Band – Up On Cripple Creek

What a great single this was… Up On Cripple Creek with the B side of The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Robbie Robertson wrote this song and it appeared on The Band’s sophomore self-titled album.

This song was their highest-charting Billboard song and it peaked at #25 in 1970.

The Band rented Sammy Davis’s house turning the pool house into a recording studio, nailing baffles all along the outside wall and getting a great sound inside. The album was recorded there except “Up On Cripple Creek”, “Jemima Surrender” and “Whispering Pines” which was recorded at the Hit Factory studio in New York City.

The unusual sound that sounds like a jaw harp was achieved by Hudson with a wah-wah pedal on his clavinet.

The song has a great Americana sound to it. Hard to believe this band was all Canadian except for the southern Levon Helm.

From Songfacts

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.

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.”

There are Cripple Creeks throughout the United States and Canada, including one in an old mining town in Colorado and another near Hamilton, Ontario. The title may have come from one of these places, but the song doesn’t appear to be set in one specific Cripple Creek.

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.

The rap duo Gang Starr sampled this on their 1990 track “Beyond Comprehension.”

Up On Cripple Creek

When I get off of this mountain
You know where I want to go
Straight down the Mississippi River
To the Gulf of Mexico

To Lake George, Louisiana
Little Bessie, girl that I once knew
And she told me just to come on by
If there’s anything she could do

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don’t have to speak she defends me
A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one

Good luck had just stung me
To the race track I did go
She bet on one horse to win
And I bet on another to show

Odds were in my favor
I had him five to one
When that nag came around the track
Sure enough we had won

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don’t have to speak she defends me
A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one

I took up all of my winnings
And I gave my little Bessie half
And she tore it up and blew it in my face
Just for a laugh

Now there’s one thing in the whole wide world
I sure would like to see
That’s when that little love of mine
Dips her doughnut in my tea

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don’t have to speak she defends me
A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one

Now me and my mate were back at the shack
We had Spike Jones on the box
She said, “I can’t take the way he sings
But I love to hear him talk”

Now that just gave my heart a fall
To the bottom of my feet
And I swore and I took another pull
My Bessie can’t be beat

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don’t have to speak she defends me
A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one

As a flood out in California
And up north it’s freezing cold
And this living off the road
Is getting pretty old

So I guess I’ll call up my big mama
Tell her I’ll be rolling in
But you know, deep down, I’m kinda tempted
To go and see my sweet Bessie again

Up on Cripple Creek she sends me
If I spring a leak she mends me
I don’t have to speak she defends me
A drunkard’s dream if I ever did see one

Author: Badfinger (Max)

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

31 thoughts on “Band – Up On Cripple Creek”

  1. Wonderful post Bad about one of my favorite songs from The Band. I couldn’t agree more with your Americana description. In fact you could probably use it to describe their whole discography. Their was a lot of bad blood between Robbie and Liam it seems.
    Hey by the way, that country singer you mention Aly Cook dropped into that post I wrote about Kasey Chambers. I was over the moon to read from her in the comments. I thought you might like to check it out since of course it was you who recommended her.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That is really cool I just checked. I’m going to check it out.
      One of the powerpop bands I featured from the seventies Blue Ash…. the lead singer commented.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It would appear that way. Not many people like you (especially) post daily articles about songs which otherwise may have gone under the radar only to have been reborn again. Good stuff Bad. I always meant to ask what your actual name was. I think I read Hans mention it, but it escapes me. I’m Matt.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh my name is Max. Yea at one time I did three posts a day 7 days a week. I did that to build up readers and interest. I had to drop it to one on weekdays.

        I’ve meant to ask you the same question… I don’t know what to call you lol…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Hey Max, I’m glad we got that out of the way finally. Matt o Matthew here. Three posts is huge! I have a rest day on Sunday in my blog, but it pains me not to have something up. Having said that I find I have too little time to even see other blogs I’m following, so I’m glad I have a rest day.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Nice to meet you Matt! I think I remember someone saying that before in a comment but I wasn’t sure.
        That takes me longer… to read all the blogs than to write. I enjoy it though… I love learning from all over the world. You give two prospectives… Columbia and Australia.

        Oh… I meant to tell you. I am starting a baseball blog. Only baseball talk…Past, Present, and future talk… anything goes. I will only post once in a while.

        Liked by 2 people

      5. I will announce it on my blog soon but the link is…. I will post the link on the next comment in case it goes to spam. I have two light items there right now just to have something.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve never seen a better concert of anything. I’m still stumped how they did it. Their musical know-all and intelligence baffles me. For instance, how does Robbie remember all that guitar in just one night for so much music which isn’t the Bands? That astounds me.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Observation blogger mentioned Kasey Chambers, had forgotten her name but I remember buying her first album years ago based on strong reviews and word-of-mouth and not being disappointed. I need to look up some of her stuff again.
    This is a great two-sided single, both got lots of radio play when I was growing up. Just found (online) a photo of my friend David Marsden in a very early band called the Revols with Richard Manuel and, I believe Levon Helm (have to check with him about Levon).


  3. This is a song I hear a lot on pandora. I agree with Matt on The Last Waltz version. One of my favorites and I LOVE the way Levon sings it. I like what Robbie said about how the lyrics came about. It is too bad Levon and the others didn’t like it that only Robbie got songwriting credits, but he DID write the song!


    1. I do wonder if Robbie had a particular Cripple Creek in mind when he wrote it or he just liked the sound of it.
      They weren’t known for their singles but this one was classic.


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