George Frayne turns 77 today. If you don’t recognize the name you might recognize his stage name Commander Cody. If that still does not ring a bell, then you will recognize their one hit song when you hear it, a remake of the 1955 song Hot Rod Lincoln. Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen had their version reach the top 10 in 1972.
From the mid 60s to the mid 70s Commander Cody represented an emerging style of raw-edged alt country that would form the basis of the new Americana genre. Initially forming in Michigan, the band moved to Berkely, California where they soon signed a recording contract. The band’s difficulties in actually getting out a record was the subject of a 1976 book, Star Making Machinery, which documented the impact of music industry marketing and promotion. The label wanted an Eagles style soft rock country album and the Lost Planet Airmen had something entirely different in mind.
Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen disbanded in 1976, but Frayne continued to perform as Commander Cody for decades. He combines his music with a career in art. He has worked as an art professor in Wisconsin and as a cinematographer, has a video in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art.
Several of the original band members have gone on to notable careers. John Tichy had already earned a Ph.D. and would become an Engineering School department head at RPI and Andy Stein had a long career working on the NPR radio program A Prairie Home Companion. The most familiar Airmen is Bill Kirchen. Kirchen played guitar and trombone, plus wrote and sang some of the songs. You can still hear Kirchen perform some of the Commander Cody material in his shows.