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Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen Had a Lot of Fun

For a band of some importance, there is almost no decent video of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. The vintage clip above looks like it was shot during World War I. Most of the rest are montages of the band playing behind images of people smoking (“Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette”), cars (“Hot Rod Lincoln”) and trucks (“Mama Hated Diesels”).

The band, which is a product of Ann Arbor, was formed in 1967 and was done nine years later. Wikipedia does a nice job of describing the amalgamation of styles the group integrated:

The band’s style mixed country, rock ‘n’ roll, Western swing, rockabilly, and jump blues together on a foundation of boogie-woogie piano. It was among the first country-rock bands to take its cues less from folk-rock and blugrass and more from barroom country of the Ernest Tubb and Ray Price style. A pioneer in incorporating Western swing into its music, the band became known for marathon live shows.

Above is “Hot Rod Lincoln,” the band’s most famous song. It was a cover. The song was written by Charlie Ryan and recorded by Ryan and The Livingston Brothers in 1955. Wikipedia says that the song was a follow up to “Hot Rod Race,” which was written by George Wilson and recorded five years earlier by Arkie Shibley and his Mountain Dew Boys. It was one of the early examples of the long-time marriage of cars and music.

Wikipedia points out that the earlier song is referenced at the start of the latter:

Have you heard the story of the hot rod race
Where the Fords and the Lincolns were setting the pace?
Well that story is true cause I’m here to say
I was driving that model A.

Commander Cody Graduates Did Well

For what is celebrated as a very good bar band — and a group that was proud to be so — the members achieved much. Guitar/vocalist John Tichy earned a a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and, according to Wikipedia, became head of the Department of Mechanical, Aerospace and Nuclear Engineering at RPI. George Frayne — the Commander himself — became a successful artist and art teacher.

Perhaps the more ironic bio is saxophone/fiddler Andy Stein. I bet you didn’t figure to see the names in the first sentence in a post about Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen:

Besides freelancing as a violinist/violist in chamber and orchestra groups in his native New York, he has recorded with Itzhak Perlman, Placido Domingo, Marilyn Horne, Frederica Von Stade, toured China with a string quartet, and performed concertos (listen to Brahms Violin Concerto excerpt) with orchestras in New York, Chicago, New England, Pacific Northwest, and the South. He has appeared on numerous television programs including Late Night with David LettermanSaturday Night LiveGreat performances (PBS) and As The World Turns (CBS). He has also been a featured soloist in a number of Broadway Shows, including the Lincoln Center production of “Anything Goes,” and the 1990’s Broadway revivals of “Guys and Dolls” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” He has produced records of rock ‘n’ roll and jazz, and conducted on radio and television.

Stein’s aunt was Lillian Fuchs, a very important violinist. The bottom line is that the members of Commander Cody and His Lost Airmen Blues have come a long way from “Down to Seeds and Stems Again Blues.”

“Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette),” which was written by Merle Travis and Tex Williams, is below.

Several Wikipedia entries — on Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen and the songs “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette),” “Hot Rod Lincoln” and “Hot Rod Race” were used for this post. Andy Stein’s website and All Lyrics also were used. Homepage photo: David Gans.

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Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.

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What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.

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The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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