Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen

“I was watching the Lost Planet Airmen movie and I saw the Commander Cody character and I thought it would be a great name for a band. I had no idea anyone was going to have to be Commander Cody. I mean, there’s no Lynyrd Skynyrd.8 There’s no Steely Dan. There’s no Marshall Tucker. Why did there have to be a Commander Cody? That’s a long story in itself.” —from a 2005 interview for classicbands.com. 

Wikipedia: “Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen were an American rock band founded in 1967. The group’s leader and co-founder was pianist and vocalist George Frayne IV, alias Commander Cody (born July 19, 1944, in Boise, Idaho, died September 26, 2021, in Saratoga Springs, New York).”

The band played the bar circuit in Ann Arbor for a couple of years then made their way to California, where they quickly got a recording contract. Their first album, Lost in the Ozone, was released in the musically magic year of 1971. Their music is described as country rock, rockabilly, and Western swing, they hit the heights pretty quickly with the remake of the 1955 tune “Hot Rod Lincoln.”

“Hot Rod Lincoln” was initially an “answer song” to a 1950 tune by a group named Arkie Shibley and his Mountain Dew Boys (yee-ha!) called “Hot Rod Race.” That song was one of the first – if not THE first – “car = freedom” songs and inspired a whole lotta cats including one Charles Berry

My daddy said son you’re gonna drive me to drinkin’
If you don’t stop drivin’ that
Hot!
Rod!
Lincoln!

According to the New York Times, “the Lost Planet Airmen grew to eight core members, several of them sharing lead-singer duties; there would often be 20 or more others onstage, dancing, playing kazoo and even, at certain adults-only shows, stripping. Their music was bright and up-tempo, centered on Mr. Frayne, who sat — or just as often stood — at his piano, longhaired and shirtless, pounding beers and keys.”

This tune, “Too Much Fun,” is – believe it or not – a tune that ME used to (poorly) belt out back in the days when he was young and foolish.  This is live from Austin, TX 1973:

Here’s a sad tale from Ozone that says “I’m down to seeds and stems again.” By that I assume he perhaps means watermelon seeds and flower stems:

“Cody was a comic-book character come to life,” Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel said of Mr. Frayne. “He looked the part of the wild man, chomping on a cigar and banging on a piano. But he was also an artist, who happened to use the band as a way to express a much bigger picture.”

Did somebody say Boo-gee, woo-gee? From 1975’s eponymous album, this is “House of Blue Lights.” Tinkle them ivories, Commander:

Don’t they have any fucking fiddles in this band? How about the “Armadillo Stomp?” Steel guitars too. Shitkickin’ music all the way:

Unfortunately for the Commander and his airmen, they were either way ahead of or way behind the times and never could catch a groove outside of a niche audience. Seen somewhat as a novelty band, the geniuses who always run record labels and occasionally know something about the product they sell were always looking for the next “Hot Rod Lincoln.” The band broke up in 1976.

Here’s a nice version of Lowell George’s “Willin'”

The Commander spent the rest of his years solo or with a variety of bands with the name Commander and/or Cody in there somewhere. He was also a visual artist and did pop art stuff of people like Jerry Garcia.

He died just last year at the age of 77. Somewhere in the universe, there’s good rockin’ tonight.

*There’s no Lynryd Skynryd but there was a Leonard Skinner.

11 thoughts on “Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen

  1. You had to know CB was a fan. A big fan. To bad more people didnt catch on to the Commander and his fantastic Airmen. They were one hot band. Listening to ‘To Much Fun’ as I type. Bill Kirchen on guitar (and vocals) is a beauty. Love his sound. Well respected in your guitarists world. Fortunate to see them in their hey day. man were they good “fun” shows. They were always in the Hicks, Asleep At the Wheel bunch for me. Tongue in cheek with fantastic musicians
    Good that you are kicking the tires with this music. Maybe a few new listeners will find this treasure trove . CB appreciates it. Go on a Kirchen exploration. You wont regret it.

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    1. I pretty much figured this was CB-land when I was writing the post. Just now going back to your crib and seeing you did “Hot Rod” a few years back and we chatted. I wasn’t aware they had covered “Too Much Fun” till I found it on their list. You shoulda heard old Doc sing it. You’d never wanna hear it again.

      Never saw these guys. For me they were a string of one-night stands. That said, I’m not entirely “kicking the tires.” I was more on the boogie-woogie and less on the shit-kicking side although I’ve come to appreciate the latter. I think that was their problem in the 70’s – a little too country for the rock crowd. Underappreciated. But my friend Steve remembered them and first thing he mentioned was not ‘Lincoln’ but ‘Cigarette.’ You guys would get along just fine.

      Kirchen is a new name to me. I will travel down that road apiece. And I fully expect CB to come back and say I have pushed him back down the Cody/Wheel rabbit hole.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I forgot to comment on your vocals. I actually would have like to been there. Yes this is the kind of music I ate up. Im a rock n roll guy and these guys played all styles that appealed to me. Record sales were not thing with these guys. They did it the old fashioned way. One night stands in clubs and bars. Man could they put on a show. Cody certainly didnt hog the spotlight , Kirchen was the leader. Im sure you’ll find lots of people you like who will sing Bills praises. I listen to this band regular.
        I hope some of your regulars catch tis post.

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        1. Good for us there are still bands playing in bars. I’m lining up a few shows to see for next year.

          My guess is Christian will dig this stuff. One blogger has shared it. Like the Aussie guy once said, if we get through to one person, bonus.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re right, Jim. Not only do I love the name Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, but I also dig the tunes you highlighted! I don’t believe I had heard of them before. “Hot Rod Lincoln” reminded me of George Thorogood, which definitely isn’t a bad thing. It also looks like that 1973 live album is a lot of fun.

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    1. How about that? The guy has been totally under my radar. EC to boot. I notice that that album is a compilation of some of his solo albums. And Dan Hicks is in the mix.

      Liked by 1 person

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