Being a young Deadhead in the early Seventies, I was familiar with other bands that could be fitted into that very loose genre known as country rock. Actually, it didn’t matter very much if you were a deadhead or not, it was all over the rock radio in the early seventies. There were The Eagles, Allman Brothers (debate if they were country rock or not, Ramblin’ Man could definitely be considered country rock), Poco, The Marshall Tucker Band and others. Then there was Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.
Unlike other country rock bands who took their cues from folk rock and bluegrass, Commander Cody mixed their rock with Western swing, rockabilly, Bakersfield honky tonk and jump blues, all built on the boogie-woogie piano of George Frayne, aka Commander Cody, who sadly passed away last month at the age of 77.
Compared to the more commercially successful bands mentioned above, Commander Cody were much (for the lack of a better word) rawer and became something of a cult favorite during its ten year existence, with constant touring, usually playing bars and small venues. Their 1974 album Live From Deep in the Heart of Texas, recorded at Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, was once ranked by Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 albums of all-time.
When the band released its first album, “Lost in the Ozone” in 1971, it spawned a surprise hit with “Hot Rod Lincoln,”, a cover of Charlie Ryan’s 1955 rockabilly song. But having what was essentially a novelty song as your first hit is also a death sentence. The success of “Hot Rod Lincoln” basically got them pigeonholed as a novelty band.
Having seen the band, I can attest to how good they were live with the Commander being one hell of a boogie-woogie piano player.
RIP George Frayne, aka Commander Cody.