Up On Cripple Creek

Album: The Band (1969)
Charted: 25


  • 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."
  • 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."

Comments: 47

  • Constructivecritic from Lyric HeavenInterpretation. It's mostly about Levon Helm, and recollections of his days working on an oil rig near Lake Charles, along with Robertson's recollection of the area. There is a racetrack, and casino just outside of Lake Charles - I have been there, and gambled at both. The language clearly indicates someone who knows horse racing - "to place" etc. "Little Bessie girl" is a real person, and probably a black girl, as that is a common name in an area that is mostly black. The Band did play in Lake Charles, and since it is on I-10, they would have to pass through it, and over many creeks, every time they went from New Orleans to Houston. Not sure about "When I get offa this mountain" - maybe it is a reference to fame, touring, and what comes after. Many people claim the song is about a trucker, or mountain man - Robertson claims he does not know what it is about. "Donut in my tea". Donut is vagina. Tea is slang for crystal meth. The Band members had a long history of heavy drug use. "If I spring a leak". Another sex reference. "Up on Cripple Creek she sends me". There are creeks, and bayous every few miles in the Lake Charles area - maybe the sex was so good he felt crippled afterward, or maybe she was supplying him with meth. Yes..."drunkards dream"...alcohol... but Bessie is not alcohol as some have claimed. "My big Mama". Many deep south references in this song. Also; Helm even sings it with a southern drawl. This is a term of endearment, usually in reference to the head of the household - has nothing to do with physical size, or a trucking dispatcher.
  • Banana from The Place That Knpws About Music"dips her donut in my tea" is sex y'all...
  • Michael from Phoenix, AzDanny from Clarkesville, Ga, that's pretty much spot on. According to Robbie Robertson, it's from the perspective of a trucker who's burned out from driving all over the country. I read somewhere else a speculation that "Big Mama" may not be the trucker's girlfriend or wife, but rather his dispatcher (to whom truckers refer to in CB Lingo as Big Mama, as in, "Big Mama, my 10-20 is fifteen miles outside of Barstow."). It annoys me that no matter where you go looking for the lyrics, it almost always says "Lake George" and not "Lake Charles." Even when you watch Levon Helm sing, you can see it's the latter. His southern drawl does make it difficult to hear on the recording if you're not watching it.
  • Fourleafcajun"She Bet on one horse to win, and I bet on another to show". Bessie bet on one horse to win, he bet on another to show. "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,---- but, "When that nag to win came around the track, sure enough WE had won." Noticed how he said We had won even though her "nag" is the horse which she had placed a bet to win, and she was right. "I took up all of my winnings and I gave my little Bessie half". He collected on her bet and gave Bessie half. "And she tore it up and threw it in my face, just for a laugh"
  • Jack from ColoradoHaving been born and raised in Lake Charles, La I have a lot of knowledge of the area, Yes the Band performed in Lake Charles, La at A local bar called the Office Lounge on Ryan street. When they would play there the sign would say The Band Playing tonight. Lake Charles is and was a crazy party town and very rowdy and lots of fun. As far as Horse tracks Vinton and Lafayette La. Lots of euphemisms in the song. My interpretation knowing Lake Charles as I do and also the crazy fun loving women I grew up with this guy is having a fun good time with Bessie which I am sure involves Booze, Drugs and Rock n Roll which some of us know is a polite way of saying dips my doughnut in my T. Just saying because I lived that life. Go visit and find your Bessie.
  • Jody Breaux from Lake Charles La.Why do you think he used the city Lake Charles in this song?
  • Vinny from Lyndhurst, NjI would have to go with Hollie's rendition of the song since she personally KNEW Bessie! It sounds the most accurate, including the Delta Downs racetrack in Vinton, LA. The lyrics, "I swore as I took another pull, my Bessie can't beat", could mean a pull of corn liquor, or a shot of heroin. No one will ever know! As for Cripple Creek, I do believe it was in Colorado. That makes sense! But again, there can be several interpretations of this song.
  • Benoit from Francehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CA5Qwsbuwt0 at 1:37 enters the sample.... Up On Cripple Creek intro was also used on this Slimfasst track by La Funk Mob 1990's influencial French Touch band. Thanks to Sammy H from Richmond for introducing me to The Band...
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn 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
  • Steve from Reno, NvI 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.
  • Kevin P. from ArkansasDanny in Ga- Not!!!
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn 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}.
  • Holly from Evans, LaI 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.
  • Marcus from Sulphur, LaI would also really like to know the relationship of the band to Lake Charles. If they played contraband days...
  • Jack from Newton, MaI 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.
  • Linda from Jacksonville, Fl@ 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) : )
  • Jack from Newton, MaBetting 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.
  • David from Melbourne, AustraliaDifficult 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.
  • Mac from Carlise, MaAssuming 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?
  • Jim from Longmont, CoLevon Helm, singer of The Band, dead at 71 April 19, 2012.

    He had throat cancer and it finally claimed him.

  • Leary Herring from Amarillo, TxWhen 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.
  • Danny from Clarkesville, GaMostly 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.
  • Jennifer from Cripple Creek , VaAlso 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 from Cripple Creek , VaI 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!
  • Nick from Sacramento, Ca"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.
  • Jim from New Bern, Nc, NcShocker!!! Dylan claims authorship!!! http://www.bobdylan.com/#/songs/cripple-creek
  • Anne Marie from Colorado Springs, CoI 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 cool
  • Christy from Morristown, TnThis is the funkiest rock song, ever and it never, ever bores me.
  • Donnie from Tomball , LaI 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.
  • Jim from Long Beach, CaOh by the way, Spike Jones was from Long Beach,California(my hometown) my late grandfather was good friends with him.Pretty Cool..Peace..
  • Jim from Long Beach, CaThe 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.Peace
  • Lisa from Milwaukee, Wi, WiBack then they were the Nitty Gritty Dirt band. Surprised nobody made mention of that fact. Good tune. Makes you wanna drink whiskey
  • Bill from Poteau, OkAfter 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.
  • Charles from Lincoln, NeI 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.
  • Barry from New York, NcUP 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.
  • Sheldon from Surrey, Arthis 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...
  • Lafite from Ottawa, OnGarth 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.
  • Frank from Lake Charles, LaJust a thought, but Cripple Creek could just possibly be a horse he was betting on when at the race track.
  • Patrick Hamilton from Braintree, EnglandOne of the greatest songs of all time (and im not even a 'band' fanatic - it just really is a genuinely great tune.
  • Chad from Lanesvill, InThere 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.
  • Jon from Tucson, AzI'm a horse racing fan and I was wondering what track is close to Lake Charles. Now I know, thanks!
  • Chad from Houston, TxLike 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.)
  • Chris from Milford, Ctlevon helm sings lead vocals
  • Brian from Grand Forks, NdUp 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"
  • Steve from Troy, NyDoes the line "Dips her doughnut in my tea" have a double meaning?
  • Clint from Sulphur, LaThis 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
  • Edward from Palm Beach Gardens, Flgreat song and a classic, as far as i'm concerned.
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