Wayward Q&A: Interview with George Frayne (Commander Cody)
Before Commander Cody became a household name for his saloon-stomping, country-rock jams in the ’70s, the man behind the moniker had a career in art academia as George Frayne. In the late ’60s Frayne was plying his MFA in sculpture toward teaching at the Wisconsin State University in Oshkosh when he decided to move to San Francisco in 1969 with members of his backing band to pursue music full-time. Later that same year, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen would open for the Grateful Dead and then go on to tour the world, releasing albums throughout the ’70s on Paramount and Warner Bros., the highest-charting being the band’s self-titled 1975 release.
The Lost Planet Airmen lineup ended with We Got a Live One Here in 1976, but the Commander forged ahead with various backing bands in the subsequent years. After the release of Let’s Rock on Blind Pig Records in ’87, Commander Cody stopped touring and recording regularly but continued with his art, especially painting.
This year, Commander Cody has a new album out, Dopers, Drunks and Everyday Losers, his first since 1999, as well as a coffee-table book, Art, Music & Life, which features paintings by Frayne alongside stories from his life and career in music.
The 1819 Central Gallery will be showing an exhibition of Frayne’s paintings beginning with an opening tonight from 6 to 9 p.m. (Read our profile of the gallery here.) The show runs through December. Unfortunately, Cody won’t be coming to town to play, he says, until probably sometime this Spring, at Knuckleheads.
Never ones to pass up a chance to talk to someone unusual and famous, we caught up with the Commander from his home in Saratoga Springs, New York, to talk about, among other things, a life-changing revelation in his family history, playing Cowtown Ballroom in KC, how he was the “reefer man” in Ann Arbor, how Hunter S. Thompson tried to blow up his hotel room and, well, art, music and life. Better clear your calendar for the next 30 or so — the Commander likes to talk (and we likes to listen to him).
Is it alright to call you Commander?
Sure, call me Commander or George or Cody – actually, most people call me Cody. But whatever you’re comfortable with.
I kinda like Commander.
Excellent, I’m kind of a Trekkie myself. I certainly enjoy science-fiction. That’s one of the things I really, really love.
Did you toy with any other stage names?
Yeah. It was 1967 and I was out at my summer job in New York as a lifeguard at Jones Beach, which is a pretty big deal. Every July 4th about 3 million people show up at Jones Beach. There’s 427 lifeguards spread out over 32 miles and 17 beaches.
We’d retired to the Jones Beach Hotel where there’s sort of a lifeguard bar. We were forming a lifeguard band and were trying to figure what names to call it, and I had three. First of all was the name I’d been trying to start a band with, a name I’d brought from college, which was Smooth Dog and the Puppies, which I thought was damn good, you know?
But that didn’t work over. Then the television set was on behind the bar, and the rocket man was on there, the Commando Cody character. And the movie was The Lost Planet Airmen, so I went, “How about Commando Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen?” But they didn’t like that either.