Pioneering Country Rocker Commander Cody (George Frayne) Has Died

There were few that could tap into the cosmic side of country music better, and nobody that could sail as deep into the ozone as Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen. And now, the band’s illustrious pilot, the Captain, keyboard player and singer Commander Cody himself, Mr. George Frayne, has flown his final mission.

On Sunday morning, September 26th, it was revealed that George Frayne had passed away in Saratoga Springs, New York due to Cancer.

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen revolutionized the space where country and rock intersected by bringing a wild, loose, and uninhibited attitude to the music. They were the cool everyone wanted to be, and every music scene wanted to claim them as their own. But the college town of Ann Arbor, Michigan is where it all officially started, though the band would eventually move to Berkeley in California, and be closely associated with the hippies/cowboys scene in Austin at the Armadillo World Headquarters as well.

They only had one true hit—that being a remake of the 1955 song “Hot Rod Lincoln” that went Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 1972. But “Seeds and Stems” is the song many bands an artists stole the idea from, while their live albums Live From Deep in the Heart of Texas (1974) recorded at The Armadillo, We’ve Got a Live One Here! (1976), and the essential country trucker record Hot Licks, Cold Steel, and Truckers Favorites (1972) all make for badass record store finds that have withstood the test of time, not to mention the band’s original studio albums such as Lost in the Ozone (1971), Country Casanova (1973), and Tales from the Ozone (1975).

Officially formed in 1967 after George Frayne had earned a bachelor’s degree in art from the University of Michigan, once Frayne finished his master’s in sculpture and painting in 1968, he started devoting himself to the band full-time, and they hit the road, bolstered by the world-class Telecaster playing of Bill Kirchen, and saxophone/fiddle player Andy Stein. Borrowing from country, rock, Western swing, rockabilly, and rhythm and blues, their live shows were a thing of wonder, and the wild nature of their performances inspired bands like Texas mainstays Asleep at the Wheel, who Commander Cody even convinced to relocate to California for a stint.

The original Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen burned hot, but didn’t burn too long. Signing to Paramount Records and later Warner Bros., the businessmen wanted to make them into a version of The Eagles or something similar. But they couldn’t be tamed, and were even more tough to market beyond the band’s legion of devoted fans. They did get to tour with The Grateful Dead and once opened for Led Zepplin as well before the original band officially broke up in 1976.

George Frayne kept going with the Commander Cody name for many years though, and in multiple iterations, including the Commander Cody Band, Commander Cody and His Modern Day Airmen, and Commander Cody and His Western Airmen, but mostly just Commander Cody, which he went by all the way until his death. Bill Kirchen and Andy Stein went on to continue in music quite successfully, with Bill becoming one of the most revered Telecaster players in history, and Andy Stein playing in the house band of A Prairie Home Companion.

George Frayne also never lost his passion for visual art. Originally born in Boise, Idaho on July 19, 1944, he received proper training in all sorts of mediums during his time in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan. Eventually Frayne permanently relocated to Saratoga Springs, New York where he spent the better part of four decades. He worked in acrylics and depicted a variety of subjects from pop art to portraits of classic cars. Frayne also published a book Art Music and Life through Qualibre Publications in 2009.

An important character in both the country and rock realm, George Frayne, a.k.a. Commander Cody will be sorely missed, while the seeds he planted with the other Lost Planet Airmen can still be seen and heard throughout country and rock today.

© 2024 Saving Country Music