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(s) John Simon

"Up on Cripple Creek" is the fifth song on The Band's eponymous second album, The Band. It was released as an (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 1976 live performance of "Up on Cripple Creek" appears in The Band's concert film The Last Waltz, as well as on the accompanying soundtrack album. In addition, live performances of the song appear on Before the Flood, which records The Band's 1974 tour with Bob Dylan, as well as on the 2001 expanded edition of Rock of Ages, originally released in 1972.

"Up on Cripple Creek" is notable as it is one of the first instances of a Hohner Clavinet being played with a wah-wah pedal. The riff can be heard after each 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.

Lyrics and music[edit]

Drawing upon The Band's musical roots -- The American South, American rock and roll e.g., bluegrass/country and alcoholism -- the song is sung from the point of view of, perhaps, a driver who goes to Lake Charles, Louisiana to stay with a local girl, Bessie, with whom he has a history. In the song, he gambles, drinks, listens to music, and spends time with "little Bessie," who takes an active role in the goings-on, while expressing her opinions, further endearing herself to the narrator. At the end of the song, after exhausting himself on the road, he talks about going home to his woman, "big mama," but is tempted to return to Bessie again. Or, he may not be cheating. Truckers also use the term, "Big Mama," to refer to their dispatcher over the CB radio. Concerns about the weather in other parts of the country and the line "this life of living on the road" suggest over-the-road trucking. At the start of the song he's hauling logs off a mountain and at the end he may be weighing options: "rolling in" to home base for a new cargo or seeing his Bessie again.

Robertson has said of the song:

"We're not dealing with people at the top of the ladder, 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. What is going on in there? And just following the story of this person, and he just drives these trucks across the whole country, and he knows these characters that he drops in on, on his travels. Just following him with a camera is really what this song's all about."[2]

Allmusic critic Bill Janovitz describes the melody as "light and catchy," also stating that the song has a "New Orleans groove."[2] Janovitz also regards the "non-traditional, funky style" of Garth Hudson's clavinet playing a precursor of Stevie Wonder's similar keyboard playing on "Superstition."[2] Hudson also plays the organ on the refrain.[2] Rick Danko plays bass guitar, Levon Helm plays drums in addition to singing lead vocals, Richard Manuel plays piano and Robbie Robertson plays rhythm guitar.[2] Danko and Manuel joing Helm on the refrain.[2] The hip hop duo Gang Starr sampled the rhythm track on their own song "Beyond Comprehension."[2]

Chart performance[edit]

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

Personnel[edit]

Recorded covers[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]