On July 11, 1971, Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, a pioneer of country rock light years from either Gram Parsons or the Eagles, appeared on KSAN-FM in San Francisco, a performance captured on tape.
Lost In The Ozone, their debut album, would appear that fall. The KSAN show captured their basic sound, faithful to honky-tonk, rockabilly, and western swing, driven by Cody (George Frayne) on piano and country-rap vocals, singer Billy C. Farlow, guitarist Bill Kirchen, and fiddler sax player Andy Stein (ex-Airman John Tichy would soon rejoin).
The 14 tunes feature several Airmen standards: “Seeds And Stems (Again),” “Wine Do Yer Stuff,” “Lost In The Ozone,” and the Hank Williams tune that inspired it, “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But Time.”
Kirchen’s Telecaster skills are a constant. He’s firmly behind Cody on “Hot Rod Lincoln” and “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette),” backing Farlow on Buddy Holly’s “Midnight Shift” and accompanying himself on “Blues Stay Away From Me.” Pedal-steel guitarist Steve Davis (a.k.a. the West Virginia Creeper), offered rough, bare-bones accompaniment.
The Airmen, despite occasional ups and downs, evolved considerably in the years before they dissolved in 1977. This document captures them when it was all just beginning.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s February ’16 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.