George Frayne, better known as Commander Cody, has been making music with his band, The Lost Planet Airmen, for decades. Their work sits prominently on Rolling Stone's Top 100 albums of all time. But past the boogie-woogie, swing, country and rock is another side to Commander Cody: George Frayne, the visual artist.
He earned a master's degree in sculpture and painting from the University of Michigan. His work has shown in exhibits from Austin to Tokyo. One of his videos is on display at the Museum of Modern Art. And now, he has a new book called Art, Music and Life.
Frayne's quote on the cover sums it up pretty well: "I have been painting for a long time. I have been rocking for almost as long. The tales of adventures in both cases run together, and in some cases, intersect. Here are the stories and the art of these moments."
The book contains pop-art portraits of music legends from Willie Nelson and Jerry Garcia to Sarah Vaughan and Charles Mingus. It also showcases abstract works, still lifes and elaborately painted sculptures.
From Artist To Musician And Back
Frayne's movement from art to music occurred at the spur of the moment. After completing college, he was working in the sculpture department of a university in Wisconsin. When he received a call from his friend, guitarist Bill Kirchen, telling him the bands out west were adopting a country sound, Frayne headed west. He discovered almost immediate success.
"I got to California on June 4, 1969, and by Aug. 28, we were opening up for The Grateful Dead," he says.
Frayne's book is filled with anecdotes of a bygone era, each story accompanied by colorful portraits and paintings. He recalls meeting Hunter S. Thompson, Louis Armstrong, Gene Krupa and other cultural icons.
Following some self-admittedly poor albums with the Airmen, the band broke up and Frayne began concentrating solely on painting. But after a long hiatus, he reformed The Lost Planet Airmen in 2009 and recorded Dopers, Drunks and Everyday Losers.
"The comeback has been really great," Frayne says. "Who would've known that I would even live to be 65 years old? Lord knows I'm still alive and rockin'."