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Keeping Up With Commander Cody

“He poured a much-too-large line on my hand”

Commander Cody lived The Life. RIP.
Commander Cody lived The Life. RIP.

“He was the real deal, not an ounce of artifice in him,” says guitarist Greg DouglassG of George Frayne, best known as Commander Cody, who passed away September 26 from esophageal cancer at the age of 77. As the frontman for Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, the alt-country pioneer toured right up until the pandemic, scoring occasional radio hits such as “Hot Rod Lincoln.”

“He was always unfailingly pleasant to me, although Lord knows how he knew who I was,” says Douglass, who played with the Steve Miller Band (it’s his guitar on “Jungle Love”), Greg Kihn (as heard on “Jeopardy”), Van Morrison, and others. “I had an epic evening with the Commander at the Lone Star in Manhattan. First, the opening act was Robert Gordon with Link Wray on guitar. I played on Link’s album on Polydor records, Be What You Want To, and we became friends. He saw me in the front row, and gave me a huge shit-eating grin. After the show, he gave me a huge hug and said, in that odd twang of his, ‘Mr. Jungle Love! You were in short pants at my recording session. Now look at you!’ We bullshitted until autograph seekers besieged him.

“Then the Commander came out. First thing I noticed, no Bill Kirchen. Bummer, the King of Truck Drivin’ Guitar was MIA. Second thing I noticed, he had two female backup singers. One instantly organically demanded attention with her gorgeous voice and impossibly long, gorgeous hair. Turned out to be the soon-to-be famous Nicolette Larson. While Kirchen was definitely missed, George put on a great show.” Afterwards, he walked up to me and said, ‘Hey, Greg! Whatcha doing here?’ I explained I was in New York City with Greg Kihn, our show had been canceled, and I was enjoying a few days off after months of playing every night. He then offered me a ride back to my hotel. I happily accepted. Cabs were pricey, even back then.”

The duo soon found themselves sharing the back seat of a limousine. “George asked if I’d like a little bump — that’s cocaine for you unhip folks. Who am I to refuse an offer from the Commander? He removed a massive baggie full of Peruvian Marching Power and poured a much-too-large line on my hand. ‘Jesus, George, I can’t do all that!’ I whined like the lightweight I was. ‘Ah, come on,’ he growled, ‘the bar’s still open at the Waldorf’ — that’s where I was staying. ‘You can take the edge off.’ I vibrated into the Waldorf like one of those cheap 1950s football toys where the players went every direction but the right one, on an electrically jiggling playing field. I went immediately into the bar, spent my entire week’s per-diem money on a series of double shots of Canadian Club, and once my heart stopped beating at the speed of a hummingbird, I went upstairs and passed out.”

Douglass says he regrets that he never got a chance to thank the Commander for a memorable evening. “He was a wonderful, charismatic guy, a terrific showman, a great graphic artist, and one of the friendliest guys I ever met. And he was one tough son-of-a-bitch to have survived for so long. And thanks for always remembering my name, even though we were never properly introduced. That in itself is an astonishing talent.”

He also recalls that Cody was as much a fan of music as he was a musician. “I told him I sat next to his amp all night after the show in New York. ‘Oh my God,’ he exclaimed, ‘I’m glad you told me that AFTER the show!’ His playing was sheer perfection.”

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Commander Cody lived The Life. RIP.
Commander Cody lived The Life. RIP.

“He was the real deal, not an ounce of artifice in him,” says guitarist Greg DouglassG of George Frayne, best known as Commander Cody, who passed away September 26 from esophageal cancer at the age of 77. As the frontman for Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, the alt-country pioneer toured right up until the pandemic, scoring occasional radio hits such as “Hot Rod Lincoln.”

“He was always unfailingly pleasant to me, although Lord knows how he knew who I was,” says Douglass, who played with the Steve Miller Band (it’s his guitar on “Jungle Love”), Greg Kihn (as heard on “Jeopardy”), Van Morrison, and others. “I had an epic evening with the Commander at the Lone Star in Manhattan. First, the opening act was Robert Gordon with Link Wray on guitar. I played on Link’s album on Polydor records, Be What You Want To, and we became friends. He saw me in the front row, and gave me a huge shit-eating grin. After the show, he gave me a huge hug and said, in that odd twang of his, ‘Mr. Jungle Love! You were in short pants at my recording session. Now look at you!’ We bullshitted until autograph seekers besieged him.

“Then the Commander came out. First thing I noticed, no Bill Kirchen. Bummer, the King of Truck Drivin’ Guitar was MIA. Second thing I noticed, he had two female backup singers. One instantly organically demanded attention with her gorgeous voice and impossibly long, gorgeous hair. Turned out to be the soon-to-be famous Nicolette Larson. While Kirchen was definitely missed, George put on a great show.” Afterwards, he walked up to me and said, ‘Hey, Greg! Whatcha doing here?’ I explained I was in New York City with Greg Kihn, our show had been canceled, and I was enjoying a few days off after months of playing every night. He then offered me a ride back to my hotel. I happily accepted. Cabs were pricey, even back then.”

The duo soon found themselves sharing the back seat of a limousine. “George asked if I’d like a little bump — that’s cocaine for you unhip folks. Who am I to refuse an offer from the Commander? He removed a massive baggie full of Peruvian Marching Power and poured a much-too-large line on my hand. ‘Jesus, George, I can’t do all that!’ I whined like the lightweight I was. ‘Ah, come on,’ he growled, ‘the bar’s still open at the Waldorf’ — that’s where I was staying. ‘You can take the edge off.’ I vibrated into the Waldorf like one of those cheap 1950s football toys where the players went every direction but the right one, on an electrically jiggling playing field. I went immediately into the bar, spent my entire week’s per-diem money on a series of double shots of Canadian Club, and once my heart stopped beating at the speed of a hummingbird, I went upstairs and passed out.”

Douglass says he regrets that he never got a chance to thank the Commander for a memorable evening. “He was a wonderful, charismatic guy, a terrific showman, a great graphic artist, and one of the friendliest guys I ever met. And he was one tough son-of-a-bitch to have survived for so long. And thanks for always remembering my name, even though we were never properly introduced. That in itself is an astonishing talent.”

He also recalls that Cody was as much a fan of music as he was a musician. “I told him I sat next to his amp all night after the show in New York. ‘Oh my God,’ he exclaimed, ‘I’m glad you told me that AFTER the show!’ His playing was sheer perfection.”

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