Commander Cody Band coming home to Ann Arbor for 2 local concerts
Fans have more than one chance this week to catch the Commander Cody Band, a country rock group with its origins in the fertile local music scene of the 1960s. The foursome will perform at The Ark Friday night as part of an Ann Arbor District Library event that will launch a Web site aimed at exploring some of Ann Arbor’s colorful counterculture history. They will also play two sets at Live at PJ’s on Thursday.
Led by founding member George Frayne, the Commander Cody Band—originally Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen—is known for the tunes “Hot Rod Lincoln,” “Lost in the Ozone” and “Down to Seeds and Stems Again.”
The show at The Ark will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, which was held at Crisler Arena on Dec. 10, 1971 to protest the 10-year prison term given activist John Sinclair for the possession of two marijuana cigarettes. Commander Cody was among the musicians who played at the rally, as were John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Stevie Wonder and Bob Seger.
The concert will also mark the launch of the AADL’s “Freeing John Sinclair” website, documenting the history of the White Panther Party and Rainbow People's Party in Ann Arbor circa 1968-1975. The site will include the full run of both parties' underground newspaper, the Ann Arbor Sun; a series of original essays; audio files from the Bentley Historical Library's John and Leni Sinclair Papers; and dozens of hours of interviews with people central to this period in Ann Arbor history (check out www.freeingjohnsinclair.org starting Dec. 9).Admission to The Ark show is free, on a first-come, first-served basis. The Live at PJ’s sets are part of local promoter (and one-time Frayne frat brother) Peter Andrews’ new music series at the venue.
Besides Frayne, the Commander Cody lineup consists of Steve Barbuto (drums), Mark Emerick (guitar) and Randy Bramwell (bass). AnnArbor.com caught up with Frayne by phone recently from his home in New York state. Fans should expect to hear road-tested Commander Cody favorites, he said.
“The newest song is ‘They Kicked Me Out of The Band’ (from the early 1990s), so everyone pretty much knows what the set is going to be,” he explained. “It’s kind of like the ‘Rocky Horror Picture Show’ ... You know what’s going to happen in the show but it’s going to be different every night.”
Although it’s little bit unusual for a performer to play two different venues in the same town on consecutive evenings, Frayne said that in this case the scheduling is ideal.
“The Ark is going to be a free thing (and) pretty much a free-for-all; there’s going to be a lot of people who are not going to be able to go, and there are going to be other people who don’t want to go,” he said.
“There’s two different crowds. There’s our Commander Cody revolutionary, card-carrying, Communist, Berkeley-oriented 1969-70 wild and crazy bunch of swing guys, then there’s the professional architecture guys with all my friends who are M.D.s and lawyers and what not and those guys don’t want to go to a free thing. They’re going to want to sit down and have a cocktail—we’re going to take care of both.”
Besides his work as a musician, Frayne received a bachelor's degree in design from the University of Michigan in 1966 and a master's in sculpture and painting from the U-M’s Rackham School of Graduate Studies in 1968. He taught at the U-M and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and is also a student of cinematography.
Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, founded in 1967, grew out of a group called The Amblers, which disbanded after its lead singer was killed in a car wreck. Among its early members were guitar ace Bill Kirchen, who has since enjoyed a successful solo career—and who, coincidentally, is himself coming home for a show at The Ark on Sunday with local hero George Bedard.
Frayne remembers the Sinclair Freedom Rally as much for the music as for the drugs that surrounded it. “There was some pretty good bands; the sound system was good,” he recalled. “I’ve got a couple of stories that we can’t talk about having to do with John Lennon and the way they showed up, what was in the limo and what I did with it ... The back seat of their limo was covered with the substances that were resellable. Of course everyone got totally s***-faced and had a wonderful time.”
To help launch the new website, the library is sponsoring an exhibit titled "Rock and Revolution” at the Downtown Library through Jan. 15.