Saratoga Springs resident George Frayne IV, who led the genre-blending rock and roots band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, died on Sunday at age 77. He had been receiving treatment for cancer for several years, according to Variety.
In a Facebook post, his wife, Sue, said, “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 also known as Commander Cody, was an accomplished singer, pianist and visual artist, whose work is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Born in Boise, Idaho, he was raised on Long Island before heading to the University of Michigan to study painting and sculpture. right around the time that his Lost Planet Airmen formed in 1967, according to Variety.
The band rose to fame with its remake of “Hot Rod Lincoln,” which made the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972. With its rockabilly sound, mixed in with a bit of swing and boogie-woogie, His Lost Planet Airmen had a free-wheeling style that complemented rock counterculture bands of that era.
In a 1970 Rolling Stone profile, Frayne said, “We didn’t think of appealing to anybody. We were just having a good time, picking and playing and making a few dollars on the side.”
Over the years, the band released several albums including “Lost in the Ozone,” “Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers Favorites,” “Sleazy Roadside Stories” and others.
Beyond music, Frayne had a rich artistic career as well. He painted portraits of musicians like Billie Holiday and Eric Clapton. One of his experimental videos, titled “Two Triple Cheese Side Order of Fries,” is in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art.
In his 2010 book “Art, Music, and Life,” Frayne wrote “I have been painting for a long time. I have been rocking for almost as long. The tales of adventures in both cases run together, and in some cases, intersect.”
Over the last few days, many fans and friends have shared stories and memories of Frayne on social media. “I have nothing but the warmest memories of working CCLPA shows in Berkeley and around the Bay Area and attending many more when I wasn’t working just to enjoy myself.
His mixture of wit, humor and musical talent was so rare. And to get all that in a dude it was actually nice to work with? Special stuff,” wrote one.
“His music chased my blues away and always will,” wrote another.
Memorial events are in the works, according to Frayne’s wife, who posted “We are working on 2 big gatherings, on both the east and west coast (The Island and the Bay Area) to celebrate the Old Commander’s phenomenal life, and to benefit musicians in need,” on Facebook.
What’s in a name?
The band’s name was inspired by the 1950s science-fiction serials from Republic Pictures.
“I was watching the Lost Planet Airmen movie and I saw the Commander Cody character and I thought it would be a great name for a band,” Frayne told Classicbands.com. “I had no idea anyone was going to have to be Commander Cody. I mean, there’s no Lynyrd Skynyrd. There’s no Steely Dan. There’s no Marshall Tucker. Why did there have to be a Commander Cody? That’s a long story in itself.”