Commander Cody, aka George Frayne, exploded on the national music scene more than 40 years ago while fronting the seminal roots-Americana outfit Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen. The band was one of the first to successfully fuse together a plethora of American music styles from country to rock n’ roll by way of blues and bluegrass.
The Commander’s ’74 classic, “Deep In the Heart of Texas,” is one of Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Albums of All Time and boasts a who’s-who of gifted sidemen, including vocalist Billy C. Farlow, fiddler Andy Stein, guitarists Bill Kirchen and John Tichy.
Leading his current five-piece outfit from the behind the keyboards at the Parting Glass, Commander Cody’s original musical vision remains intact, and he’s emerged as a musical and cultural American icon. The band’s spirited mix of rocking originals and covers never seems to have gone out of style and looking out at the Saturday night audience, you could see fans representing several generations.
In the rare Saratoga showcase, the Commander and his band played two driven sets. He obviously loved the Parting Glass’ staff and performance space and didn’t hold back in castigating another Spa City hot spot by raising an audience chorus of “Fuck Siro’s” for having nickel-and-dimed him to death the last time he performed in town.
For long-time and newly recruited fans, Commander Cody reached into his deep songbag to pull out classic gems, singing – among dozens of others – “Hot Rod Lincoln,” “Down to Seeds and Stems Again Blues,” “Too Much Fun” and “Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette.”
Featuring a crack crew of musicians including monster electric-guitarist Mark Emerick and commanding bassist Randy Bramwell, the Cody also invited his old band-mate John Tichy up on the stage for a tune in the second set.
Looking back at his musical career, Commander Cody has come a long way. But at the same time, he’s really come around full circle, championing roots-Americana music. So many bands and performers today – from Fleet Foxes to Ray LaMontagne – owe him a debt of gratitude.
Reviews and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk