There comes a point at every Creed Bratton concert where he breaks into “Let’s Live for Today,” the breakthrough hit by his old folk-rock band the Grass Roots that hit Number Eight in 1967 and remains a staple of oldies radio to this day. Throughout the many lean years that followed his departure from the group in 1969, this was always the one song in his repertoire guaranteed to drive the crowd wild. Lately, however, it’s been greeted by nothing but blank stares and when he reaches the iconic chorus (“sha la la la la la live for today”) nobody chimes in to help. “I get nothing back from the crowd when I do that song,” he says with a chuckle. “Absolutely nothing.”
That’s because most people at his shows these days are only faintly aware that Bratton was a genuine rock star 50 years ago. They come because of his role on The Office as the mysterious quality-assurance director that smells like mung beans, lives for scuba diving, can’t tell the difference between an apple and a potato, and also happens to go by the name Creed Bratton.
He’s been playing solo gigs ever since The Office took off in popularity well over a decade ago, but thanks to Netflix an entirely new generation of rabid fans has emerged that help him pack large clubs all over the country. Never in his life has Bratton done nearly this well on the road, even if most people in the audience are five decades younger than him. “It’s hard to get laid!” he says. “It’s just these young girls and I need a 60-year-old woman. I tell them to bring along their grandmothers for Creed. They laugh. They think I’m joking!”
Bratton had to walk a long, hard road to reach this point. He spent the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties desperately struggling to earn a living from catering jobs and bit roles in B movies The Wild Pair and Seven Hours to Judgment. Grass Roots lead singer Rob Grill hired new backing musicians and began playing the hits on the nostalgia circuit in that time, but there was little interest in the guy that played guitar with him back in the 1960s. (Grill died in 2011 and the current incarnation of the Grass Roots has not a single member that played on the original records.) In the late Nineties, Bratton formed the Original Rockers with Dick Dodd and Paul Downing from the Standells to see if he could generate even a tiny bit of excitement on the road. “We couldn’t get arrested,” Bratton says. “Tribute bands were getting a lot more money than we were and after a year we just gave it up.”
Everything changed in 2005 when he went from a background character on The Office, essentially a glorified extra, to a regular cast member that managed to steal every scene he was in. He began using his newfound income from to create solo albums that he promoted with little acoustic tours. The Office went off the air after nine seasons in 2013, but Bratton kept touring and his audience kept building, particularly on college campuses. Every night he tells stories about The Office and even sings a song about the show set to the theme song. Excited Office fans often can’t resist the urge to yell out their favorite Creed lines when he’s trying to talk or sing a song.
“I played Denver not long ago and there was 1,000 people in the audience,” he says. “They were just screaming and they began yelling out ‘boboddy’ and ‘which one’s Pam?’ and ‘is someone making soup?’ It was deafening.” After a while, Bratton relented and told the place to scream out their favorite lines until they were exhausted. “It went on for five minutes,” he says. “It was insane. I finally said, ‘Are you satiated?’ Now I do that every night. It’s important. They’re often drunk and they want to yell those things out. I don’t want it to happen at inappropriate moments. ‘Do a cartwheel!’ I’ll go, ‘You do a fucking cartwheel!'”
But after years of relying on the Creed Bratton character to sell tickets and excite fans, he’s decided it’s time for a change. After his January 12th at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, he is going to re-work the whole thing. “After that show I will not be an actor from The Office playing these songs,” he says. “I’ll be a musician who is an actor that he has all these albums and you’ll enjoy him as a musician. That said, of course I’ll always discuss the wonderment I feel toward the writers, cast and crew who gave me this second chance. I don’t know exactly what it’ll be like, but I know it’s time for a shift. I can only hang on my mama’s apron strings for so long.”
In the meantime, he’s working on an album of new material with the Mojo Monkeys (a trio of veteran Los Angeles musicians) along with Dave Way and Dillon O’Brian. He’s also still taking acting jobs. Not long ago, he flew to Romania to shoot a bit role in the Joaquin Phoenix–John C. Reilly Western The Sisters Brothers, but his part was cut when the director decided to take the movie in a different direction. “That’s OK,” he says. “I know I did good work. The same thing happened to me in the Seth Rogen–Barbra Streisand movie [The Guilt Trip] and even Roadhouse years back. You always want people to see your work, but this is the way it goes sometimes.”
At age 75, he’s reluctant to take on another sitcom role unless something truly great comes along. But if NBC decides to reboot The Office or at least stage some sort of reunion special, he won’t have to think hard about signing on. “Fuck yeah, I’d do that!” he says. ” Are you kidding me? To play that character again with those people? I’d jump all over that.”