Thursday, September 30, 2021
– George Frayne, the founder and leader of country rock band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, died on Sunday at 77 in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
Frayne reportedly died of esophageal cancer.
While the band had exactly one hit - a remake of a '50s rockabilly tune, "Hot Rod Lincoln" - the band had an influence on the country rock scene.
Frayne's widow, Sue Casanova, posted news of her husband's passing on Facebook:
"Early this morning
As I lay my head upon his shoulder
George's soul took to flight
I am heartbroken and weary
And I know your hearts break too
Thank you so much for all the love you gave
And the stories you shared
Frayne, who was born on July 19, 1944, in Boise, Idaho with the family soon moving to Brooklyn and then Bay Shore, N.Y. Frayne received a bachelor's in design from the University of Michigan in 1966 and a master's in Sculpture and Painting from the Rackham School of Graduate Studies of the University of Michigan in 1968. He taught at University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.
Frayne also pursued music coming back to Michigan from Wisconsin to play in local bands. He founded Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen in 1967 in Ann Arbor, Mich. The band, which featured many members, included guitarist Bill Kirchen.
The band combined country, rock, Western swing, rockabilly and blues together. The name was inspired by 1950s film serials featuring the character Commando Cody and from a feature version of an earlier serial, "King of the Rocket Men," released as "Lost Planet Airmen."
In 1969 the key members of the band moved from Michigan to Berkeley, Cal. They scored a record deal with Paramount Records. The group released their first album in November 1971, "Lost in the Ozone," which included "Hot Rod Lincoln," the group's only top 10 hit.
The song proved to be somewhat of a double-edged sword because of its novelty nature.
After four albums with Paramount, the group signed with Warner, which wanted to control its sound.
That was documented in Geoffrey Stokes' 1976 book "Star-Making Machinery." The book was featured as a case study about music industry production and marketing. Warner wanted a hit album similar to Eagles, but Commander Cody was not about to abandon its rough-hewn style.
The group disbanded in 1977, but the name "Commander Cody" lived on in various incarnations led by Frayne. Among them were Commander Cody, the Commander Cody Band, Commander Cody and His Modern Day Airmen and Commander Cody and His Western Airmen.
Frayne also was a cinematographer and has a video ("Two Triple Cheese Side Order of Fries") in the Museum of Modern Art's permanent video archive.