Commander Cody to Perform at Feather Falls Casino
● By Phil Reser
Story by Phil Reser
Photos @Marilyn Stringer/MJStringerPhoto.com
GEORGE FRAYNE (Commander Cody) is one of the truly unique and free spirited figures in the American music scene. He and his Lost Planet Airmen were key players in the development of the American roots music movement.
Behind their hard-drinking and deep-toking image, the Commander’s various bands have always played a virtuosic, revved-up assortment of rock, Western swing, country, rockabilly and truck-driving songs, always held together by his raspy singing and boogie-woogie piano playing.
Frayne grew up in Brooklyn and during the summers he was a lifeguard at Long Island’s Jones Beach, where he performed with an all-lifeguard band called the Lorenzo Lightfoot A.C. & Blues Band.
After graduating, he and some college friends formed the Lost Planet Airmen, which played around Michigan and Wisconsin while he christened his onstage persona after Commando Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe, from a 1952 film, “The Lost Planet Airmen.”
“It all started innocently enough,” he recalls. “We had a little five-piece band. The thing about fraternity bands is you don’t practice; practicing is unmanly. You listen to the records you like and go over it in your mind, and go to the gig and drink a fifth and just play.”
When the band learned about the musical scene in San Francisco, they moved there, just in time for the Summer of Love
Cody and the Airmen became first choice for music fans, to play at all sorts of happenings and be-ins. Their live sets became lengthy affairs with the band having up to 30 people on stage at one time.
“We were playing stuff that we liked, stuff that came from all over the place; we didn’t think we were coming up with anything new, we just liked a lot of different stuff and didn’t see any reason not to play it all. I mean, we were the last band to back up Gene Vincent (pioneer of rockabilly music) before he died. We played with Bob Wills’ band. We played with jazz guys from way back. I played boogie-woogie with Les Paul and the guys from his band. We opened up for Led Zeppelin. We went on between the Chambers Brothers and Alice Cooper at the Spectrum. We went on between Slade and Sly Stone out in Fresno in front of 50,000 people. I did a gig with Howlin’ Wolf and Steve Miller, where Wolf came riding out on a Vespa scooter. So from that kind of standpoint, I couldn’t have had it any richer then what it became.”
Their debut album, “Lost in the Ozone,” mixed originals like “Seeds and Stems” and oldies, notably a hit remake of Tex Ritter’s “Hot Rod Lincoln.” The follow-up “Hot Licks, Cold Steel and Truckers’ Favorites” was recorded on four tracks for a mere $5,000. They toured through the early ‘70s and had two more minor novelty hits, “Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar” and Ritter’s “Smoke Smoke Smoke,” before leaving Paramount to sign with Warner Brothers.
The band’s Warner debut album included Cody’s last big hit, “Don’t Let Go.” After a 1976 European tour, the Airmen disbanded, but Frayne retaining his stage name and continued with a solo career. Since that time, he has recorded as “The Commander Cody Band” as well as “Commander Cody and his Modern Day Airmen.”
He moved back to New York in 1997 and continues to record and tour with an ever-changing lineup of Lost Planet Airmen, drawing crowds at festivals, biker conventions, colleges, road houses and bars. He also performs as pianist extraordinaire on The Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise extravaganzas.
As an acclaimed visual artist, Frayne’s work has been exhibited in galleries around the world. He holds a bachelor’s degree in design and a master’s in sculpture and painting. He’s a student of cinematography, and has a video (Two Triple Cheese Side Order of Fries) in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent video archive.
His table top book, “Art Music and Life,” was released in 2009. It contains pop-art portraits of music legends from Willie Nelson and Jerry Garcia to Sarah Vaughan and Charles Mingus. It also showcases both abstract and still life works along with elaborately painted sculptures. •
Nov. 11, Feather Falls Casino, Oroville