It’s time to dust off that old turntable, drop the needle and pay tribute. Country rock’s George “Commander Cody” Frayne, of the 1960s and ’70s band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen—who lived out his later years in Saratoga Springs—has died at the age of 77.
Frayne’s wife, Sue Casanova, confirmed his passing in a Facebook post yesterday.
Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen—that is, Frayne on lead vocals and keyboards, with John Tichy (guitar/vox), Billy Farlow (vox/harmonica), Bill Kirchen (lead guitar), Andy Stein (sax/fiddle), Bruce Barlow (bass), Lance Dickerson (drums) and Steve Davis (pedal steel guitar)—got their start as a bar band in 1967 in Ann Arbor, MI, eventually moving to one of the hotbeds of hippie counterculture, Berkeley, CA, where they landed a deal with Paramount Records. Soon after came the band’s 1971 debut, Lost in the Ozone, which produced the band’s signature song, “Hot Rod Lincoln,” a cover of a ’50s rocker that crested at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 in ’72. That was followed by two more studio albums in ’72 and ’73; a live album in ’74; a self-titled set in ’75, recorded with Warner Bros., which coughed up a Top 100 song, “Don’t Let Go” (the record also featured a cover of Little Feat’s “Willin’,” which has also been recorded by The Byrds, Bob Dylan and Phish); and another live one in ’76.
Throughout their career, the band opened for and shared stages with a number of bands that have reached legendary or rock royalty status, including the Grateful Dead, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Jefferson Airplane, Alice Cooper, the Doobie Brothers and Jethro Tull, among others.
Though Commander Cody’s brand of country rock would line the pockets of contemporaries such as the Eagles and Neil Young, the band never made it past the bargain bin at the local record shop, and for that reason, by the mid-’70s, they went their separate ways. (Interestingly, Tichy would end up trading his guitar for academia, heading the department of mechanical, aerospace and nuclear engineering at RPI for a time.)
Frayne, however, kept the Commander Cody torch aflame in the late ’70s and beyond, touring as a solo artist, with a rotating cast of characters subbing in as His Lost Planet Airmen, and teaching art (he’d earned a degree in the ’60s from the University of Michigan).
By the 1990s, Frayne was living in Saratoga, where he was active in the local arts scene, whether it be performing with his band throughout the ’90s and ’00s; publishing a book, Art, Music & Life, in 2010; displaying his paintings of classic cars at the Saratoga Automobile Museum in 2018; or releasing a long-lost live double album in 2020, Bear’s Sonic Journals: Found in the Ozone, recorded by the late audio engineer and LSD pioneer Owsley Stanley in San Francisco in 1970.
In the Facebook post announcing his passing, Frayne’s wife alluded to two upcoming shows celebrating the rocker’s life, though it’s unclear when those will take place.