For reasons you’re probably familiar with, I am looking to add this song to our setlist. After much work, I deduced that the song’s twangy noise was not made by a Jaw Harp but was made by a clavinet and a wah-wah pedal.
Little did I know that it was in the third paragraph at the Wikipedia article. In hindsight, I should have tried Wikipedia first, because that’s one of the most notable things about the song. Lesson learned.
Here I was thinking it was hard-earned knowledge!
Anyhow, the song is “Up On Cripple Creek” and it’s from The Band.
The song, “Up On Cripple Creek”, was first recorded in 1969. It was written by Robbie Robertson and released on their second album titled “The Band”.
The song is about a truck driver that is tooling around the country and stops at a lady’s house for some road-side lovin’. He has been there before and she’s a hell of a gal. It is written in narration style and tells us about the truck driver’s perspective.
Here is what Robertson had to say about it:
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.
The song hit #25 in the American Billboard Top 100 (1969-1970) charts and is written in their home-grown style of bluegrass and southern-fried music.
Most notably is its use of the clavinet and the wah-wah pedal.
The clavinet is an instrument made by Honor that is, in effect, an electric harpsichord that is played with a piano-like keyboard. You can hear a sample here:
It was also used by Stevie Wonder in “Superstitions”.
See, what is notable is that it was used with the wah-wah pedal. Because it is an amplified instrument, it has pickups and an output just like an electric guitar. They added the wah-wah pedal, a pedal that is meant to mimic the human vocal range, and sent that signal to the amplifier.
This is a video of a clavinet being used with a variety of electric guitar effects pedals:
If you wait until the 0:15 mark, you can hear what it would sound like (the settings used in “Up On Cripple Creek”) without the aid of a wah-wah pedal.
So, now you know how the song was recorded/played and now you can see some of the work that goes into making faithful reproductions of the music you know and love.
Do you have any other strange trivia? Let us know by one of the many ways we’ve made it easy for you to share. As always, thanks for reading!