George Frayne a.k.a. country rock maverick Commander Cody dead at 77

George Frayne a.k.a. Commander Cody
(Image credit: Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

George Frayne, a.k.a. Commander Cody, leader of country rockers Commander Cody And The Lost Planet Airmen, has died at the age of 77. He had been battling cancer. 

The news was confirmed on Frayne's Facebook page by his wife, Sue Casanova, who wrote:

"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."

The post continued, confirming that a pair of events would be organised to celebrate Frayne's life. 

Frayne was born in Boise, Idaho, in 1944 and formed Commander Cody And The Lost Planet Airmen in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in 1967. He gave himself the stage name Commander Cody after being inspired by the character Commando Kody, King of the Rocket Men, who appeared in the American 1951 science fiction film Lost Planet Airmen.

The Lost Planet Airmen took country music and infused it with boogie woogie, rock'n'roll, rhythm and blues, western swing and jazz to create a sound that placed them amongst the first bands to give a counter-cultural twist to the Nashville sound. They were perhaps best known for their 1972 hit Hot Rod Lincoln, a cover of a 1960 hit by singer/songwriter Charlie Ryan.

"We really liked [our sound] and we played that kind of music until we were booed off stage at the CMA Convention in 1973," Frayne told Seattle PI in 2013. "In which case we decided that, well, if these guys are going to treat us like this, we're not going to do their music anymore. Because their attitude was, 'Who are these hippies? Take a bath, find a rock concert, et cetera, et cetera.' 

"That was the end of our interest in country and western swing. 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."

Signed to Paramount Records in 1971, the band opened for the Grateful Dead and released several albums in the first half of the 1970s, including Lost in the Ozone, Cold Steel & Truckers Favorites, and 1975's Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, all of which hit the Billboard Top 100. 

Cody released his first solo album, Midnight Man, in 1977, and subsequently released albums and toured under a variety of names including Commander Cody and His Modern Day Airmen and Commander Cody and His Western Airmen. Later, he became an artist and taught at University of Michigan. 

"I smoke a lot of marijuana and it's really easy to change your groove around when you're stoned," he told Seattle PI. "I especially enjoy painting while I'm stoned, and I keep doing that until this very day. On the other hand, I don't smoke weed at rock and roll gigs anymore, whatsoever, because I've been more interested in remembering all the words for the song. Don't forget I'm an old geezer. I can't afford to forget the words."

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.