I wrote this shortly after I’d received the sad news that George Frayne IV, (U of M BFA ’66, MFA ’68) – A.K.A. Commander Cody – had passed as of 9/26/21. I never posted it, but now that his life is being celebrated across the country, I think it’s time.
Some readers of this blog may have picked up by now my deathless devotion to that 70s band out of Ann Arbor, Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen. Has any band had a wilder name? And, I submit, no band was more fun. In my life, I’ve never had more fun than what I felt at a Commander Cody concert. I wrote a small book about the joyous, raucous relationships I’ve had with the band and its offshoots over the past half century (1) a new edition is coming, and I’ve posted a loving blog about my celebration of the 50th anniversary of my first seeing them in concert (2). While it was a hobby of mine in college to kype concert posters, I never snagged the one for that show. I’ve since located it – kyped from the Commander’s web page – and it hangs proudly in my entryway, first thing you see as you come in the door.
Now that the Commander is dead can we elevate his band to the immortals? The remaining Lost Planet Airmen still play about in various guises, with enthusiasm. But the originals all together were so special and unique, we need to take every opportunity to experience them. Sure, between the whole band and the Commander himself, they’ve put out a host of CDs with the same songs over and over. But I’ve just become aware of a new release that anyone who is CC&hLPA curious needs to hear. Released on www.sunsetblvdrecords.com, the two disc set even states that a dollar of each purchase will go to the American Cancer Society in the memory of George Frayne aka Commander Cody. It was esophageal cancer that finally took him on 9/26/01 after a 3 year struggle. Fortunately, the band left a trail of tapes to be tapped. This new CD set – “Strange Adventures on Planet Earth” – is one of them.
Don’t the boys look mellow?
Recorded across a number of live dates in ’73 and ’74 ranging from Australia to Rotterdam to Stony Brook, the band is at the top of their game. An indication they’re at the end of the line is that Ernie Hagar is on pedal steel, replacing Bobby “Blue” Black, who’d replaced West Virginia Creeper. Ernie was no slouch, an ace pedal steel player, recording since ’65. At the end of the last cut on the first disc – “Hey-hey-hey-hey” John Tichy calls to the audience “We love you, goodbye!”. Is that it? Fortunately, disc 2 opens with Billy C. singing “There’s good rockin’ tonight”, and for 13 more cuts, there surely is. How can you not like a set that begins with “Hot Rod Lincoln” and ends with “Too Much Fun”? In between is all that Commander music that serves poorly to promote sedate and sober behavior. But sometimes, that’s just what we need.
$23.99 on Amazon and worth every penny, IMHO. If you want to immerse yourself in an hour and half of the Commander Cody experience – accompanied by the intoxicant(s) of your choice, of course – this would be the dive I’d recommend.
If you want to have a little taste first, check out their performance at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor December 1971 (3). On a bill that included Stevie Wonder, Phil Ochs, Bob Seger, Archie Shepp, Joy of Cooking, David Peel, Teagarden and VanWinkle, the Up, and John Lennon (yes, the Beatle), they stole the show before the 17,000 assembled. Here’s their performance, ripped from “Ten for Two” the documentary of the event bankrolled by John and Yoko (she was there, too). The set includes their big hit and the saddest song ever written. Fortunately, the boys move right into “There’s a riot going on”, so you barely have time to put away the razor blades and the barbituates. If you want an extended concert, check out their radio concert from 1975 (4).
Chances for you to go celebrate the Art, Music, and Life of Commander Cody are fading. Already we’ve had gatherings in Troy NY and Mill Valley California. So any of the Cody faithful, and the Cody LPA guys showed up in NY, are coming. The Troy NY gathering was fabulous (5). Mill Valley was diluted by a lot of the “Western airmen” that accompanied him when he was out there. We’ll miss NYC as we’ll be in Chicago. Troy was magnificent, as I wrote. Rumors are for an album, so keep tuned.
As the Commander and his boys sung many times “Don’t let go” (6).
1. 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 (no longe available.)
2. Ike B. Two triple cheese…. WordPress.com 4/17/21 https://theviewfromharbal.com/2021/04/17/two-triple-cheese/
3. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. John Sinclair Freedom Rally performance. (from Ten for Two, premiered 4/1/72. Produced by John Lennon and Yoko Ono). Posted to YouTube by RW Ike 3/3/21. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZ21BHiSlJ4
4.INTERNET ARCHIVE. Commander Cody-KSAN 1975 Record Plant. KSAN. Commander and https://archive.org/details/CommanderCody-KSAN1975RecordPlant
5.Ike B. Rock don’t cry. WordPress 8/28/22. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2022/08/28/rock-dont-cry/
6. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Don’t Let Go (embellished by the Commander’s videography). YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZs0NuhOuUs