Tag Archives: Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen

Eight years on

As February rolls to a close, it’s time to quietly celebrate another year of AM, Then FM.

It was during the last week of February 2007 that we made a tiny splash in the blogosphere. Though there are fewer readers and fewer posts than in the heyday of music blogging — when exactly was that, anyway? — we’ll keep on keepin’ on.

Just wanted to say thanks to everyone who’s been along on this long, sometimes strange trip.

Speaking of which …

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“Beat Me Daddy (Eight to the Bar),” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, 1971, from “Lost In The Ozone.”

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“Eight Days A Week,” Billy Preston, 1966. I have this on “Mojo Beatlemania, Volume 1,” a comp CD that came with the September 2004 issue.

Also featured on “Rubber Souled, Part One,” one of the many fine mixes by my friend Larry Grogan over at his tremendous Funky 16 Corners blog. (Just search Larry’s blog for Billy Preston. That mix will turn up, and it’s still available for download or listening.)

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Filed under February 2015, Sounds

The party crasher

Vietnam veterans are in town this weekend for an event called LZ Lambeau. It’s being billed as a long-overdue welcome home. There are four days of events, with the biggie tonight at Lambeau Field.

One of the bars within walking distance of the stadium booked the Commander Cody Band for Friday night.

They once were called Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. They’ve long been a guilty pleasure, and I’ve never seen them, so I went.

The group is just a quartet these days, not the eight-piece big band of old. It’s still fronted by the fine piano player George Frayne and it still cranks out a crowd-pleasing mix of rock, boogie, country and swing.

Good show, but an interesting vibe, one I’d not experienced in quite some time.

As you’d expect, most folks at the show wore something, most often black, proudly proclaiming themselves as Vietnam vets. That also made it clear who was not. Even though it was a friendly, mellow crowd of about 200 that turned out for Commander Cody, it still left me feeling a little like a party crasher.

I’m in my early 50s, and I’m too young for this group. Always will be. I didn’t graduate from high school until five weeks after the fall of Saigon.

So there’s that, and there’s this.

The band was set up in a banquet hall with a couple of cash bars along the side. Seeing all the slightly older folks at the bar and on the dance floor, it felt like I was crashing another wedding at the Colonial Ballroom, a big old rural dance hall not far from where I grew up.

If anyone was on to me one way or the other, they were cool about it. We were all digging Commander Cody, anyway. Here’s a little of what we heard. All are live tracks. The Commander is best heard in the wild.

“Down To Seeds and Stems Again Blues,” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, from “Lost in the Ozone,” 1971. Recorded live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, in April 1971.

Frayne proclaimed it the only slow song they play, and it was.

“Beat Me Daddy (Eight to the Bar),” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, from “Live From Deep in the Heart of Texas,” 1974. Recorded live at the Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin, Texas, in November 1973.

This is what they play to pick up the pace after playing that slow song.

“Lost in the Ozone,” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, from “We’ve Got a Live One Here!” 1976. Recorded live in England in January or February 1976.

This closed those long-ago shows, and it closed Friday night’s show.

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Filed under May 2010, Sounds

The Top 95 and then some

My friend Al in Milwaukee sent along an old end-of-year music roundup from the FM radio station we listened to in the ’70s. It is endlessly fascinating.

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Al sent “The Top 95 Heavys of 1972.” The list of the top 95 songs of the year as played on WIFC — 95.5 FM in Wausau, Wisconsin — is by itself worthy of a post for its sheer diversity.

Alice Cooper is on the list, as is Donna Fargo. Wayne Newton (twice!), along with Led Zeppelin (twice!). Just picking four spots at random, Nos. 45-48 are held by Elton John, the Chi-Lites, Gary Glitter and Arlo Guthrie. Musical stew, anyone?

Most interesting, though, is what’s below “The Top 95 Heavys of 1972.” No fancy title, just this note:

“Because of the increasing popularity of album music in the WIFC area we have also compiled a list of the thirty most requested album cuts.”

It, too, is a rather eclectic list, with “Poor Boy Boogie” by Mac Davis at No. 1.

And this at No. 2.

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“Pusherman,” Curtis Mayfield, from the “Superfly” soundtrack, 1972. (I recently picked up a nice vinyl copy of this record, and here’s a fresh rip for you.)

And this at No. 28.

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20 Flight Rock,” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, from “Lost in the Ozone,” 1971. Ah, the Commander. Long one of my guilty pleasures.

And “Sweet Jane” by Mott the Hoople at No. 30.

Seconds on musical stew, anyone?

Yes, we take requests. Here’s the chart.

WIFC 1972 Front.jpg

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Filed under April 2009, Sounds

The last stop: 2008

I read the obits every day. I read them in my local paper, in the papers from the towns in which I grew up and in the Los Angeles Times, which has some of the best obits. I write them, too.

I wish I would have written this line. It’s from my friend Larry over at Funky 16 Corners. It was a comment on one of my posts earlier this year:

“The first thing I do almost every day is check the New York Times obit page. Therein lie all manner of stories that would otherwise be forgotten, the last stop for really interesting people.”

Looking back at 2008, these folks made their last stop. This is my list. You have yours, and vive le difference.

Lee Sherman Dreyfus, 81, Jan. 2. LSD was Wisconsin’s governor when I was starting out in the newspaper business in the late ’70s. This former speech professor always wore a red vest and had a pencil-thin mustache. He campaigned from a school bus in 1978. I once was part of a panel of journalists … or college students … or both … at which he and the other candidate appeared. I remember nothing about it. Too much LSD, perhaps.

Howard Washington, 98, Jan. 15. The security guard at the Warner Bros. Records parking lot in Los Angeles. No, Madonna, you may not park here. You neither, Prince.

Suzanne Pleshette, 70, Jan. 19. Ooooh, those looks, that sassy attitude and that sultry, smoky voice. I always had a thing for her.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 91, Feb. 5. Meet the Beatles, expand their minds.

Charlie Ryan, 92, Feb. 16. Riding that “Hot Rod Lincoln” into legend. He wrote it. (This version by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, from “We’ve Got a Live One Here!” 1976.)

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Jeff Healey, 41, March 2. We spent a night with Healey in Memphis in the late ’80s. We were listing to his music. It got fairly drunk out.

Gloria Shayne Baker, 84, March 6. She wrote the modern Christmas classic “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

Ivan Dixon, 76, March 16. Sgt. Kincheloe and so much more.

Bob Kames, 82, April 9. You know you want to do the Chicken Dance, made famous by this Milwaukee organist.

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Al Wilson, 68, April 21. “The Snake” and “Show and Tell” and so much more.

Here then, “The Snake,” from “Searching For the Dolphins,” 1968, (available on “Searching for the Dolphins: The Complete Soul City Recordings and More, 1967-1971.”) and “Show and Tell,” from “Show and Tell,” 1973 (available on “Show & Tell: The Best of Al Wilson,” a 2004 CD release).

Dick Martin, 86, May 24. Sock it to me? Godfather of a thousand junior high catchphrases.

Earle Hagen, 88, May 26. You know all his classic TV theme songs … and “Harlem Nocturne,” too.

Harvey Korman, 81, May 29. No, it’s Hedley Lamarr! Seeing him surrender to Tim Conway was even better.

Bo Diddley, 78, June 2. “Sixteen Tons,” my ass. Remember how he pissed off Ed Sullivan? (From “Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger,” 1960.)

George Carlin, 71, June 22. My dad found him increasingly less amusing. I found him increasingly amusing. That is how fathers’ sons start to become their own men.

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Isaac Hayes, 65, Aug. 10. Imagine you are 14 and you listen to the “Shaft” soundtrack day after day. That is how a record collection starts.

Wonderful Smith, 97, Aug. 28. There was a man named Wonderful, and it was his real name. Everyone from Richard Pryor to Dave Chappelle followed in his footsteps. All this, and Spinal Tap, too.

Gilbert Moorer Jr., 67, Aug. 28. Get on up, and pay tribute to the leader of one of Milwaukee’s great soul bands of the ’60s. “Get On Up,” the Esquires, 1967, from “Get On Up: The Esquires,” a 1995 CD compilation.

Jerry Reed, 71, Sept. 1. The skinniest man I ever saw, and I watched him from backstage one night.

Don LaFontaine, 68, Sept. 1. In a world where we no longer hear his voice on movie trailers …

Norman Whitfield, 67, Sept. 16. I didn’t know his name, but his music greatly influenced the way I looked at life when I was 13.

Paul Newman, 83, Sept. 26. The essence of cool. He made a movie in our town and raced at a track in Wisconsin’s rolling hills. He drank beer. He made “Slap Shot” and “Absence of Malice.” The dressing on my Southwest salads at McDonald’s are Newman’s Own. Good enough for me.

Carmen Rocha, 77, Oct. 9. The waitress who introduced nachos to Los Angeles.

Neal Hefti, 85, Oct. 11. Give me the theme to “The Odd Couple” over the theme to “Batman.” (It’s from 1970 and from “Television’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II,” 1986, which is out of print.)

Edie Adams, 81, Oct. 15. Hey, big spender … why don’t you pick one up and smoke it some time? I’m fairly certain the slinky, sultry Miss Adams was the reason my dad smoked Muriel cigars in the ’60s.

Levi Stubbs, 72, Oct. 17. I am more a Temptations man than a Four Tops man, but I know greatness when I hear it.

Mr. Blackwell, 86, Oct. 19. How will we know who is worst dressed now that the former Richard Sylvan Selzer is gone?

Studs Terkel, 96, Oct. 31. One of America’s legendary journalists and storytellers. The voice of Chicago.

Joe Hyams, 85, Nov. 8. One of Hollywood’s great stories. A New York reporter sent west in 1951 to do a story on illegal immigrants, he did it, then was told to interview Hollywood stars if he saw any. He fell into an invitation to Humphrey Bogart’s house. Bogart offered Hyams a drink. Hyams asked for a Coke. Offended, Bogart said, “I don’t trust a journalist who doesn’t drink.” The tee-totaling Hyams told off Bogart and headed for the door. “Get back here, kid,” Bogart said, “I like you.” It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Irving Brecher, 94, Nov. 17. Another of Hollywood’s great stories. One of the funniest men you never knew. He wrote for Groucho Marx. When they met in 1938, Brecher said “Hello, Mr. Marx.” Groucho responded, “Hello? That’s supposed to be a funny line? Is this the guy who’s supposed to write our movie?” Brecher shot back. “Well, I saw you say ‘hello’ in one of your movies, and I thought it was so funny I’d steal it and use it now.” Groucho smiled, bought him lunch and they were pals forever after. The New York Times’ obit recalled that Brecher once pissed off producer Darryl F. Zanuck by saying his new movie “hadn’t been released; it had escaped.”

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Guy Peellaert, 74, Nov. 17. A Belgian pop artist and a designer of album covers, among them David Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs.”

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Bob Jeter, 71, Nov. 20. He played for the Green Bay Packers, and I got his autograph when I was a kid.

Alan Gordon, 64, Nov. 22. He and Garry Bonner co-wrote “Happy Together,” a No. 1 hit for the Turtles in 1967 and one of the greatest pop songs ever. Even when done by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. (From “Fillmore East — June 1971,” 1971.)

Joern Utzon, 90, Nov. 29. The Danish architect who designed the Sydney Opera House. He never saw the finished building, having left Australia in a huff in 1966 after working there for four years and sparring with government officials over its cost.

Bettie Page, 85, Dec. 11. American cultural, fashion and sexual icon.

W. Mark Felt, 95, Dec. 18. The career FBI man was Deep Throat during Watergate. He helped Bob Woodward (and Carl Bernstein) bring down Nixon. I read “All the President’s Men” as a senior in high school, and it helped convince me — as if I needed convincing — that journalism would be my career. I always hoped I’d learn Deep Throat’s identity in my lifetime.

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Dock Ellis, 63, Dec. 19. He claimed to have thrown a no-hitter while on LSD in 1970. File under “Good story if true.”

Eartha Kitt, 81, Dec. 25. “Santa Baby,” of course, but also the best Catwoman ever.

Bernie Hamilton, 80. Dec. 30. Ah, Captain Dobey from the old “Starsky and Hutch” TV show. But did you know he spent the next 20 years producing R&B and gospel records on his Chocolate Snowman label — and even recorded a blues album?

Be sure you make one more round of last stops. Head over to the Locust St. blog, where Chris offers “Absent Friends,” and lots more tunes to accompany it.

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Filed under December 2008, Sounds

This is how you open a show

When the who’s who of Catholics in our corner of Wisconsin gathered at the cathedral in downtown Green Bay yesterday afternoon, they got a little surprise. They found out their new bishop, David Ricken, is a different breed of cat.

As he started the sermon at his installation ceremony, Ricken thought back to the last time he moved to a new place as bishop. As he drove to Cheyenne, Wyoming, from Colorado, he wondered what the folks there listened to. He flipped the radio dial, going from Mozart to this country classic, written and recorded first by Terry Fell in 1954:

“Truck Drivin’ Man,” Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, from “Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers’ Favorites,” 1972. Out of print, even the 1990 CD re-release.

The new bishop did a little more than reminisce. He started singing “Truck Drivin’ Man” at this most formal, traditional and reverent ceremony. It broke the place up.

He wasn’t done, though. He said his move to Green Bay reminded him of another tune.

“Drop Kick Me, Jesus,” Bobby Bare, 1976, originally released on “The Winner and Other Losers” and available on “The Essential Bobby Bare,” a 1997 CD release.

The new bishop sang that, too. It broke the place up again. Appropriate for Green Bay, ya think?

Noting that a song with the lyrics “Drop kick me, Jesus/Through the goal posts of life” carried “a certain profundity,” the new bishop went on to more spiritual matters, of course.

But you’d think those songs — in that setting — will be remembered far longer than anything he had to say after that.

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Filed under August 2008, Sounds

My pappy said …

Reading the Los Angeles Times this morning, I came across this headline: “Charles Ryan, 92; co-wrote pop hit ‘Hot Rod Lincoln.'”

Ryan, a country singer and songwriter, wrote this classic rockabilly tune with W.S. Stevenson and recorded it in 1955. It didn’t become a hit until Johnny Bond recorded it in 1960.

According to the AP story in the Times: “The song was inspired by Ryan’s commutes in his 1941 Lincoln from Spokane (Washington) to play gigs at the Paradise Club across the state line in Lewiston, Idaho.”

My introduction to this tune came — as yours probably did — from Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, a band out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, led by the gravel-voiced George Frayne, a/k/a Commander Cody. They launched it into the Top 10 in 1972.

Once I heard this tune, the Commander’s mix of country, swing and boogie-woogie had me hooked. I have six of their albums, all from the early to mid-’70s. I can’t say any of my friends really dug the Commander, so I’d guess you’d have to call it a guilty pleasure.

So let’s honor Charles Ryan, a Minnesota native who died last week in Spokane, and indulge.

For the record, here’s the version you know:

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“Hot Rod Lincoln,” Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, from “Lost in the Ozone,” 1971.

Here’s an even better version, recorded live in England in the winter of 1976. They take some liberties with the lyrics. It starts out this way:

“My pappy said, ‘Son … you worthless hippie … you shameless drug fiend … you no-good alcoholic … you commie punk! You gonna drive me to drinkin’ if you don’t stop drivin’ that hot rod Lincoln!'”

The pursuit just gets wilder from there, especially at about 3 minutes in.

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“Hot Rod Lincoln,” Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, from “We’ve Got a Live One Here!” 1976.

But wait! There’s more!

Here are two other versions, both from Chris’ epic post on driving songs from last summer’s “7 Means of Movement” series over at Locust St. To learn more about these cuts, head over there.

“Hot Rod Lincoln,” by Johnny Bond, 1960, available on “The Golden Age of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Vol. 8.”

“Hot Rod Lincoln,” by Jane Bond and the Undercover Men, 1982. Released only as a 7-inch single. Not available on CD.

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Filed under February 2008, Sounds