Meaning of the song “Up on Cripple Creek”

Up on Cripple Creek

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“Up on Cripple Creek”
Single by The Band
from the album The Band
B-side The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Released November 29, 1969
Recorded 1969
Genre Roots rock, americana
Length 4:34
Label Capitol Records
Writer(s) Robbie Robertson
Producer John Simon

Up on Cripple Creek” is the fifth song on The Band‘s eponymous second album, The Band. It was released as a (edited) single on Capitol 2635 in November 1969 and reached #25 on the Billboard Hot 100.[1] “Up on Cripple Creek” was written by Band guitarist and principal songwriter Robbie Robertson, with drummer Levon Helm singing lead vocal.

A live performance of “Up on Cripple Creek” appears in The Band’s live concert film The Last Waltz, as well as on the accompanying soundtrack album. In addition, a live version of the song appears on Before the Flood; a live album of The Band’s various concerts and shows with Bob Dylan while touring together in 1974.

“Up on Cripple Creek” is notable as it is one of the first accounts of a Hohner Clavinet being played with a wah-wah pedal. The riff can be heard after the chorus of the song. The Clavinet, especially in tandem with a wah pedal was a sound that became famous in the early to mid ’70s especially in funk music, and continues to be popular to this day.



[edit] Lyrics

Drawing upon three of The Band’s favorite themes — The American South, American folk music, and alcoholism — the song tells the story of a miner who goes to Lake Charles, Louisiana to stay with a local girl who he knows will put him up for free while he blows his money on drinks. Although he admits to having some feelings for his “little Bessie”, he uses her hospitality to drink himself to oblivion. At the end of the song, he pushes off once more for greener pastures, although with the stated intention of coming back to his Bessie.

[edit] Chart performance

Chart (1969-70) Peak
Canadian RPM Singles Chart 10
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 25

[edit] Personnel

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  • Sharon Tuvera  On January 11, 2017 at 9:48 pm

    I live in Cripple Creek, CO, and it surprised me that very few here know of this song. We are on a mountain, and it is a mining town. Can’t figure the people here.

    • Everette Hatcher III  On January 12, 2017 at 6:50 am

      I really like the 2007 film SHOOTER and my son pointed out to me that Levon Helm who is the soloist on this song was in that movie. Levon was from Arkansas and they talk about him quite a lot down here even though he probably left the state about 50 years ago.

      Here are some song facts:
      Guitarist Robbie Robertson wrote this song, which tells a disjointed story about a mountain man and a girl named Bessie. We hear about a trip to the horse races, listening to Spike Jones, and how what really makes him happy is when she “dips her doughnut in my tea.”

      Like many songs by The Band, it’s wide open for interpretation. Robertson claims he doesn’t even know what’s going on. “I don’t really write songs with anything other than just a storytelling sense,” he said when asked about the song in Goldmine (August, 1998). “You sit down and write the song, and usually when something happens, you just don’t even know where it came from, or why it came, or anything like that. That’s the best. You know, when something comes out of you that surprises you. And it was one of those. You know, I was just sitting down to see if I could think of anything, and that’s what came out. But it was a fun song to write.”
      Drummer Levon Helm sang lead on this track, giving it a very folksy vibe.
      The guy in this song is one of the many curious characters Robbie Robertson has conceived. “We’re not dealing with people at the top of the ladder,” he said. “We’re saying what about that house out there in the middle of that field? What does this guy think, with that one light on upstairs, and that truck parked out there? That’s who I’m curious about.”
      Robertson is listed as the only songwriter on this track, which is something his bandmates disputed, as they claimed they helped write it. Songwriting credits going to Robertson was a great source of friction in The Band.
      That funky sound on “Up On Cripple Creek” was created by keyboardist Garth Hudson, who played a Hohner Clavinet D6 through a Vox Wah Wah pedal.
      The Band recorded most of the album (their second) in Sammy Davis Jr.’s Hollywood house, which they rented out. “Up On Cripple Creek” was one of three songs they recorded at the Hit Factory studios in New York City.
      In The Band’s 2000 Greatest Hits compilation, Levon Helm said, “It took a long time to seep into us. We cut it two or three times, but nobody really liked it. It wasn’t quite enough fun. Finally one night we just got hold of it, doubled up a couple of chorus and harmony parts, and that was it.”
      The B-side of the single was “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” which became a hit for Joan Baez in 1971.
      The Band performed this on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1969. It was their only appearance on the show.

    • Derrick  On August 3, 2020 at 5:43 am

      That’s a special town you’re from. Do you know how you know anyone that’s lived there? If you know what Donkey Days is or meet a Beilz I can believe you’re a local. Driving into town off of highway 67 on a clear day will give the most beautiful view on the switchbacks. You can tell people about it but you just kind of have to be there. I love that place. I think maybe it should be my home again someday. It’s the only place that ever felt like home.

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