George Frayne, “Commandant Cody”, pioneer of country-rock who died at 77 years old
George Frayne, better known by his pseudonym Commander Cody and leader of the group Commander Cody and his planet Lost Airmen, died yesterday at the age of 77 following a battle with cancer.
“Early this morning, as I rested my head on his shoulder, George’s soul flew away,” his wife confirmed in a Facebook post, noting that a pair of commemorative events will be planned for the east and west coasts. “My heart is broken and weary, and I know your hearts are breaking too. Thank you very much for all the love you have given and the stories you have shared.”
Born in Boise, Idaho, in 1944, Frayne trained Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1967. Frayne adopted his stage nickname from a 1950s sci-fi character, while the name of the group comes from a movie.
Blending elements of country, rock’n’roll, western swing, rockabilly, jazz and boogie-woogie, the Lost Planet Airmen stand out from the traditional country rockers of the era.
“In 1966 I found a Bob Wills and Marijuana album,” Frayne said No depression in 2018. “I’m pretty sure these guys were high most of the time. I started listening to the Jerry Lee Lewis album which had the biggest hits from ‘Crazy Arms’ and Buck Owens. Us did it. [Owens’] ‘Tiger by the Tail’ regularly. What country music gave us was that there was no rehearsal, we listened to the record, we drank a bunch of whiskey and coke and played. Country music is easy to do if someone knows the lyrics and the song, you can follow it relatively easily.
After a few years performing in local bars, the band moved to Berkeley, California, where they signed a contract with Paramount Records and released their debut album in 1971, Lost in ozone, which included a Top 40 cover of “Hot Rod Lincoln”. The group opened for a few big acts of the time, including the Grateful Dead, Alice Cooper and the Beach Boys.
After a few more albums in the first half of the 1970s – 1972 Hot Licks, Cold Steel and Trucker Favorites, 1973 Casanova country and the eponymous 1975 LP all landed in the Billboard 100 – the Lost Planet Airman was disbanded in 1976.
Watch Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen perform ‘Hot Rod Lincoln’
Frayne pursued a solo career, still using his stage name, and toured and released albums under a variety of titles including Commander Cody, Commander Cody Band, Commander Cody and His Modern Day Airmen, and Commander Cody and His Western Airmen.
He had also obtained a bachelor’s degree in design in 1966 and a master’s degree in sculpture and painting in 1968. Frayne spent much of his post-aviator career exhibiting his art in museums and teaching at universities. “I have been painting for a long time,” he writes in his 2009 book, Art Music & Life. “I’ve been swinging for almost this long. The adventure stories in the two cases intersect and sometimes intersect.”
In Memoriam: 2021 deaths
In memory of the musicians, actors, producers and others who died in 2021.