Although renowned for its high-energy rock, the Detroit/Ann Arbor region also formed the focal point for this entertaining country-rock band. The first of several tempestuous line-ups was formed in 1967, comprised of Commander Cody (b. George Frayne IV, 19 July 1944, Boise City, Idaho, USA; piano), John Tichy (b. St. Louis, Missouri, USA; lead guitar), Steve Schwartz (guitar), Stephen Davis aka the West Virginia Creeper (bass) and Ralph Mallory (drums). Only Frayne, Tichy and Bolton remained with the group on their move to San Francisco the following year. The line-up was completed on the Airmen’s 1971 debut album, Lost In The Ozone, by Billy C. Farlowe (b. Decatur, Alabama, USA; vocals/harp), Andy Stein (b. 31 August 1948, New York, USA; fiddle/saxophone), Bill Kirchen (b. 29 January 1948, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA; lead guitar), ‘Buffalo’ Bruce Barlow (b. 3 December 1948, Oxnard, California, USA; bass) and Lance Dickerson (b. 15 October 1948, Livonia, Michigan, USA, d. January 2004; drums). This earthy collection covered a wealth of material, including rockabilly, Western swing, country and jump R&B, a pattern sustained on several subsequent releases.
Despite achieving a US Top 10 single in 1972 with a cover version of the Johnny Bond country hit ‘Hot Rod Lincoln’, the band’s allure began to fade as their albums failed to capture an undoubted in-concert prowess. Although Live From Deep In The Heart Of Texas (1974) and We’ve Got A Live One Here (1976) redressed the balance, what once seemed so natural became increasingly laboured as individual members grew disillusioned, and their move to Warner Brothers Records was an unmitigated disaster (the band’s tribulations were chronicled in great detail in Geoffrey Stokes’ 1976 book Starmaking Machinery). John Tichy’s departure proved crucial and preceded an almost total desertion in 1976. The following year Cody released his first solo album, Midnight Man, before convening the New Commander Cody Band with Barlow and Black and recording two albums for Arista Records. During the 80s Cody periodically teamed up with Bill Kirchen’s Moonlighters and recorded a couple of low-key albums. Several albums of remixed 70s material were subsequently released on the Relix label, alongside sporadic new recordings. Cody continues to lead the Lost Planet Airmen and from time to time has reunited with the original line-up.