew
had supplied all the instrumentation for “Midnight Confessions.”
They just wanted us to come in and put on our vocals and that’s one
of the reasons why I ultimately left the band. I got frustrated with
it. We could play. We knew how to play and weren’t given the
Who were some of the bands you toured with?
We toured with The Beach Boys and The Doors.
You knew Jim Morrison?
Sure. He was drunk most of the time but when he wasn’t he was a very
intelligent man. I still talk with Ray Manzarek. I haven’t seen
or John [Densmore]
in a long time. We also toured with Canned Heat, War, The Chambers
Brothers. We did shows with Moby Grape and The Young Rascals. We
also did a tour with Cream. That was a weird scene because they’d
come to the show in different cars. They wouldn’t talk to each
other. They didn’t get along at all. They’d go up onstage and
wouldn’t even look at each other. But they bashed it out and it was
amazing. They fought each other with their instruments. It was like
a war going on. It wasn’t like they were grooving on their records.
To me, you can’t be inharmonious and make good music. They were
pretty fractious at that time.
When you think back to your tenure in the Grass Roots, what are the
memories that put the biggest smile on your face?
I was onstage at the Fillmore West and I’d only smoked pot and drank
before that time. Somebody gave me some acid and I tried it. I
didn’t think it was going to be much stronger than pot. Boy was I
wrong. We were onstage and it just hit me. So I played a chord and I
saw these color vortexes in the palms of my hands throbbing. I hit
another chord and looked over to the speakers. Out of the speakers
in my mind’s eye comes musical staff paper with the notes written on
it. The notes fall off the line sand break on the floor. My band
mates told me I walked over and was trying to pick up the notes on
the floor and put them back in my hands (laughs). That’s how
far out I was, I was just gone! And I hear this (imitates Bill
Graham’s voice saying name very slowly) “C-R-E-E-D!” Bill was livid
and he didn’t like me much anyway, we had a personality conflict. He
was yelling at me and I couldn’t play. I had a Nehru Chinese shirt
on and dropped my pants – I never wore underwear – and I let that
pony dance out in the breeze. (laughs again). Then I walked
off stage and started telling the stage crew the meaning of life.
Obviously I was connected then to all this esoteric information
(laughs). There’s so many great times. Rainn Wilson
[he portrays the character Dwight Schrute
on The Office] tells me I’ve got to
write a book because I’ve got so many great stories.
Another funny story… At the Miami Pop Festival I dropped acid with
the lead guitar player in Three Dog Night, but by that time I was
getting used to it. The Turtles were playing and performing “Happy
Together.” Mark Volman [singer for the Turtles]
had this giant afro and had a big star pendant with points on
it. So he’s singing and the pendant is swinging back and forth and
somehow sticks in the side of his head and gets entangled in his
afro! He’s singing (sings a line from
“Happy Together”) “Imagine me and you…” He’s getting angry because
he’s trying unsuccessfully to pull it out. Mike and I were next to
the stage and thought it was the funniest thing and we’re howling
with laughter. Mark looks over at us and gives us a look that could
kill. Now it’s even funnier and we’re dying. So the road manager
comes up and (laughing) tries to extricate the star from his
afro. It gets worse. Mark is trying to sing the song and Howard
[Kaylan, co-leader of
the Turtles] is looking over nonplussed, almost like he’s
ignoring Mark. Finally our roadie comes out and takes a scissors and
cuts the thing out of his afro. He was not a happy camper. It was
the funniest thing we’d ever seen.
Eventually you left the Grass Roots because you felt the band wasn’t
being taken seriously?
I understood what a great thing it was and I always had the highest
respect for the Wrecking Crew, who played on some of our songs. I
gave an award to the Wrecking Crew not long ago. From that stage
Blaine said we were the only band at the time who acknowledged those
players and put their names our album. Nevertheless, I really wanted
to play on all our records. It wasn’t like I thought I was better
than these players either because I wasn’t it. I made it very clear
for me to be an artist I wanted to play on all our records. It was
the right thing for me to do as an artist, but the wrong thing to do
for as a person who wants to make money.
What happened after you left the band and how did your acting career
start to supercede music?
Things were rough for a long time. There was a period when I didn’t
even have a car. My wife was in New York and I’d get on the bus with
my daughter and take her to kindergarten. Then I’d go and do a day
shift at a restaurant to make money and I’d jump back on the bus,
pick her up from school and bring her home. My sister-in-law lived
close by and she’s watch my daughter and I’d go to acting classes
and study with Charles Conrad doing the Sanford Meisner method. I
did that for about a year. I struggled for about 30 years. I was
still playing gigs and doing bit parts in movie but it was really
about 30 years until I started making real money as an actor. I’d
get so close. I did some TV shows like Quincy and worked on
the Peter Bogdanovich film Mask, with Cher and Sam Elliott.
I played the ticket taker. I was the guy who said, “You can ride but
I won’t be responsible for the retard here.” I was that nasty guy,
everybody hated me. So there was a carrot dangling in front of me
the whole time.
You finally grabbed the carrot when you landed the role of “Creed”
I was working on The Bernie Mac Show and one of the
directors, Ken Kwapis, was a big Grass Roots fan. He sent his
assistant down to Amoeba Records to pick up some Grass Roots vinyl,
which I signed for him. Then I heard through Joe Moore, who was out
first A.D. [assistant director], that Ken was going to direct the
American version of The Office. I was in love with the Golden
Glove winning BBC version of The Office with Ricky Gervais.
It was brilliant. I was bold and called Ken up and said, “I really
want a chance to do this.” He said, “We’ve already cast the show but
you’re such a quirky guy, maybe we’ll find
something for you.”
So I left The Bernie Mac Show where I was starting to do some
bits on the show [and went] to working in
the background on The Office. Wanting to move forward as an
actor and to be in the background on this new show, I really had to
weigh it. It was a way to make money temporarily and my guy said it
was the right thing to do. So I trusted it. I was there for a couple
of weeks and watched all these talented actors vying for screen
time. Ken’s words to me were “I’ll try to work you into the mix.”
Well, I thought faint heart wins Jack. I gotta do this
myself. So I wrote a character loosely based on what would have
happened if I’d stayed drunk and stoned as a rock star and ended up
working for a paper company in Scranton. I shot a DVD and edited it
down with Joe Moore’s help and presented it to Greg Daniels.
Very brave. A little while later they came up to me and said, “You
know what, you’re really a very funny guy, this is really funny
stuff.” So they brought me back for the second season. I’m sitting
there with Devon Abner and Kent Zbornak and they handed me the
Halloween script and it was six and a half pages with Steve Carell
going at it and playing hardball. I said to myself, “This is it,
this is my moment” and sure enough it turned out to be a defining
moment in my life. In the Grass Roots I never really made any real
money, the record company took it all. The money we made was on the
road and that was it.
You’ve carved out such a quirky and eccentric character on
The Office. How much of the character is you?
Well, I’d be in jail if this character was real. There’s no doubt
that I’m a quirky guy but I’m certainly not as quirky as the
character I play on the show. I remember the time I had to stare at
Pam’s breasts in an episode and she said, “Do you mind?” And I said,
“In a moment, I’ll get around to it.” I was embarrassed and they
said I got red faced. She’s like my daughter but Jenna
[Fisher] said, “Creed,
you’ve gotta do it,” so I did.
The rock and roll lifestyle is typically non-disciplined; working on
a show like
The Office you must be very disciplined. How do you deal with
We work twelve hours a day, five days a week. We’re in here at 5:45
AM, six o’ clock in the morning. The days of wine and roses are long
past for me. It’s nothing like that rock and roll lifestyle. I just
go to work and do my job now and I’m happy to do it. I love it.
Do people ever come up to you and repeat some of your quirkier lines
from the show?
There are people that know all my lines from the six seasons. The
ones they say the most are “cool beans,”, “someone making soup” and
“which one’s Pam?” There was one guy who came up to me at the
airport and he points his finger at me and says one of my lines, “In
the Sixties I made love to many, many women, often out doors in the
rain and the mud. Is it possible a man slipped in? There’d be no way
of knowing.” (laughs) I fell on the ground laughing. He did
it just like I did it.
The show has paid a few nods to your past career in the Grass Roots.
Yes, on the “Booze Cruise” episode from season two, there’s a
deleted scene where I get to play guitar and they talk all about the
Grass Roots and that I was a member and they even show some photos
of me with the band. I get to say that I toured with Janis Joplin
and The Doors and now I sell paper.
How do you balance grueling schedule of working on a TV show with
I’m always writing songs. I wrote a lot of songs on my new CD
Bounce Back right here in this trailer – “Matters Like This,”
“Then I Think Of You.” What I was trying to create sonically on this
album was different to an album I did with Jon Tiven in Nashville.
It was a pretty cool little album called Creed Bratton. There
are some cool songs on that. Jon’s a great producer and the sound
was really raw. On the new album I wanted to do kind of a smoother,
folkier record and wanted my voice to get recorded like I thought it
should sound. I played with the Grass Roots at a 35th anniversary
of the Whiskey–A-Go Go; Joel Larson and I were the only members to
play. Rob (Grill) couldn’t make it out so we got this guy called Dan
Schwartz who’d played with Rosanne Cash and Sheryl Crow’s Tuesday
Night Music Club album. Dan and I really hit it off. Years later
I’d end up at his house we’d play songs and he loved my original
songs. So when I had a chance to play that Grass Roots show he
brought in Brian McCloud: he’s played with Tears for Fears, Sheryl
Crow and Rosanne Cash. I really liked what he was doing too. He
introduced me to a guy named Dave Way who had a studio near where I
live. I walked in the studio and instantly loved Dave. I got the
feeling he was not going put me in harm’s way and embarrass myself.
I also understand an actor doing an album is circumspect in some
eyes. I didn’t want people to look at this as a joke because I am
legitimate and I have really good songs. So I put together this band
with Dan and Brian. I’d heard Val McCallum playing on a Scrantones
[the band who recorded the theme to The Office] song. I first
met Dylan O’Brien, who’s a keyboard player, at an Office
convention in Scranton. We also played together when I recorded the
song for the “Booze Cruise” episode. So I hit it off with all these
guys and we formed a band called The 3 DVBs. We also brought in Dean
Parks to play extra guitar and dobro. My buddy from The Office,
Ed Helms [he portrays the character Andy Bernard] plays on “Rubber
Tree” and “Drivin’ the Drags.” He’s a really good banjo player and
we jam in his trailer on Appalachian songs. A wonderful singer from
Canada named Tara Holloway sings on the Chet Baker classic “Let’s
Get Lost” and that turned out really good. It has a really dreamy
quality to it.
I hear a distinct Band influence on “Rubber Tree.”
Yeah. I hear The Band. I hear Dylan and I hear Traveling Wilburys. I
don’t write a song to do the Creed Bratton template. I write a song
and we all go in and serve the song. That’s why the album Bounce
Back has all different styles of music on it. There’s jazzy
stuff on there. The song “Change That Channel” is punky and
aggressive, a CBGB’s vibe. There’s mid-tempo rockers. There’s
Eagles-like country stuff. There’s these jazzy ballads. We haven’t
played many live shows. We played a few shows in LA: Café Largo,
Hotel Café, McCabes. We did the Aimee Mann Christmas show. I haven’t
been able to get on the road because of the show. And I’ve also been
doing a bunch of independent films too. So my day job is an actor
but I just love music. I’d like to do another record. I keep writing
songs. There’s some cool stuff there.
Lastly, if you could whisper one piece of advice in your ear at
start of your career what would you say and why?
I’m not gonna advocate anything but at the time in the Sixties it
was expected of you to explore. I didn’t explore to escape, I
explored to write songs. And I joke about it on
www.creedbrattonbounceback.com. I say, “I went to the other side of
the veil to grab these little chestnuts. The songs made it back but
I didn’t.” That’s not true. But I did for spirituality and songs.
Then it became hedonistic after a while (laughs) Best advice?
For me I saw it in my mind’s eye. I saw what I could do. I
visualized it very clearly. Once I saw it in my mind’s eye nobody
could talk me out of it. There’ll always be naysayers saying, “Do
you know the percentage of people that fail?” I never give up. I’m
old school about that. Also I had nothing else I could do very well
so that limited me. You need to have a car that runs and a valid
driver’s license. Have air in the tires and have brakes that work.
You don’t want to be one of those people who get a call for an
audition and says, “Can I get in there tomorrow because my car’s in
the shop?” It sounds silly but you need to be ready to go like a boy
scout. I was ready. In those 30 years, during my down time I was
always in an acting class or workshop. I was always working that
acting muscle. It wasn’t like I stopped for 30 years and then got
the role on The Office. I never stopped. It was an ongoing
process at all times.