Creed Bratton grew up William Charles Schneider in the small mining town of Coarsegold, CA. The grandson of a pair of talented country-western singers and son to a father who was a talented banjo player, it seemed that young Creed Bratton was destined to become involved in the music industry. Bratton first began his journey into the realm of music by becoming a highly talented trumpet player throughout his grade school years. Then it happened, the Sears Roebuck catalog came in the mail and from then on Bratton was a guitar player. Armed with a brand new Silver Tone guitar, Bratton learned how to play by ear and never looked back. Fast forward to 2005. Bratton is now portraying the character of Creed on the American version of The Office. While the role started out initially as a bit part, Creed is now a much loved and integral part of the colorful Dunder Mifflin universe. What a lot of fans of The Office don’t realize is that in the huge gap between picking up his first guitar and landing the role of Creed, Bratton became a well renowned musician. That’s right, Creed from The Office was a member of The Grass Roots. Yes, the same Grass Roots who we responsible for bringing us “Let’s Live For Today” and “Midnight Confessions.” Shocked? Steve Johnson of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Bratton to discuss his influences, his experiences as a member of The Grass Roots, his recently released album Bounce Back!, and his favorite “Creed-ism”!
First off, I want to give our readers a little background on you. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a little town below Yosemite National Park in Northern California called Coarsegold, which was a mining community. Of course the gold was gone by the time we were there. It was three hundred people. It’s a little tiny town. I grew up there and took a bus two hours to high school and two hours back again around windy mountain roads. I played guitar and rode a horse. Went fishing and hunting. I did all of that stuff.
How did music first come into your life?
My mother was one of the best mandolin players I ever heard. My father died when I was two in World War II. He also played banjo. They said he was a really, really good banjo player. As I got older I used to come down in the summers to Long Beach, California and spend a month or so with my grandparents who had a semi-professional country and western band called The Happy Timers. There was a steel player, a fiddle, two guitars, and drums. My grandmother played drums and my grandfather played guitar. When I was around twelve or thirteen, he showed me some chords. I played trumpet. I started out playing trumpet in grammar school. I ended up being first chair by the time of my freshman year in high school. I always had the gift for music. At about fifteen I guess, I got a Sears Roebuck catalog in the mail. I went to the Sears Roebuck catalog and got a Silver Tone guitar. The old one with the amp built into the case. So you take the guitar out of the case, plug your guitar into the case, plug the case into the wall, and turn the volume up and play. [laughs] They still have them out there I think. Maybe they don’t, but you can still find them out there. It’s a pretty amazing system. Then I learned by ear. I listened to the radio and figured out songs by ear. By the time I was seventeen I was playing professionally up at a place called Bass Lake Falls. Then I played through college, even though I was a drama major. I was planning to be an actor. I always played because it was something I could do. So I made money playing. Then I was in Europe for a couple of years on the folk trail. Then The Grass Roots stuff happened after that.
What influences have helped shape you, the musician, that we know today?
I liked Duane Eddy, The Everly Brothers, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Love Chuck Berry! Of course I really liked Les Paul. I had heard of that country stuff from my grandparents, so I like the old country. Hank Williams. In college the folk thing was happening, so I was learning folk music. Then of course The Beatles came along and changed all of that.
I had no idea that you were a part of The Grass Roots, as I am sure most people don’t. How did your involvement with the band come about?
I was in Europe. I was with the group The Young Californians out of college. We traveled all the way through Europe, across North Africa, over to Beirut, down through Syria and Jordan, and then to Israel. We were playing in a folk festival in Israel. This guy came up backstage after the show and said, “Hey! I really like the way you play guitar.” He said, “I just graduated from UCLA.” He gave me his telephone number. He said, “If you get to L.A., call me. Maybe we can get together and play.” It was really casual. People did this once in a while for me. His name was Warren Entner. So I put it in my rucksack. A little over a year later I am in L.A. following a girl there that I met in London. I’m at her house and I pull out my rucksack to get my clothes out, and this little piece of paper flutters out. I look down and I tell people, “If I hadn’t seen that piece of paper, that would have changed everything. My whole life!” I saw it and I picked it up and I said, “Oh! That’s that guy from Israel. The guy from UCLA.” So I called him up. He came over to the house. His name was Warren Entner. He and I started playing around. We wrote this song called “Beating Around the Bush.” Next thing you know we put this band together called The 13th Floor. We played around the valley and stuff for a while. Then The Grass Roots came about… P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri had recorded this song that P.F. wrote called “Where Were You When I Needed You.” They had a band that they got together. They did it with a studio band with P.F. singing. They put a band together to go out and tour. The band fell apart in a very short period of time. So they had this regional hit and they needed a band. So our managers said, “You can stay The 13th Floor. Good luck. God bless. Or you can come in and you can be The Grass Roots and we’ll take you into the studio.” So we opted to do that. The very first song we cut, Warren and I played guitars on it. My friend Bobby Ray played bass. The famous Hal Blaine and The Wrecking Crew played drums. That was “Live For Today.” Then the rest became The Grass Roots legacy.
You guys had a couple of huge hits with “Let’s Live For Today” and “Midnight Confessions.” What was that experience like and how often to you randomly hear those songs?
Yep, those were the two biggies, it’s amazing! It’s really amazing. I remember one time I was driving up the sunset strip and I kept punching the button and I kept hearing my guitar and my voice in the background going la, la, la, la. It was almost like the song was continually going all across the spectrum of pushing the buttons on the am radio. I went, “Wow!” I had to pull over. I thought, “Something could be really going on here!” I’ll be shopping at Trader Joes or a gas station or supermarket somewhere and I’ll hear “Live For Today” playing in the background. I just now, in the last ten years or twelve years or so started getting money from Universal. Back then they didn’t pay you for the stuff. You’d end up owing the record company money. It was pretty criminal. [laughs] I’m not the only one though. I think the Mama’s and the Papa’s owed Dunhill $250,000 when they finally stopped touring. They were in debt. They found a way to do this really, really creative accounting.
What led to your departure from the band?
The thing that I actually got to play in the beginning… Toward the end, we’d come back from tour and the… Again, I have to preface this by saying I have the greatest respect for The Wrecking Crew. We put their names on our records and held them in high regard. I respect them so much, but never the less, I’m still a guitar player. I felt since I was in the band, I wanted to participate in the recording process and it was frustrating. I got vocal about it. They said, “Well… If you’re not happy, you can leave.” So I did. Only thirty years later I get redemption. [laughs]
You just released your new album “Bounce Back!” For those who might not have had the chance to check out the album, how would you best describe it?
Well… I did it for myself because I am a songwriter. I knew all of these people that I wanted to play with and I said, “You know what… I can actually pay these guys to come in and do this thing.” So I was able to do it. So I just did something that I wanted to hear. For me, it’s well crafted pop music. There’s swampy rockers. There’s hippie, hipster jazz things on there like “Let’s Get Lost.” There’s funny stuff on there. There’s straight ahead pop songs. There’s Traveling Willburys songs. I consider it a very eclectic pop record, but I think it’s old school pop.
Tell us a little about your backing band The 3 DVB’s.
Years ago I played the Whiskey A Go Go. At the time the band was supposed to be called The Grass Roots Revisted, but The Whiskey put up The Grass Roots on it. It was an old drummer from the band… Anyway, Rob wasn’t participating. Rob, which was our bass player and lead singer. He was in Florida. He didn’t come out for the dig. Anyway… we used Dan Schwartz. Dan Schwartz had played on the Tuesday Night Music Club for Sheryl Crow and Black Cadillac for Rosanna Cash. The old analog sound of it was what I was going for on Bounce Back! I wanted that old spacey, a lot of air around the voice, instruments, and stuff. I hate that new everything is crashing together sound. I just don’t like it. So we did the gig. I stayed in contact with him. I’d get together every once in a while and play some songs and jam. I’d play acoustic. He played bass. I had a chance to do a corporate party and he said, “Well you know the guy that I played with?” I said, “Brian MacLeod.” He said, “He played on the Rosanna album.” I said, “Oh yeah!” We rehearsed and I got on stage with those guys and I went, “Wow! This feels really good!” I’ve played with a little of people through the years. A lot of different people… I felt really good playing with these two guys. Then Dan said, “You’ve really got some good songs. We should really cut these songs.” So Brian introduced me to Dave Way. I liked Dave. I felt really comfortable in the studio. I had worked before was a thing called the Scrantones, where I played a convention in Scranton for The Office convention. I recorded this one song called “David Watts” with Bob Thiele, who now does the Sons of Anarchy Soundtrack. I thought Val was one of the best guitar players I had heard. At the convention he brought along, not Val… I was playing lead at that time. Dillon O’Brian… I loved Dillon’s keyboard playing. I just liked his energy, so in the back of my mind I thought, “OK! This is the band!” So when they mentioned it. He said, “Who do you want to use?” I just said, “I want to use Brian, and Dan, and Dillon, and Val.” I kind of already knew… I thought in my mind it would work and it did as you can tell. It really worked well.
Your co-star from The Office, Ed Helms, also helped you out on the album. How did his involvement come about and what did he contribute?
He played on “Rubber Tree” and “Drivin’ the Drags.” He played the banjo on those songs.
Were there any challenges while making the album?
None. None. I got Dan Schwartz some really old classic mics. We recorded all acoustic guitars with really good mics in front of them. Some of the stuff like “Matters Like This”… I’m sitting there just playing my Martin and Val would go, “Oh, that’s beautiful!” Dave would say, “That’s lovely. Play it again.” We threw a mic in front of my voice, in front of me, and then onto my guitar. Stuck one in front of Val. We finished the song. He said do it again. We all played it together and he goes, “OK. I think that sounds great. I don’t think we’re going to improve on that.” We tried it one more time. He still liked the second take. We all liked the second take. That’s how it came out on the album. It’s just totally live. We did overdub the accordion. Everything else is just live. A lot of the stuff on the album is that way. Again, that’s why it has that old fashioned sound.
Being in the music industry as long as you have, are there still surprises? What has been the biggest surprise?
I think the demise of the record company was a big surprise to me, although you could see the writing on the wall for years. I just went to SXSW and played with Tara Holloway, who appears on my record. She’s a force to be reckoned with. She’s from Canada. She’s got an amazing, unique voice. She sings “Let’s Get Lost,” The Chet Baker song with me. She also does background on “Drivin’ the Drags.” I went and I did three gigs at South By with her. What I heard when I was there was so refreshing and so exciting. It reminded me of being on the strip in the old days when all of these different bands were coming up and nobody sounded the same. You could hear somebody and go instantly, “Oh! That’s so and so…” Now for the last couple of decades, each song that comes up on the radio, they all sound the same. They really sound the same. It’s the record company that made that happen. They had to fit into this cookie cutter thing to get the gig. That’s wrong. For me it’s wrong. So for me, I think the best thing that’s happened is that people are rediscovering their individuality. They’re just trying to do what’s organic coming from the band, their voices, their instruments, their writing, rather that forcing themselves to fit a formula. I really believe that very sincerely.
What do you consider the defining moment of your musical career so far?
Gosh… I’ve got to believe it’s this album. I’ve got to believe that this album is a throw back to the old well crafted pop songs. I believe this is a really solid, honest, well crafted album with really good players and a honest approach. I’m happier with this thing than anything I have ever been involved in musically.
You are currently playing some live shows. Where can people catch up with your band?
The first time they can see us coming up will be May 8th in L.A. at the Hotel Cafe. After that I know we’ve been talking to The Caves and Cafe Largo. Of course it’s hard because of The Office to find the time to go out and do a tour. If I can get the right agent to book… We can plan ahead and get the show together for the next time we go on hiatus, then I will definitely tour with this band. Of course it will be surrounded by the doubt if I have a movie that I’ve got to do. It’s going to have to be setup between films and The Office, but I definitely am planning to go out and tour for the album if the opportunity is given to me.
Most people recognize you as Creed from The Office. How did you get involved in that project?
I was working on Bernie Mac. I had done one episode where I played piano on Bernie. I was playing live, bluesy piano. Like a lounge lizard kind of guy. It was a funny little bit. I had another bit with Carl Reiner. So I had been doing just kind of little bits. A lot of them had to do with music. It was really funny. I played a few different characters on the show. Mostly just musical stuff. This guy came on, director Ken Kwapis. He was a big Grass Roots fan. He knew all about it. He sent out for some albums and I signed a few album for him. We chatted a lot. I found out he was directing the American version of The Office. I actually had… Mr. Balls here… Mr. Balls Bratton. [laughs] I called him up and I said, “Hey Ken! It’s Creed!” He goes, “Hey!” I said, “I hear you’re doing The Office. I would really love to come and participate in that.” He said, “Well were cast man, but you know what, you are such an interesting character. If you want to come and I’ll stick you in a suit in the back ground, I promise you that I will see if I can work you in.” So he literally did on the pilot in that first season, even though I did act in one and I did a voice over in another. I was basically in the background. I saw it. I saw all of these talented people vying for time. I wrote my own talking head. I shot it myself. I adlibed a bunch of stuff, cut it to about five minutes, and gave it to Greg Daniels. He thought it was funny and he liked it. The next thing I know they gave me a shot with “Halloween” and the I’m on the show in a year or so as a regular. I was on the show from then on as a guest star. Now for a couple seasons I have been a series regular.
Do you have a favorite quote from the show?
God… There’s so many! Where to start Steve? “Which one’s Pam?” “Someone’s Making Soup.” “Cool beans.” Also maybe perhaps, “During the sixties I made love to many, many, women. Often outdoors in the rain and the mud. It’s possible a man slipped in. There would be no way of knowing.” It’s such a bizzare line! [laughs]
The Office is currently in its sixth season. To what do you attribute the longevity of the show to?
I have no idea. Obviously we’ve got a really great cast. We’ve got Steve Carell. We’ve got Rainn Wilson and John and Jenna and a really good supporting cast. We all work together well. We’ve got some of the best writers in Hollywood right now writing for us. Of course we’ve got our wunderkind mastermind guiding us all through these storms, Greg Daniels, who has been at the helm of many, many great things before this. Of course we were almost canceled the first season. We almost didn’t make it to the second season, but we finally found an audience and it seems to be building to in increments every year. So that’s a good thing.
How do you find the time to juggle between your commitment to The Office and your musical career?
I can only go in the studio to do an album because you really need to go back and forth every single day when we’re on hiatus. So I can’t go out and tour or record an album. I can go out and do weekend gigs. We work twelve hour days man. It’s tiring five days a week. I have to do all of this stuff as soon as we wrap. For this one here… We wrapped on Tuesday, I took a red eye to New York, and I’ve been on a press junket all week for the album. I haven’t had any chance to rest at all, but hopefully when I get back to L.A. I’ll get a couple of days.
What is the best piece of advice that someone has given you along the way in your career?
Always have gas in your car, air in your tires, current plates, and a drivers license so that anytime anybody calls you to go to an audition you can do it and not say, “Aww… I didn’t have a car and couldn’t make it.” That’s really important. People don’t know about that stuff. You’ve got to be able to make a gig. For me, I’m just a workaholic anyway. I’ve always, even all of those years in between The Grass Roots and The Office, I stayed in workshops and stuff. Every week I would memorize a script and do it live in front of people. So when my opportunity came I was ready. I guess that’s the advice. Be ready. Have that muscle working and tuned up. If you get an opportunity and you go, “OK. Let me go back home and kind of dust off the chops…” No. You don’t get time to dust off anything, you better be ready to go. That’s the best advice you can give anybody.
Is there anything else you want to add or say to your fans?
I just thank everybody so much for embracing the character. I know the young crowd has taken Creed as some weird kind of cult figure. I’m so happy about that. I hope everyone likes the album.
Thanks for your time Creed and best of luck!
Thank you, buddy!
Get Creed Bratton’s new album ‘Bounce Back’ online at the official website located at www.creedbrattonbounceback.com!
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