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Up On Cripple Creek by The Band

Album: The BandReleased: 1969Charted:
  • 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.
  • The rap duo Gang Starr sampled this on their 1990 track "Beyond Comprehension."
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Comments: 39

On January 12th 1970 {issue date} the members of the Band appeared on the cover of TIME Magazine...
At the time the CanAm quintet's "Up On Cripple Creek" was at #44 on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; just over two weeks earlier on December 28th, 1969 it had peaked at #25 {for 1 week} and it stayed on the chart for 14 weeks...
* http://content.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19700112,00.html
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
I did summer stock as an actor in Cripple Creek, Colorado the summers of 1969 and 1970 when "Up On Cripple Creek" was getting a lot of air play. We all took the lyric "A drunkards dream if I ever did see one" to reference that Cripple Creek sits at 9494' and an average persons alcohol tolerance is about half of what it is at sea level. Friends in Colorado Springs would also ask "When are you getting off the mountain?" in reference to "When are you coming to Colorado Springs?" Whether any of this is true to the inspiration of the song doesn't diminish the fact that it is a classic. Still one of my favorites.Steve - Reno, Nv
Danny in Ga- Not!!!Kevin P. - Arkansas
On October 26th 1969, "Up On Cripple Creek" by the Band entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart at position #74; and on December 28th, 1969 it peaked at #25 {for 1 week} and spent 14 weeks on the Top 100...
It reached the Top 10 in both Australia {#8} and Canada {#10}...
Between August 1968 and March 1970 the quintet had eight Top 100 records; their next biggest hit was "Don't Do It", it peaked at #34 in 1972...
R.I.P. drummer and vocalist Mark 'Levon' Helm {1940 - 2012}.
Barry - Sauquoit, Ny
I know the woman this was written about, no names, and Clarkesville Ga had it the closest. It's not actually in Lake Charles, its in Vinton La, Delta Downs racetrack. She and her husband, who have many race horses, were split-up for a while and apparently "played the field", so to say. The nag that came round the track and won was his and hers, she can afford to tear it up for a laugh. Cripple Creek is near the Rocky Mtns in Colorado, I think anyway. She would NOT! be happy if she knew that anyone connected her with it.Holly - Evans, La
I would also really like to know the relationship of the band to Lake Charles. If they played contraband days...Marcus - Sulphur, La
I don't believe Cripple Creek refers to a place in this song -- "Cripple Creek" is a bluegrass standard whose lyrics refer to being a kid, playing in mud, climbing trees and being free. That's where Bessie takes the narrator: back to his childhood.Jack - Newton, Ma
@ Steve...I was born in Lake Charles and lived there most of my life....when I heard "Dips her doughnut in my tea..." I thought of the times we dipped donuts or cookies in coffee...but people from the north drink more "tea"....I figured he liked his hot tea better than our hot Community Coffee (or Seaport) : )Linda - Jacksonville, Fl
Betting a horse to "show" means that you are betting that the horse will come in either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place. This is why they can bet on different horse and still win -- they had placed different kinds of bets.Jack - Newton, Ma
Difficult to argue with Danny of Clarkesville GA's interpretations - however maybe reading too much into some of the lyrics. I have always thought that the ending is a surprise and an ironic/a wry comment on the man's shallow character - he raves on about how Bessie is the love of his life, but then is back on the road home to his other woman. Check out Garth Hudson's work on Neko Case's album Fox Confessor.David - Melbourne, Australia
Assuming that there *might* be some metaphors in the song (it could happen, Danny ;-) ), I'm submitting a possibility of some heroin innuendos. There is a substance abuse center that came up on a 'cripple creek heroin' search, but I don't know if that place was there back in the day when this song was written. paraphrasing: "when i get out of rehab, i'm going to get me some horse (heroin). i'll make me my little freebasing station, which involves drawing the now-liquified narcotic through a little ball of cotton (possibly in the shape of a little circle or donut dropped into the spoon's little pool of hot goo)... another hit please: take another pull out on the syringe, pump it back on in to my blood stream mixed in with heroin. hmm, maybe i really should quit, but darn, i sure am tempted to go get some more. Heroin sends me to drug rehab." I don't know much about The Band, were they into their substances?Mac - Carlise, Ma
Levon Helm, singer of The Band, dead at 71 April 19, 2012.

He had throat cancer and it finally claimed him.

Jim - Longmont, Co
When I get off of this mountain you know where I want to go. Straight down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico.
When I finish having oral sex on top of her I want to perform oral sex on her.
Leary Herring - Amarillo, Tx
Mostly all of you are completely and totally wrong about this songs history and meaning. I'll break "Up on Cripple Creek" down for you guys piece by piece. Lets start of with the title...Up on Cripple Creek. When Levon Helms says "When I get off of this mountain, you know where I'm gonna go." he is talking about Cripple Creek, Colorado being the "mountain". Then he says "Straight down the Mississippi river, to the Gulf of Mexico, to Lake Charles, Louisiana. Meaning: He's doing just that and going to Lake Charles, Louisiana... Then he says "Little Bessie, girl I once knew. She told me to come on by if there's anything that she could do" Meaning: He knows a girl there that said she would help him out if he ever need anything. Then there is the chorus and I'll explain it once and only once....So here goes.." Up on Cripple Creek she sends me" His friend Bessie makes him feel right at home while he's staying with her. "If I spring a leak, she me mends me." If he's feeling warn out and needs some time away from real life to get is morale up she helps him. "I don't have to speak, as she defends me" While he's staying with her, he feels like she protects him from the world. "A drunkard's dream if I ever did see one" He basically goes to stay with her so he can get drunk and not have to deal with his problems. Okay, that's the chorus. Now time for the second verse. "Good luck had just stung me, to the race track I did go" He's feeling lucky because he's drunk, so he goes to the horse races to gamble. "She Bet on one horse to win, and I bet on another to show" Bessie bet on one horse, he bet on another to win the race. "The odds where in my favor, I had 'em five to one." He knew he placed a really good bet and it was pretty much a sure thing statistically. "When that nag to win came around the track
Sure enough we had won." His "nag" is his sureness on the horse which had placed a bet, and he was right. "I took up all of my winnings
And I gave my little Bessie half" He collected on his bet and gave Bessie half the winnings. "And she tore it up and threw it in my face
, just for a laugh" He tried to be nice and give her some money for letting him crash at her house. She tore the money up because she didn't want his money, and she laughed about it. "Now there's one thing in the whole wide world I sure would like to see" If there is one thing he could ever want to happen. "That's when that little love of mine dips her doughnut in my tea" It's when Bessie makes everything taste sweeter including his drink and he wishes that it could be that way all the time. "Now there's a flood out in California and up North it's freezing cold." The weather everywhere else just sucks and isn't as nice as Lake Charles, La. "And this living on the road
is getting pretty old" But, at the same time he is stating to miss his home in Cripple Creek, Co. "So I guess, I'll call up my big mama, tell her I'll be rolling in." He's going to call his girlfriend or wife and tell he is coming back home. But you know, deep down, I'm kind of tempted to go and see my Bessie again." But, he'll always have the urge to go visit Bessie again. Well, that's pretty much it. Oh, and Garth Hudson plays a Hohner Clavinet D6 with a Vox Wah-Wah pedal hooked up to it.
Danny - Clarkesville, Ga
Also you wanna talk about "mountains" Cripple Creek VA is as "mountainy" as it gets! lol! And again being born and raised here the song is from here! Gotta be! "Drunkards stream", down home, very country, bluegrass all things poing to Cripple Creek Va. Although the nearest horse track is several hours away. So although I think the song is about this place it very well could not be.Jennifer - Cripple Creek , Va
I love this song! I was born and raised and still currently live in Cripple Creek, VA. I've always felt that this song is about this place. Maybe it's because I live here but anyone from around here believes this b/c of the things referred to in the song. Either way its a great song!Jennifer - Cripple Creek , Va
"And I swore as I took another pull, little Bessie can't be beat." Is this referring to Bessie, a cow, perhaps?
Or is Robbie referring to a real girl named Bessie who just happens to have a cowlike name. Perhaps Bessie
was a woman or fantasy of woman with very large breats.
Nick - Sacramento, Ca
Shocker!!! Dylan claims authorship!!! http://www.bobdylan.com/#/songs/cripple-creekJim - New Bern, Nc, Nc
I just moved from Louisiana, and now I work in Cripple Creek, CO...so that kinda makes me an expert I guesss lol It's definitely about Cripple Creek CO because it says "When I get off this mountain," and that's totally accurate, it's a winding, mountain death road to get to work everyday! It's also a working gold mine/casino town, which is pretty coolAnne Marie - Colorado Springs, Co
This is the funkiest rock song, ever and it never, ever bores me.Christy - Morristown, Tn
I have been told that the Whiskey Chitto is what they are refering to as Cripple Creek. I used to live west of Lake Charles, LA in Sulphur & every year we'd canoe the Whisky Chitto.Donnie - Tomball , La
Oh by the way, Spike Jones was from Long Beach,California(my hometown) my late grandfather was good friends with him.Pretty Cool..Peace..Jim - Long Beach, Ca
The Band was never The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band,Lisa!..They were the HAWKS. Great song. Ocassionally I see the Last Waltz, and this is my favorite song on it.PeaceJim - Long Beach, Ca
Back then they were the Nitty Gritty Dirt band. Surprised nobody made mention of that fact. Good tune. Makes you wanna drink whiskeyLisa - Milwaukee, Wi, Wi
After waiting quite a while Robbie Robertson began "cranking out" song after song as stated by Lafite from Ottowa, ON. However, each and every one of them but one, stank. I think he probably knew the right people to involve in payola in order to have the "songs" forced upon the public. Just like [c]rap music and the other junk we have these days. I have turned the radio off in my vehicle. I did the same thing when disco was being forced down our throats back int the 70's.

Robbie is pretty good on the guitar, but he is no Eric Claptan. I cant stand his antics while playing the guitar. I could change my mind if I ever met the guy, but from I have seen and heard of him, he's a pretty fake kind of guy.
Bill - Poteau, Ok
I believe it was a Lowery Clavinet D6 with a Vox Wah-pedal. Anyway, I wondered how that was done. I thought it was a jews harp when the song was first on the top 40.Charles - Lincoln, Ne
UP ON CRIPPLE CREEK was not recorded at the Sammy Davis Jr. house sessions. It was recorded at a later session at Hit Factory Studios, New York City, which took place from May-June 1969.Barry - New York, Nc
this song, and the band in general is just amazing. but my real question is...... what the hell happened to music?..im listening to screeching guys with to much eye-shadow attempting to make a statement. with a voice that could kill an F'n.... well pretty much an f'n n e thing. bottom line is theres nothing like the music from the good old days..... and im only 19...Sheldon - Surrey, Ar
Garth Hudson plays that riff on an electric piano with a wah-wah peddle which gives it that almost jews harp sound. Great stuff.

For all the talk about who wrote the songs (mostly from Levon Helm), although he has been much more musically active than Robertson over the past 30 years or so, what songs has Levon written? Robbie seems to have no problem churning them out on the handful of occasions he has recorded since the mid-seventies.
Lafite - Ottawa, On
Just a thought, but Cripple Creek could just possibly be a horse he was betting on when at the race track.Frank - Lake Charles, La
One of the greatest songs of all time (and im not even a 'band' fanatic - it just really is a genuinely great tune.Patrick Hamilton - Braintree, England
There is a Cripple Creek, Colorado. Robbie and Rick Danko spent time in Colorado Springs in the early to mid sixties. There is also a Cripple Creek, Virginia, which would also make some sense if you think in terms of the Bluegrass version mentioned above. But the true geographical location has never really been revealed in anything I've seen or read. But that has no bearing on how brilliant the song is either way.Chad - Lanesvill, In
I'm a horse racing fan and I was wondering what track is close to Lake Charles. Now I know, thanks!Jon - Tucson, Az
Like Clint, I am from Sulphur, LA (just outside of Lake Charles) and I have an Aunt Bessie who would have been in her 30's when this song was written. Everytime I hear this song, I imagine Levon and my Aunt Bessie going to Delta Downs.

Supposedly The Band played in Lake Charles, LA during Contraband Days (festival that used to be huge, but is now a sad excuse for public displays of ignorance.)
Chad - Houston, Tx
levon helm sings lead vocalsChris - Milford, Ct
Up on Cripple Creek is an interesting Title For the Song... There is no Cripple Creek near Lake Charles that I can find... It has to be a Metaphor for Someplace Wonderful... There's an old Bluegrass traditional called Cripple Creek... That song paints a picture of going to Cripple Creek to find a girl that he loves and while there getting drunk on Corn Liquor... Robbie must have had a copy of that and equated it with a place of Good Times and an eased mind... Therefore "Up on Cripple Creek She Sends Me"Brian - Grand Forks, Nd
Does the line "Dips her doughnut in my tea" have a double meaning?Steve - Troy, Ny
This song has held my interest for some time, i live outside of Lake Charles,La. There is also a race track close by. Just curious if Robertson has any connections with Lake Charles,La.

Clint, Sulphur,La
Clint - Sulphur, La
great song and a classic, as far as i'm concerned.Edward - Palm Beach Gardens, Fl
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