It wasn’t much like the crazy “rockabilly funeral” Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen sang about (1), but the spirit inside the Hangar on the Hudson Sunday night was sure similar. All were gathered for “A Celebration of the Art, Music, and Life” of Commander Cody, who ascended to the outer ozone late last September. The events (2 to come) were the brainchild of Sue Casanova (wife of George Frayne, IV – a.k.a. Commander Cody), who on the day (9/26/21) she announced he’d died also announced:
“We are working on 2 big gatherings
On both the east and west coast
(The Island and the Bay Area)
To celebrate the Old Commander’s phenomenal life
And to benefit musicians in need.”
Sunday night in Troy NY, 3 of the 5 remaining Lost Planet Airmen – Bill Kirchen, John Tichy, and Andy Stein – were joined by Dr. Tichy’s son Grant on steel, two other young locals, and the Commander’s longtime drummer Steve Barbuto to help consummate the first of these at last. 200 hippies crowded into the place were treated to more than 3 hours of good old Cody music, with leader Kirchen deftly deflecting shouted requests for Cody songs from the modern era (anything after the group’s ’76 breakup). Of course, all in the audience loved CC&LPA, knew all their songs by heart, and happily shared stories about and pictures of their encounters with the Commander and his group over the past 50 plus years. Sue put up some of her husband’s original paintings and included on the merch table materials about a Foundation she had helped set up- Swan Songs (2) – in his name to help out musicians who were in need. Sue was sweet, sharp, funny, and handsome, “A high-bred, uptown, fancy little dame”, just like the Commander used to sing about (3). I’d been corresponding with her regarding permission to use several pictures out of her husband’s art book (4) in the expanded 2nd edition of my own book on all my fun years with the Commander and his boys, first edition out since last May (5). That and having seen her smiling face on her husband’s web page over the years made it all that more fun to finally meet her in person.
We reached no agreement on the permissions, but I’m sure that’ll come.
As Carly Simon sang in her hit the same year I first saw CC&LPA (6) “We can never know about the days to come. But we think about them anyway” and in that thinking can come much enjoyment, even if the thing anticipated never actually comes to pass. I think that’s why folks like me so enjoy making travel plans, savoring the trip to be taken long before we embark. Sue was the one driving the bus for most of the trip that led to Sunday night’s celebration. She gave it a start with her announcement on George’s Facebook page the day he died. Just the thought of hanging out with others who loved him like I did took some of the sting out of his loss right there. Sue had her slow hand on that bus for many months until 3 Saturdays before the first celebration. Her announcing e-mail came with an attached poster, which I of course took to Kinko’s to be blown up and framed.
Boy did that sound like a party! I had my arrangements made before lunch and would have had them done faster had I not waited for my wife to wake up, silly in retrospect given her enthusiastic assent. I should have known, since I’ve turned her into almost as big a CC&LPA fan as I am, especially of Kirchen. Then it was just waiting, the hardest part, as the much-missed Tom Petty sang (7).
Come the Saturday before the Celebration, all went smoothly. DTW-ALB is an easy flight to a nice small airport just a few miles from our AirBnB a half mile from the venue. Our late afternoon arrival gave time for a little reccie up River Avenue to check out the Hangar (8). Conveniently across the street is the Ale House (9), an old honest neighborhood bar with a good beer selection populated that evening with locals and Cody fans with much overlap. Next to us at the bar was the proprietor of the Hangar, who told us the place used to manufacture orthotics and prosthetics, a past remembered by the artificial legs on the bar serving as the bartenders’ tip jars. The place has a reputation as one of the funkiest venues in the northeast (10). The Commander had played there frequently, making the 35-mile drive down I-87 from Saratoga Springs, where he’d lived since 1998. Dr. John Tichy didn’t moonlight much from his post as Professor and onetime Department Chair of Nuclear and Aerospace Engineering at Rensselaer Polytech in Troy (11), but the Hangar was his favored place to play, as it was for his son Graham. We were told the place held about 200 with limited seating (but efficient beverage service), would be hot inside despite AC, and that we should get there before doors if we wanted to sit (we did).
Going across the street to take a gander, it was a low cement block industrial building, looking like any of the many machine shops in Warren Michigan.
The sunflowers were nice, but plants grow around abandoned buildings all the time. We went home vowing to come back plenty early, killing time in the Ale House till we could start up to get in.
The next day, a nap after a 4-mimosa brunch put us back from our planned 3:30 start. The Ale House was crowded when we went there at 4. Doors were to be at 5, so my wife jumped across the street before she had a sip of her beer. I stayed behind to eat both our chowders and secure go-cups from the waitress. We wiled away some time in line with our new West Virginia friends Steve and George, and were finally let into the sanctum just a little late. Will call was on computer and we were tagged and in. We snagged 2 seats right by the stage, already set up.
We could figure from the instruments who would be where. In the corner by us with the fiddle and the tenor sax would be Android E. Stein of NYC. That big guitar in the middle was obviously a Telecaster, waiting for the Titan Kirchen (12). A nondescript guitar in the far corner would be Dr. Tichy’s. We didn’t know who would man the keyboard in the far back, with the unenviable task of emulating the Commander’s tinklings (it would be local Mike Kelley, who would do fine). Original Airman Buffalo Bruce Barlow was supposed to come to play bass, so that horribly beat up stand up with the Cubs sticker on the back would be his? Turns out he had to stay in California for a family emergency, so local Mo Nelson (with Chicago roots) would play it. He also would prove to be a gifted crooner. Finally, that critical instrument for any country band, the steel guitar, stood waiting for its practitioner. CC&LPA had 3 excellent lap steel guitarists during their time (Creeper/Black/Hagar). Tonight, they’d had to resort to nepotism, asking Dr. Tichy’s son Graham to man it. Graham corrected me that it was only a lap steel, not a pedal steel. Regardless, he, and it, would sound fine throughout. Dr. Tichy snuck out and slipped playlists at 3 critical positions. I teased him “Is that sheet music, Professor?”
Finally, shortly after 6, the boys appeared. Having seen them all in Novato last October, I wasn’t shocked at their appearance. Stein, trim and smiling in his Hawaiian shirt with his curly hair, looked youngest. I’ve seen Bill so much over the years, seeing him get wizened and a little bent over gradually. I used to think he and I looked kinda alike, but I‘m wizened and bent over these days too. If only I had Bill’s energy (and talent!). Professor Tichy looked every bit the part, mostly sitting with his half glasses sliding halfway down his nose. He confessed later to being a “half-nerd”, thanking the Commander and his music for saving him from what could have been. Getting his U of M PhD and a post at Rensselaer within a year of CC&LPA’s breakup, with a subsequent stellar academic career (11), I’d say he got the best of both worlds. Graham is the spitting image of his dad, maybe a little stockier, so you couldn’t help but look up at them and say “Hey, CC&LPA have nerd bookends!”
As they opened with “Gypsy Fiddle”, a Stein showpiece (13), I should have asked my wife to pinch me. But they rolled through two Cody sets fitting for any of the many I’ve reveled in over the past 51 plus years. I was hoping someone would have put the show up on setlist.fm. You could see there what they played and clicked on examples. Maybe someone will still do it. After the show, I told Kirchen this was the best Cody concert I’d heard since they came to the Ark in Ann Arbor for 2 raucous nights in January 2001 as part of their “Not Dead Yet” tour. I’ll not get into specifics. Maybe you had to be there. Too bad you couldn’t be. But I will tell you how they finished. (14). And that’s where we all were, every last one of us. I hope to return sometime soon.
1.Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen – Rockabilly Funeral (live). YouTube.,
2. for more information, contact Christine Albert, Founder and CEO, Swan Songs, email@example.com, cell: 512-656-1492. P.O.Box 41475, Austin TX 78704
3.Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen. Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette) (Live). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iawlT3HHW0
4, Commander Cody aka George Frayne. Art, Music, & Life. Ridgewood, NJ: QBookPres, 2009. https://www.amazon.com/s?k=art%2C+music+and+life+george+frayne&crid=3I1V0CG1HLLIK&sprefix=george+Frayne%2Caps%2C126&ref=nb_sb_ss_ts-doa-p_2_13
5. Ike B. Lost in the Ozone…Again! The Commander, his Boys, and Me. 50 years and Counting. Amazon (Kindle) 2021. Available at https://www.amazon.com/Lost-Ozone-Again-Commander-counting-ebook/dp/B096KY4Z4D/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=Bob+Ike&qid=1624277207&sr=8-3
6. Carly Simon. Anticipation. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BELWbkyOVPQ
7. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – The Waiting (Official Music Video). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMyCa35_mOg
8. The Hangar on the Hudson. https://www.thehangaronthehudson.com/
Ale House. https://www.alehousetroy.com/
9. Ale House. https://www.alehousetroy.com/
10. Don Wilcock. THE HANGAR ON THE HUDSON — A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE. NIPPERTOWN8/18/21. HTTPS://NIPPERTOWN.COM/2021/08/18/THE-HANGAR-ON-THE-HUDSON-A-UNIQUE-EXPERIENCE/
11. John A. Tichy. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Faculty Directory. https://faculty.rpi.edu/node/36055
12. Jim Caliguiri. Titan of the Telecaster Bill Kirchen. The Austin Chronicle 8/26/16. https://www.austinchronicle.com/music/2016-08-26/titan-of-the-telecaster-bill-kirchen/
13. Commander Cody – Gypsy Fiddle.wmv. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLDaXw_XLxY
14. Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen. Lost in the ozone again. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHIRCOPas-M