‘The Office’ star returns to his folk-rock roots, performing with P.F. Sloan at Record Surplus
By Michael Aushenker
Fans of the long-running NBC comedy “The Office” may remember the cryptic Creed, oldest and oddest among Dunder Mifflin’s employees, prone to proffer such weird exclamations as: “Two eyes. Two ears. A chin. A mouth. Ten fingers. Two nipples. A butt, two kneecaps, a penis. I’ve just described to you the Loch Ness monster. And the reward for his capture? All the riches in Scotland.”
What many fans of the Emmy-winning show that starred Steve Carell and John Krasinski may not know is that actor Creed Bratton, who played the nonsequitur-spouting quality assurance guy, is also a musician.
Not a vanity project actor/musician — an actual musician, part of the original folk-rock movement.
“My parents and my grandparents, everybody played music! It was second nature to me,” Bratton, 72, tells The Argonaut.
Bratton, along with his former Grass Roots bandmate P.F. Sloan — author of Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction,” hits by The Turtles and Herman’s Hermits, and the TV theme song for “Secret Agent” — performs on Saturday at Record Surplus in West Los Angeles.
“We just did a show in Pasadena. We hadn’t played together in 45 years,” Bratton says of Sloan.
Born William Schneider, Bratton adopted his professional moniker while traveling to Europe, Africa and the Middle East during the 1960s with his group, the Young Californians. It was in Israel that fellow American guitarist Warren Entner heard Bratton perform and befriended him. By 1966, they formed the 13th Floor, in which Bratton played lead guitar and Entner assumed rhythm guitar duties. They forwarded a demo to Lou Adler’s new record company, Dunhill Records (home of Three Dog Night).
Producers/songwriters P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri heard the demo as they were forming a new folk-rock group in 1965. Out of that union emerged The Grass Roots.
The band’s first single, “Let’s Live for Today,” topped the charts in 1967. More hits followed, but something went awry in the recording of the song “Midnight Confessions,” as the Grass Roots’ music was replaced by the crew of expert session players known as the Wrecking Crew.
“They cut the track. I thought, ‘What’s going on?’” Bratton recalls. The response: “You’re part of the machine.”
This wasn’t the Monkees, after all.
“We had so much respect for these guys,” Bratton says of the Wrecking Crew, who on vinyl backed Sonny & Cher, the Beach Boys, and the Mamas and the Papas. But the fact was, “I can play guitar.”
Nevertheless, from those sessions emerged “Beatin’ Round the Bush,” “No Exit” and “Hot Bright Lights,” which Bratton co-wrote, plus Bratton’s compositions “Dinner for Eight” and “House of Stone.”
Four Grass Roots albums later, Bratton left the band in April 1969. He emphasizes that any anger was directed at Dunhill Records, not the Wrecking Crew (which Sloan joined). In fact, Bratton fought to get these usually un-credited musicians credited on Grass Roots albums and, in 2007, inducted them into the Musicians’ Hall of Fame.
As Bratton delved into an acting career, he soon snagged parts on “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” and “Quincy, M.E.” while continuing to record solo albums.
It was during tapings of “The Bernie Mac Show” that Bratton says he landed his “The Office” role. A friend introduced him to “The Office” writer/director Ken Kwapis as the series was about to enter production. Kwapis happened to be a Grass Roots fan, and Bratton knew Ricky Gervais’ original British version of the show.
“I said, ‘Oh my God! I love that show!’ He said, ‘Jeez, we cast it all. You know what, you’re such an interesting character, let me talk to [show creator] Greg Daniels. I’ll put you in the background,”’Bratton recalls.
“Two and a half weeks into it, I realized how talented they were, everyone in the cast,” says Bratton, who even assembled a comedic reel fleshing out Creed’s back story — something involving psychedelic drugs, a blackout period and a Greyhound bus. “I gave it to Greg Daniels. Two weeks later he said, ‘“This is very funny.’”
Playing the fictional version of himself in “The Office,” Bratton has enjoyed many scene-stealing moments, including the time a naïve, cuckolded Andy [Ed Helms] finally catches on to the worst-kept secret at Dunder Mifflin: fiancé Angela has been two-timing him with Dwight. When Andy sarcastically thanks a roomful of colleagues for not clueing him in, Creed pipes up from the back of the room with an earnest “You’re welcome!”
Both Helms, who plays guitar, and Craig Robinson, who plays the keyboard, demonstrated their musical abilities on “The Office” — as did a guitar-wielding Bratton.
Bratton wrote the song “All the Faces,” which he performed during the season finale, in 1969 while chilling out in Malibu after the birth of his daughter. Bratton says his wife heard him playing it at the time and said, “That’s beautiful, who wrote that?” To which he replied, “I just did, I think.”
Bratton occasionally hosts musical jam sessions with Helms — usually Appalachian music, he says — and Helms performed on two songs for Bratton’s solo album “Bounce Back.” Bratton has also jammed with Robinson.
When it comes to music, Bratton loves John Williams’ score for “Schindler’s List”: “The lyric of the melody; it paints a picture,” he says. He also digs jazz — specifically John Coltrane and Miles Davis — and worships the chord structures of standards “It Had to Be You,” “Stormy Weather” and “As Time Goes By.”
“It’s the simplicity of it,” he explains. “My grandparents played music like that.”
Come Saturday, Bratton expects to play a slew of originals: “Please Let the Telephone Ring,” “Heart of Darkness” (co-written with Billy Harvey) and “Moses Was a Runner,” about a former “The Office” show-runner who left to helm Daniels’ other ensemble sitcom, “Parks and Recreation.”
He’ll also showcase “More Than You Know” and “Down the Way of Rome,” new songs “for all my artist friends, poets, writers” facing their demons, he says.
While Bratton experimented in the past, he never succumbed to addiction: “I did it all. I didn’t have a problem with it,” he says.
As a member of one of TV’s great ensemble sitcom casts, Bratton name-checks “I Love Lucy,” “Frasier,” “Friends” and “Seinfeld” among his favorite sitcoms. He also loves Westerns, including “Justified” and “Bloodline,” raves about the Nick Cave movie “The Proposition,” and recently re-read Cormac McCarthy’s “Cities of the Plains.”
When it comes to acting work: “Lucky me, I can be very selective. I don’t have to just work,” Bratton says.
In fact, his immediate plans include traveling around Europe and Australia “for a couple of years.”
“Creed’s European Vacation” — that’s a concept that could put Chevy Chase out of business.
Creed Bratton performs with P.F. Sloan at 2 p.m. Saturday at Record Surplus, 12436 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A. in celebration of National Record Store Day. Call (310) 979-4577 or visit recordsurplusla.com.