By By "Huckabee" pop culture guru Pat Reeder (http://www.hollywoodhifi.com)
I’m sad to have to report the death of George Frayne IV, a.k.a. Commander Cody of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, of cancer at 77.
As a born- and lifelong Texan, I’ve always been a big fan. They were one of the seminal groups in the 1970s Texas “outlaw country” movement, a fixture at joints like Austin’s Armadillo World Headquarters. Their name came from the same 1940s Republic sci-fi serial that inspired George Lucas. They were best known for their one hit, a 1971 remake of “Hot Rod Lincoln,” first cut by its writer Charlie Ryan in 1955 and by Johnny Bond in 1960. It’s from “Lost in the Ozone,” one of several of their LPs that made it into Billboard’s top 100. After the original band broke up in 1976, Frayne continued performing for decades under the name Commander Cody.
In his obit, Frayne is quoted as saying they stopped playing country music after being booed off stage at the 1973 CMA convention, and that “The people from Texas found out that I wasn’t from Texas, and they thought that I was stealing their music and they didn’t get it.” I find that odd, since I loved that band and assumed all real Texans did, too. Although I do remember seeing them open once for War in Waco, and while I thought they were fantastic, the crowd just sat on their hands. They only wanted War. (FYI: that's one of only three concerts I’ve ever walked out of. I can’t take 20 minute versions of “Low Rider” or “Slippin’ Into Darkness.” War is hell, at least live.)
They had a uniquely loose yet technically proficient, hippie-meets-cowboy mixture of country, western swing, R&B, rockabilly and early jazz that was irresistibly fun. AllMusic.com compares how they helped blow away the overproduced countrypolitan Nashville sound to how British pub rock bands helped force overblown ‘70s rockers back to the basics.
I always thought they were at their best live, which is why their live albums are better than the studio albums. My favorite is one of the great Lone Star classics, “Live from Deep In The Heart of Texas,” cut at Armadillo World Headquarters and with a crowd of cartoon armadillos on the cover. It’s a party in a sleeve, with such jump-up-and-dance tracks as “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “Git It,” “Little Sally Walker” and “Too Much Fun” (no such thing.)
RIP, Commander! I hope to see you again in the ozone someday!