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.
Rad hatter leather
September 27, 2021 @ 1:54 am
September 27, 2021 @ 4:17 am
Commander Cody flyin’ high with the angels! Thanks for the music and memories. May God bless George Frayne.
September 27, 2021 @ 4:19 am
I got to open for him it was the greatest experience. Just a regular guy we had a lot of fun not one show about seven or eight It was great rest in peace George
September 27, 2021 @ 4:29 am
Some mighty fine music and a band who always sounded at their best on their live albums.
RIP Commander Cody.
September 27, 2021 @ 5:37 am
Gave us loads of great music….will be sorely missed.
September 27, 2021 @ 5:58 am
So sad about this. Absolutely a great band.
September 27, 2021 @ 7:38 am
Sad news. That Hot Licks, Cold Steel and Truckers Favorites record is quite fun. I had the opportunity to see George a dozen years back and he put on a GREAT show. His keyboard playing was impressive. He mixed jazz style into everything he did, and he was also a great boogie- woogie piano pounder not unlike Jerry Lee.
You really have to categorize him as a founder of the “Outlaw’ era, with his close ties to The Armadillo and Austin.
September 27, 2021 @ 6:43 am
It is a shame that another one has dropped from the scene, especially one so important to both the California and Texas C&W scenes, both of which so individuated themselves from what was going on in Nashville.
One correction about Commander Cody’s version of “Hot Rod Lincoln”: It only got up as high as #51 on the Country Singles Chart, and was far bigger on the overall Hot 100 (peaking at #7 in May 1972). But it was he and his Lost Planet Airmen who indeed had the biggest hit with this much-recorded, and much beloved, standard.
September 27, 2021 @ 1:47 pm
Meant to put Hot 100 there. I get so used to typing out “Billboard Hot Country Songs,” it’s habit.
September 27, 2021 @ 7:35 am
Sorry to hear this. A favorite of mine back in my college days in the early to mid 70’s. I can remember on many occasions my friends and I singing Seeds and Stems when you were rolling that last joint out of a nickel bag.
September 27, 2021 @ 9:04 am
Always loved the music and the fun vibes of CC & LPA from the first time I saw them at The Main Point in Bryn Mawr. George was a hell of a character and he will be missed by all who knew and loved him.
September 29, 2021 @ 5:20 pm
Damn the commander has died. My favorite band. Saw them in Spartanburg SC twice in the seventies. Last time in Greenville SC. I ain’t never had to much fun. Boogie on!!!!
September 27, 2021 @ 9:25 am
Sorry to hear of the Commander’s passing. I listened to this band plenty back in the mid to late ’70’s and covered some of their material (especially tunes they covered) in bands I played in during that era.
For readers who would like to know more about this band during that time, there’s a fantastic book titled “Star Making Machinery : Inside The Business Of Rock And Roll” written by Geoffrey Stokes and first published in 1976. Long out of print, I’m sure it will be next to impossible to find (maybe in a public library or on Kindle), but well worth the effort.
The book covers the making of their 1975 album “Commander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen,” major record label dealings, practices, finances and contracts of the time, touring and behind the scenes with the band and their management – a terrific read for those interested.
September 27, 2021 @ 9:38 am
George was quite the character .We spent many a night boogying with the commander !
There are many nights I can’t remember with friends that we never will forget ❣️
Thank you Cody.. till we join you for another good time.
Cuz we never had to much fun. RIP
September 27, 2021 @ 10:31 am
One of the best , he had great Steel Players, Bobby Black, The West Virginia Creeper, and many others later on including Tiny Olsen and John Widgren.
May the Commander rest in Peace!!
September 27, 2021 @ 10:50 am
I met George in 1979 while performing in Dry Creek,Montana and have never forgotten that lively man. “Call me George “, he states while breakfasting at Natalie’s restaurant the morning after the concert. Commander Cody and the Lost Plant Airmen’s music still plays in my home. RIP
September 27, 2021 @ 8:25 pm
I have been enjoying YouTube “Seeds and Stems” and “Beat me daddy Eight to the bar” featuring a young beautiful Nicolette Larson. Good stuff. Thank you Commander. Condolences to family, friends, and fans.
September 27, 2021 @ 1:02 pm
“Mama Hated Diesels” but she loved the Ol’ Commander. We’re all down to seeds & stems,sadly.RIP George.
September 27, 2021 @ 2:31 pm
Lucky to know and hang with him a little in Ann Arbor at U-M, along with brother Chris and manager Joey Kerr. An art school legend even before starting the band.. Always welcoming and inclusive; knew the value of a good time. RIP.
September 27, 2021 @ 3:30 pm
Sail on Commander thanks for the music!
September 27, 2021 @ 3:32 pm
Commander Cody and the lone lost airman. I’ll miss this band
September 27, 2021 @ 3:53 pm
They made it fun, as it should be. RIP Commander. Bill Kirchen is still a great guitar player, and still kickin.
September 27, 2021 @ 5:17 pm
George was a wonderful man. Every time I went to his shows he would welcome me and thank me for coming. He played in Fairfax , Ca for a reunion of the original CC and the LPA’s . I introduced him to my daughter and he was more than gracious and said what a great fan I was . He spent 1/2 an hour with us drinking beer. What a show
George put on ! He opened for Waylon at the Santa Monica Civic in 1972 . He will be missed
September 27, 2021 @ 8:39 pm
The lost planet airman are flying the missing man formation.
September 28, 2021 @ 7:57 am
The Commander got me through my late teens and on – so sorry to hear he died. I always thought Bobby Black was the best steel player I’d ever heard, and Andy Stein’s dainty little fiddle licks were amazing! Rest easy, Country Casanova!!
September 28, 2021 @ 2:43 pm
Sad news indeed.
I sure loved Commander Cody.
He was quite a gem.
Gary D Matthews
September 29, 2021 @ 5:27 am
Nite I saw him in 84, he tended bar during his break .
September 29, 2021 @ 7:17 am
“One drink ‘o wine, one drink a gin, I’m Lost in the Ozone again” !!
October 1, 2021 @ 12:22 pm
Geeezee peeezeee , awful news. Always remember NEVER having too much fun Commander!! Fly high my man!!!