The first rock band I saw play live not in a shopping center parking lot was the Allman Brothers Band, opening up for Mountain. But the first band I went to see many times in many cities all over the country was Commander Cody and HIs Lost Planet Airmen.
I listened to a lot of music in high school (doesn’t everyone?), and I loved the Beatles and Stones and Who. I really got into those excellent Jethro Tull records, though mostly Benefit, Yes, New York Dolls, and that first Jefferson Starship album (I mean Have You Seen the Stars Tonight), but whatever, the point is the records I listened to more than the golden age of the Stones and the dawning of J. Geils (big faves too) were those of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen (who I saw open for Jefferson Starship at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium back in ’75).
What I liked about Commander Cody’s band was the way they fit together. Eight players, many instruments, many vocalists. A great guitarist, a rowdy leader, Billy C. Farlow, and most importantly, great songs.
Many of them were covers, most of them kind of obscure, but not always. But the band treated the covers with surprisingly sophisticated respect. Which meant not trying to copy the original, but also not trying to undercut the original with a smirk. List to My Window Faces the South for a bit of pone that is sonically delightful, respectful to the musical setting and yet still keeps it out of the museum. Maybe thank Virginia Creeper, the pedal steel player for that, but I think it’s bigger than that.
Originals like Lost in the Ozone and Seeds and Stems Again Blues (this version with Nicolette Larson on vocals) speak for themselves. They sounded classic the minute they were pressed into vinyl. Which is why they covered Willin’ a few years later, a song of similar majesty but not theirs.
Commander Cody was the center of all this. He got the crew together and with his boisterous pounding piano and over the top vocals on some great novelty sides created hits for a band much more into outre precincts like rockabilly and truck driver songs. Reading his obits reminded me today about how important a force can be. George Frayne was the force that made this band tick, even if it is the collaborative results that are why you should listen to them even today.