He was also in the middle of a fruitful musical career, having hit the road with folk trio The Young Americans at the age of 22 and toured the Middle East, Africa and Europe. There were many memorable moments, one of which was a regular gig at a Beirut club that was a front for a brothel.
There was a lot of debauchery.
Creed Bratton on music touring in the ’60s
“We’d sing our songs, there were Parisienne dancers onstage, and then the high rollers would go in the back,” recalls the 76-year-old from his home in Studio City, California.
“Back then, Beirut was like the Paris of the Mediterranean. Incredible place.”
When the trio split, Bratton returned to Los Angeles and became a member of psychedelic folk-rock outfit The Grass Roots, who had a giant smash with 1967 single Let’s Live For Today.
Their success put him in the orbit of acts such as Jimi Hendrix, with whom The Grass Roots played at the Devonshire Downs music festival, and Janis Joplin, whom he’d often see backstage at The Fillmore in San Francisco.
“She always looked very lonely to me,” he says.
The Grass Roots played with The Doors – Bratton was even present at the recording sessions for LA Woman – and toured with Moby Grape, Cream and The Beach Boys.
“I used to watch Dennis Wilson fall off his drum seat as he was drinking so much,” chuckles Bratton. “There was a lot of debauchery.”
He stops short of cataloguing his own ’60s excesses, but lets one anecdote slip about the time The Grass Roots had to abandon a gig after he’d taken LSD. “By the time we got onstage I couldn’t play,” he says.
“I remember seeing musical notes come out of the speakers. They were on staff paper, I could read them, and then they fell to the ground. I went over and tried to sweep them up and put them back on.”
Bratton’s time with the band came to an end in 1969 when he objected to the music on their fourth album, Lovin’ Things, being performed by legendary LA session musicians The Wrecking Crew while The Grass Roots were away on tour.
“And then I spent 25 years working all kinds of different jobs,” he says. “I studied acting, learnt how to do the Meisner [acting] technique. I applied myself and did a lot of movies and TV stuff.”
One such TV program was The Bernie Mac Show, on which Bratton met the producer of the US version of The Office, Greg Daniels. He filmed his own audition tape and sent it to Daniels, landing the role as his namesake for the entire nine-season run.
Initially, the character was loosely inspired by Bratton’s own life as a rock star, before veering off into darker comedic territory.
“The mood on set every day was that you were alive, because you got to go and laugh with your friends,” he recalls. “And we laughed so much. It was the best, it was a family, we howled.”
The show changed Bratton’s life.
“People figured I’d had my 15 minutes of fame. But there I was, 60 years old, bam, I was on this hit show. Without The Office, I wouldn’t be having the wherewithal to tour again, or have the audience. So that was a true blessing.”
Bratton is bringing his one-man show to Australia next year. Billed as “an evening of music and comedy”, he promises plenty of anecdotes about his life and work on The Office, while performing songs from throughout his career.
Anyone expecting music of a comedic bent will be in for a shock, though: Bratton’s latest solo album, While The Young Punks Dance, is a sincere and heartfelt acoustic LP that recalls the intimacy of artists such as James Taylor.
“When I meet people after the show they say, ‘We came for The Office, but we’re going to download those songs.’ They tell me they were very emotionally moved.”
It’s a full-circle moment for a journeyman who spent his nights as a teen trying to pick up the sounds of a distant LA radio station via his tiny crystal radio set, dreaming of one day making his own music.
“It’s been a good life,” he smiles.
Creed Bratton plays the Corner Hotel, Melbourne, February 14; Factory Theatre, Sydney, February 15; The Basement, Canberra, February 18; Freo.Social, Perth, February 19.