'Office' actor returns to musical (grass) roots

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FRESNO, Calif. -- For the past nine years, former Fresno, Calif., resident Creed Bratton has played a rather strange version of himself on the NBC comedy "The Office." He has dealt with the series coming to an end May 16 by focusing on the musical career that gave him his first fame and fortune.

The former member of the '60s rock group The Grass Roots on Tuesday released the first part of "Tell Me About It," his solo work described as "an audio biography about LSD, unemployment and third acts." It will be followed by the second part May 7 and the third on May 21.

"My show is a combination of me singing my original songs and telling stories about what it was like to be a member of The Grass Roots, and being on 'The Office,'" says Bratton, whose real name is William Schneider, about his current tour.

The 70-year-old actor and singer was born in Los Angeles but moved to the Yosemite area to be near family after his father -- a former forest ranger -- was killed during World War II. He now lives in Southern California. But his sister, Trinda, still lives here.

Although Bratton always wanted to be an actor -- performing in productions at Sierra Joint Union High School and majoring in drama at Sacramento State -- music always has been part of his life. He was with L.A. band The 13th Floor when he and other members of the group were invited in 1966 to become part of the third incarnation of The Grass Roots. This version had hits with "Let's Live for Today" and "Where Were You When I Needed You."

Bratton stayed with the group until 1969, but he eventually went back to acting and began to roll up credits on TV shows ("Quincy M.E.," "Eight Is Enough") and in films ("Mask," "Heart Like a Wheel"). It was his work on "The Bernie Mac Show" that opened the door for his long run on "The Office."

"Ken Kwapis was directing one of the episodes, and he was a huge Grass Roots fan. He sent his assistant out to get him all the Grass Roots albums that could be found," says Bratton. "Later, when I heard he was going to direct the first episode of the American version of the British show, 'The Office,' I called him and said I want to be on the show."

The call came too late and all of the parts had been cast. But Kwapis agreed to use Bratton as one of the background actors. Bratton's work might have never been noticed if he hadn't decided to right a detailed history for the character that had him playing this odd version of himself. Producers loved the ideas, and a few days later he found himself in a long scene with main star Steve Carell.

Bratton's character was in charge of "quality assurance" at the paper company, but he never spent much time doing that job.

It took 10 days -- working 12 hours each day -- to shoot the finale. Brattton's cautious about talking about the final episode, but he does reveal that the finale wraps up what happens to all of the characters.

"It was very emotional. I think, in some small way, I'm still kind of in denial. I keep thinking that we are just on hiatus, and I have to be ready when we go back to work," he says.

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