Creed Bratton, the actor, is arguably best known for his portrayal of the creepy, hilariously unhinged Dunder-Miflin employee who just happens to share the same name.
But there is no pretending when it comes to the real Bratton's musical pedigree. Bratton, a former member of 1960s rock band The Grass Roots, tonight brings his one-man show to the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem.
"I love the reaction I get from people. They expect me to be funny but don't expect the song quality," Bratton said during a recent phone interview. "They're thinking they're going to (hear) these quirky little novelty songs."
Long before he made television audiences laugh out loud as the resident oddball on The Office (who not only has more than one alias, but also at, least on one occasion, faked his own death and is a repeat kleptomaniac), Bratton was impressing his elementary and high school instructors. His first instrument was a trumpet, which he started by playing in the fourth grade. By the time he entered his freshman year, Bratton was first chair in the school band.
Inevitably, it was the electric guitar that would speak to Bratton the loudest. Bratton revealed his first six-string was a Silvertone purchased from Sears. He recalled retreating to the barn on his family's farm to practice.
"When I heard Link Ray's 'Rumble' on a turntable and I felt that guitar, that E chord reverberate through my visceral regions, that was it," Bratton said. "I remember first hitting those chords. The first song I played was (The Ventures') 'Walk Don't Run.' Right off the bat, when I heard that guitar sound, I knew," he said.
After leaving The Grass Roots in 1969, Bratton eventually transitioned to acting. His film credits include the dramas Mask and Heart Like a Wheel. But it was his casting as a fictionalized version of himself that has brought him the most national recognition.
Bratton said he would often keep a guitar with him on the set of The Office, lightly noodling and practicing in between takes and during downtime. "I would play in the background by my desk or in the green room," he said.
In one episode, Bratton's character shocks his co-workers when he takes over electric guitar after Steve Carell's bumbling boss, Michael Scott, botches "Smoke on the Water" during an impromptu band jam. Bratton said he recorded the guitar track the night before taping the episode. Many of the surprised looks shown on screen were legitimate, he said.
A similar reaction occurred during the show's series finale, in which his Creed Bratton character serenades his co-workers with an acoustic rendition of the song "All the Faces" -- only to be escorted away in handcuffs by police. Bratton credited the finale, and the popularity of the character, to raising his own musical profile. "There has been a resurgence in my live show. Luckily that one song went viral," Bratton said.
Bratton admitted the show had its share of "low moments" following the departure of Carell following the seventh season, but he is proud of how The Office wrapped up. "Everybody believed it was one of the better finales," he said. "We went out with a vengeance."
Anecdotes and stories from Bratton's nine season tenure on The Office will be part of this evening's festivities in Bethlehem, he said. Asked to speculate on the fate of Creed Bratton, the character, Bratton joked, "I think he just wandered away (from the police). He seems to keep getting away with stuff ... I think he walked out the front door of (of the station) and nobody noticed him."
In addition to The Office, Bratton has kept busy by releasing a handful of solo albums. Bratton's most recent effort is 2013's Tell Me About It, which he described, in a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone magazine, as the first of a three-part "audio biography." He said he still gets chills when plays the guitar. "I'll walk by the guitar and it'll call to me like a siren. 'Here, come crash on these shores'," he said. "I'm hoping the audience is getting the same feeling I'm getting."
Bratton regrets selling a vintage Gibson Les Paul. He also lamented no longer having an early Fender Telecaster. But he does own a 1969 Guild d-40 electric guitar, a 1969 Bluesbird and a 1957 Country & Western Gibson, which he bought from the bass player of The Grass Roots.
The actor said he takes the same approach to being on stage in front of a crowd as he does to slipping into the proverbial skin of a character. "The reality is when I'm on stage, when I'm singing a lyric to the audience, I'm emoting it. I'm selling it to the audience like I would to the camera," he said. "As I get better in one, I get better in the other."
Asked what he has learned from his decades as a guitarist and songwriter, Bratton said, "The space in between notes is where the magic happens."
"Maybe, like a wine, (a song) needs a few years to sit there and germinate. Whether it's the guitar, the lyric, or a nuance that you do as an actor ... you can't force it."
For years Bratton said he was reluctant to perform covers in his one-man show. Bratton said he recently has eased up on his stance and plans to incorporate songs from The Grass Roots into his set in Bethlehem, including the tune "Temptation Eyes," albeit reworked in his own style.
"Now I do this really cool finger-picking version of (the song). It turns out people love it," Bratton said. "Hopefully I can engross (the audience) in the voice, the music and the song itself and they all work together as a complete piece. With each (song), I want to have a cohesive package, that they all work together, like a nice quilt."
Though The Office has closed its Scranton doors, Bratton is not done with television. He is working on a new TV series titled Feather Peak, in which he portrays a former musician-turned-caregiver who helps other pass on to the other side, though in a "very, very dry, irreverent way." "He's like the local weirdo," Bratton said of his character.
He is also toying with the idea of recording a song for each episode, which, if the show is greenlit and picked up for distribution, would hypothetically then be available as a free download. Bratton described the tone of the new series as "House meets Touched by an Angel meets Northern Exposure meets Creed from The Office."
And if a new series does not work out? Bratton, who joked that he is part of "the old rockers club," does not seem too concerned. There is always the music.
"I always get excited about going out and playing ... I do love it," Bratton said. "I know how lucky I am. It's such a crapshoot and to win the lottery, who knew," he said.
"I'm always going to play the guitar. I'm always going to pick up a guitar. It calms me. It grounds me."
Creed Bratton performs 8 tonight in the Fowler Blast Furnace Room, inside the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, 101 Founders Way, Bethlehem. Opening act is comedian Glen Tickle. Tickets cost $20, $18 for ArtsQuest members. Information: steelstacks.org