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George Frayne IV, who led the band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, a group that combined elements of rock counterculture with a love for roots music in the early 1970s, died Sunday at the age of 77 years. Frayne had been on cancer treatment for several years.

“Early this morning, as I rested my head on his shoulder, George’s soul flew away,” his wife, Sue, said in a post on his Facebook page. “I’m heartbroken and weary, and I know your hearts are breaking too. Thank you very much for all the love you have given and the stories you have shared.

Frayne’s seminal group were popularly best known for a remake of the 1955 rockabilly-flavored song “Hot Rod Lincoln” which made the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 in 1972, peaking at No. 9, with some crossover impact on the country and easy listening grids.

While the band’s style was often described in their early days as country-rock, the Bay Area-based band had a harsher driving style – and, as their sci-fi series name suggests, more of a sense of humor. – than other country-influenced artists coming to Los Angeles at the time, like the Eagles or Poco. The sounds of rockabilly, western swing, jump blues, jazz and boogie-woogie piano featured in the band’s freestyle as well as country, finding enthusiastic fans among followers of rock bands like the Grateful Dead, for which Commander Cody was sometimes the first part, as well as those who are passionate about more traditional musical forms.

Although it was not until 1971 that their first label, “Lost in the Ozone”, was released, the group actually formed in 1967 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, going against the grain of the psychedelia that culminated in the flower-power movement in favor of sounds that have delved deep into the supposedly boxier music of decades past, like Western swing pioneer Bob Wills.

Commander Cody and his Lost Planet aviators have released seven albums on the Paramount and Warner Bros. labels. from 1971 to 1976. After the original band split in 1976, Frayne continued to record and tour under the name Commander Cody until shortly before the pandemic broke.

He told the site Bandesclassiques.com on the origins of the band’s name, claiming they got it from “the same place George Lucas got it: from Republic Pictures.” In 1948, 1949, operations similar to Flash Gordon would take place in theaters between films. Later this character, Commander Cody, made three films, one of which was “Lost Planet Airmen”. I was watching the Lost Planet Airmen movie and saw the character of Commander Cody and thought that would be a great name for a band. I had no idea someone was going to be Commander Cody. I mean, there is no Lynyrd Skynyrd. There is no Steely Dan. There is no Marshall Tucker. Why did there have to be a Commander Cody? It’s a long story in itself.

But, of course, there was little sense of science fiction in the music itself… even though there was a lot of weed. “Around 1966, I found a Bob Wills and Marijuana album,” Frayne said in a interview with No depression in 2018. “I’m pretty sure these guys were high most of the time. I started listening to Jerry Lee Lewis’s album which had the greatest hits from “Crazy Arms” and Buck Owens. We were doing [Owens’] ‘Tiger by the Tail’ regularly. What country music gave us was that there was no rehearsal; we listened to the record, we drank a bunch of whiskey and coke, and we played. Country music is easy to do if someone knows the lyrics and the song, you can follow it relatively easily.

But, despite such comments, Frayne was a serious musician, whose main influence as a pianist was Fats Domino. “The commander I knew was a music history buff, fine art scholar and one of the sharpest minds I have ever met,” David Malachowski, a guitarist who joined the band. Commander Cody in the late 90s, told the Times Union, a newspaper from Frayne’s last hometown of Saratoga Springs. Malachowski pointed out the complicated nature of a piano playing style that required different rhythms and even speeds for the left and right hand parts. “I asked him once how he did it, and he said he played the left hand tricks nonstop all day for about a year, until it became second nature,” said the guitarist.

Born in Boise, Idaho in 1944, Frayne grew up in the Long Island area before attending the University of Michigan, where he earned a master’s degree in fine arts in painting and sculpture the same year the aviators of Lost Planet are reunited.

Frayne’s first Ann Arbor group was the Fantastic Surfing Beavers, with a different leader. After the formation of the group Commander Cody, according to a Profile from 1970 by Ed Ward in Rolling Stone, “Commander Cody and his Lost Planet aviators devoted themselves body and soul to old-school country music and rock and roll. But this devotion is not an easy thing to uphold in the Midwest where, chances are, you associate this type of music with drive-in greasers who love to vamp on long hair and inevitably end up being cops. And it was even more difficult in 1967, when everyone was starting to get into the acid, revolution and overkill MC5 music and all the other things that put Ann Arbor and Detroit on the map.

Frayne told Rolling Stone in this profile, “We didn’t think about calling on anyone. We were just having a good time, picking and playing and earning a few extra bucks. This was when psychedelic ballrooms started to get big. We performed at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit on the same bill with Canned Heat, so naturally the audience hated us, booed us, you know. Still, audiences for The Dead and other bands grew closer to the group once they moved to the San Francisco area in 1969. Frayne said at those early days, “We’d love to do this for country music. that (Paul) Butterfield did for the blues. “

Of the hit “Hot Rod Lincoln,” Frayne said, noting how he became his lead singer, “Back then I couldn’t really sing a note, but I could speak fast. It became obvious that I had to become Commander Cody, because all the guys in the group who wanted to be Commander Cody would have been out of the question. So the band voted that I had to be Commander Cody because I could talk fast, had good rap, and played really good radio. Then people started to say, “Who is the commander and what is he going to do?” So I had to go upstairs and do a number; because I couldn’t sing, I found out that there is a long history of guys who can’t sing. I first discovered it through Phil Harris and traced it back to Johnny Bond.

He found his photo in a remake of “Hot Rod Lincoln”, originally conceived in 1955 as a response song to a 1949 hit titled “Hot Rod Race”. If that destined them to be a commercially wonderful hit, it was fitting that it was the hit: “I love the song, so I don’t mind doing it every night. No problem. “

The sound of the original band became less country in the 1970s. “We really liked it. [our sound] and we played that kind of music until we were booed off the stage at the CMA Convention in 1973, ”he said. Seattle PI in 2013. “In which case we decided that, well, if these guys treat us like that, 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 of Texas found out that I was not from Texas and they thought I was stealing their music and they didn’t understand it.

In that same interview, he said, “I smoke a lot of marijuana and it’s really easy to change my rhythm when you’re high. … I especially love painting while I’m high, and I continue to do so to this day. On the other hand, I don’t smoke weed at rock and roll concerts anymore because I’m more interested in remembering every word in the song. Remember, I’m an old man. I can’t afford to forget the words.

In a 2012 interview, Frayne joked, “The secret is that we’ve been doing the same set for 40 years. It’s like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” without the gay outfit and dancing. “

Frayne was well regarded as a painter and conductor, and published a book of his visual art, “Art Music & Life”, in 2009. He also taught art, including a stint in the faculty of arts from the University of Wisconsin. -Oshkosh. An experimental video he made, “Two Triple Cheese Side Order of Fries,” is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Frayne’s wife said on Facebook that commemorative events were planned. “We are working on 2 large gatherings, on the east and west coasts (the island and the bay area) to celebrate the phenomenal life of the former commander and to benefit musicians in need,” she said. writing.

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