A dear friend who’s a surprisingly talented artist is turning one of my favorite Commander Cody photos into a painting. She’s needing clarification of some details in the photo. One of them is “what’s that on your t-shirt?” Well, it’s a poster for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of “Hot Rod Lincoln”, held at Kent State (yes, that Kent State) April 25th, 2008.
Here’s the photo she’s working from, taken at Bull Run Restaurant in Shirley Massachusetts, about an hour’s drive northwest of Boston’s Logan airport, after a June 13, 2015 concert by Bill Kirchen (far right) at which the ol’ Commander (between Bill and me) was the guest.
Kathy’s wearing a Michigan hockey jersey as the Commander has two degrees from UofM and says he played freshman football and ran track while Bill was born and raised in Ann Arbor and is a proud UofM dropout. George Frayne (CC) was also an accomplished artist and sculptor who also did paintings on commission. He did that poster, by the way. I asked him several years ago if he would take on this picture. He declined, saying it had “too much detail.” Should you be interested in what his own art looks like, check out his web page, where some of it is even for sale (1).
Should you wish to know what all the fuss over “Hot Rod Lincoln” is about, and somehow missed its appearance on the radio in 1972, here are five renditions.
First the original, the song Charlie Ryan wrote and recorded it in 1955 (2). Charlie lived the life he wrote and sang about (3), dying at age 92 in 2008, the same year his song would be memorialized at Kent State.
Johnny Bond’s version made #26 on the Billboard charts in October 1960 (4).
I’m not certain which version the boys found in the old record bins, but they sure did a bang up job with it. Checkout their performance at the Free John Sinclair rally at Crisler Arena in Ann Arbor December 10, 1971 (5). Their version would make #69 on Billboard’s top 100 Singles of 1972.
Big Ray Benson credits CC&hLPA with inspiring him to start up Asleep at the Wheel, as they showed you could sell old country music to hippies. They often shared a bill during the 70s. Ray wasn’t above poaching some of their songs, and HRL is a staple of their sets now (6).
Bill’s look at my tee shirt in Shirley was the first he’d heard of the Hot Rod Lincoln celebration. He said “I should have been there”, and indeed he should have. Bill has taken Hot Rod Lincoln and made it his signature song, always closing out his first set with it. He’s taken the events after the character sings “I’ve got a license to fly” and used them as a platform to showcase his encyclopedic knowledge of classic guitar licks and his ability to play them. Neophytes at a Kirchen concert always get a sleeve tug from a knowing friend when this tune comes up “Ya gotta hear this!” Here he is playing it in Washington, D.C., less than 2 months after the Kent State celebration (7).
Only Kirchen (8) and the Wheel (9) are still out there performing. Each is a guaranteed good time, and you’re sure to hear a rousing version of Hot Rod Lincoln!
2. Hot Rod Lincoln – Charley Ryan (1st version). YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e58NJU5B3v8
3. Hughes DL. Hot Rod Jukebox. Charlie Ryan – “Hot Rod Lincoln”. CarShowCrazy.com. https://carshowcrazy.com/hot-rod-lincoln-various-artists/
4. Johnny Bond – Hot Rod Lincoln (1960). YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZu5TwRbYiA
5. Hot Rod Lincoln by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen 12/10/71. YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8TeHA4UL_8
6. Asleep At The Wheel Hot Rod Lincoln Official Video. YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSF3DQkN9aM
7. Bill Kirchen – “Hot Rod Lincoln” in Washington D.C. *UPGRADED*. YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gsLdufJePz0
8. BILL KIRCHEN https://www.billkirchen.com/official
9. ASLEEP AT THE WHEEL https://www.asleepatthewheel.com/