“We’ve fooled around long enough. Let’s bring out the Boss Hoss with the hot sauce – Commander Cody,” said local guitarist John Tichy, standing on the gazebo in Lake George’s Shepard Park with lake waters lapping behind him and the occasional pleasure boat passing by.
Known as the “professor of rock and roll” for his duel career as RPI engineering professor and rockabilly guitarist, Tichy was a founder of roots-rock band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen in the late ‘60s.
He also plays with his son Graham Tichy, a highly talented guitarist in his own right, in a rockabilly combo called the Tichy Boys, recently named best “father and son act” by Metroland.
For this free evening show last Wednesday, the Tichy Boys were joined by a straw-hat-clad Doc Scanlon on bass, Pete Vumbacco on drums and Cliff Lyons on saxophone (members of Scanlon’s combo who played at the Saratoga racetrack earlier in the day).
The group of five ran through a few songs on their own to start the show, including Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven,” the jump-jivin’ “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” and the Graham Tichy-led “I’m Leaving It All Up to You,” a song popularized by bubblegum popsters Donny & Marie Osmond, but written by ‘50s R&B duo Don and Dewey.
George Frayne, aka Commander Cody, then came out on stage to play boogie-woogie piano on “Oh Momma Momma,” a John Tichy-sung number that appears on Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen’s 1974 album, “Live from Deep in the Heart of Texas.”
From there, things started heating up, Commander adding rollicking piano, cool vocal stylings and a taste for party-centric subject matter. A largely older crowd sat attentive, but somewhat stoically, on lawn chairs and on the park’s stone-terraced seating as the group ripped through their celebratory anthem “Too Much Fun.”
A toddler in a yellow and red jumper did most of the dancing. “Don’t listen to the words of this next song. Naughty words,” warned the professor before Commander launched into the toke-happy western swing song, “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette).”
“He can play nasty or he can play purty,” John Tichy said after the Commander took a delicate piano turn on “Cryin’ Time.” Correctly guessing the songwriter of that song – Buck Owens – earned a crowd member a post-show shot of tequila from the band.
The hard-times ballad “Stems and Seeds Again Blues” — once named one of the top 25 pot songs of all time by High Times magazine — never seemed sadder or more plaintive than when Commander sang, “My dog died today…” in Shepard Park.
“There’s a picture of me and my dogs in the August edition of High Times,” Commander announced after the song.
Review by Kirsten Ferguson
Photographs by Susan Brink
THE TICHY BOYS WITH COMMANDER CODY SET LIST (partial)
Roll Over Beethoven
Choo Choo Ch’Boogie
I’m Leaving It All Up to You
Oh Momma Momma
Too Much Fun
Truck Driving Man
Lonesome Tears in My Eyes
Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)
Rip It Up
Stems and Seeds Again Blues
Milk Cow Blues
House of Blue Lights
There’s a Riot Goin’ On