Creed Bratton was born William Charles Schneider on Feb. 8, 1943, in Los Angeles, CA. His family moved to rural Coarsegold, CA, a small town near Yosemite, when Bratton was an infant. They were a creative clan: Bratton’s father played the banjo, his mother played the mandolin, and his grandparents played a multitude of musical instruments. He received his first guitar – a Silvertone Electric – when he was 13, beginning his lifelong passions for playing music and collecting vintage guitars. By age 17, he was a professional musician. He attended the College of the Sequoias on a swimming scholarship, grew bored with his life, and then transferred to Sacramento State to study music and drama. Continuing what would become a lifelong trend, Bratton grew restless yet again. He wanted to play music full-time, so he hitchhiked to New Orleans and boarded a ship bound for Venice, Italy, bringing along just $25 and his guitar.
Over the next few years, Bratton traveled extensively throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. It was the 1960’s – a time of revolution and change – so the young musician, bored by his prosaic name, adopted the more momentous-sounding moniker “Creed Bratton.” He played music for money in every country he visited, and assimilated diverse influences to his personality and playing. He also learned to be adaptable and resourceful – two skills that would serve him well in the uncertain world of show business he would soon become immersed in.
Bratton’s life took a dramatic turn when he was playing at a folk festival in Israel. His musicianship impressed Warren Entner, a fellow American musician who was in the audience. Entner told Bratton to look him up when he returned to Los Angeles. The two became friends, forming a rock band, The Thirteenth Floor, with Rick Coonce on drums and Kenny Fukomoto on bass. They had success playing around Los Angeles and were on the verge of going into the studio to record their first album when Fukomoto was drafted and left the band. As luck would have it, the remaining members quickly recruited a talented replacement, Rob Grill. The band’s luck continued when producers/ songwriters P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri of Dunhill Records offered it the opportunity to record as The Grass Roots, a folk-rock group with name recognition whose lineup they were overhauling. This meant The Grass Roots would have a guaranteed recording contract and top songwriters offering their best songs to them. It also meant their sound would be changed from heavy rock to folk rock, according to Dunhill’s wishes. Bratton, no stranger to name changes and personal transformation, initially embraced the identity shift.
The Thirteenth Floor became The Grass Roots and Bratton become a rock star. In 1967, the band scored a top 10 hit with “Let’s Live for Today.” It toured around the world and its members enjoyed the libidinous lifestyle of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll. Soon enough, Bratton became known for his accomplished guitar playing and outlandish behavior. Besides his shark fishing and nude bus racing antics, he engaged in an infamous confrontation with legendary concert promoter Bill Graham at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Hallucinating on LSD, Bratton dropped his pants and stumbled off stage, mumbling about the meaning of life while the mercurial Graham berated him. Most of the audience thought it was just an act, but to the other members of the band it was just “Creed being Creed.”
While Sloan and Barri did most of The Grass Roots songwriting, Bratton contributed as well. He wrote songs on his own and with Entner and Grill. The songs written by the band were more individualistic and quirkier than the bright pop hits (backed by a horn section) that formed The Grass Roots signature sound. By late 1968, Bratton was beginning to chafe at the restrictions placed on the band’s creativity by Dunhill. He was also doing a lot of drugs which, combined with the constant touring, was burning him out. The group scored another hit when “Midnight Confessions” reached #5 on the US charts in 1968, but by the time the single “All Good Things Come to an End” was released in 1969, Bratton’s tenure with the band had come to an end as well.
The Grass Roots guitarist became rootless in every sense of the word, returning to Europe and Africa, playing in small clubs and writing music. The traveling revived him. After a couple of years, he returned to California to figure out the next phase of his life. Now married and with a young child, Bratton still could not bring himself to get a conventional job. He had always been a chameleon, able to adapt to new countries, bands, musical styles, and names. Acting seemed a logical choice, so he began studying with the esteemed acting coach Charles Conrad. After honing his craft for 4 years, Bratton got an agent and began to land work in movies and on TV.
The parts were not big, especially for a former rock star, but Bratton was happy to be working. His first credit was in the TV series “Eight is Enough” (ABC, 1977-1981). He followed up with bit roles in the respected features “Heart Like a Wheel” (1983) and “Mask” (1985). To supplement his income, Bratton worked behind the scenes as a prop man, boom man, and grip. He also continued writing and performing music. He lived simply, his only luxury being his collection of vintage guitars that he added to whenever he could afford it. It was a difficult and uncertain existence, but Bratton was confident that he would get his big break in acting just as he had in music. His patience was rewarded when he guest starred on the TV sitcom “The Bernie Mac Show” (FOX, 2001-06). Bratton so impressed the director Ken Kwapis, a fan of The Grass Roots, with his dedication to character, even while playing a small part, that when Kwapis was set to direct the pilot for “The Office,” he hired Bratton to play a fictional version of himself in the ensemble comedy.
At first, Bratton did not have much to do except linger in the background while stars Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, and Jenna Fischer racked up all the screen time. But the former rock frontman was used to being in the spotlight, so he took matters into his own hands and wrote and recorded his own “talking head” scene in which the show’s characters speak directly to the camera. He passed the tape on to the show’s writers who loved what they saw. Using details from Bratton’s colorful past, they built up his character and gave him more to do on camera. Ironically, the actor Creed Bratton began “stealing” scenes as the conniving kleptomaniac character of “Creed Bratton.” The character became a cult hit and even inspired a bizarrely funny and hugely popular blog on NBC’s “The Office” website.