Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen was formed in 1967 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The band’s name was inspired by 1950s film serials featuring the character Commando Cody and from a feature version of an earlier serial, King of the Rocket Men, released under the title Lost Planet Airmen. The band’s founder and leader, George Frayne, took the stage name Commander Cody.
The band’s style was basically a mixture of country music, rockabilly, and blues with a foundation of boogie-woogie piano. It became legendary for marathon live shows. In addition, they were among the very first country-rock bands to take their cues less from folk-rock and bluegrass and more from hardcore barroom country of the Ernest Tubb, Ray Price style, and to incorporate Western Swing into their style along with rockabilly and rhythm and blues. Other bands, such as Asleep at the Wheel, would later follow a similar pattern. The group’s first album release, titled Lost in the Ozone, arrived in late 1971 and yielded the group’s best-known hit, a version of the country song Hot Rod Lincoln, which reached the top ten on the Billboard singles chart in early 1972.
Hot Rod Lincoln
“Hot Rod Lincoln” was recorded in 1955, as an answer song to “Hot Rod Race”, a 1951 hit for Arkie Shibley and his Mountain Dew Boys.
Hot Rod Lincoln was written by Charlie Ryan (who had also recorded a version of Hot Rod Race) and W. S. Stevenson. It begins with a direct reference to Shibley’s earlier song/story, stating “You heard the story of the hot rod race, where the Fords and Lincolns were setting the pace…” Ryan, who owned a real hot rod Lincoln with twelve cylinders, based the road race in Lewiston, ID, driving up the Spiral Highway (former US 95) to the top of Lewiston Hill.
The first, 1955, release of Hot Rod Lincoln was recorded by co-writer Ryan, recording as Charlie Ryan and The Livingston Brothers.. Ryan’s 1959 version, on 4 Star, as Charlie Ryan and The Timberline Riders, is probably better known.
The 1960 version by Johnny Bond was a hit for Republic Records. Bond’s Lincoln has eight cylinders (“and uses them all”) rather than the 12 cylinders pulling Ryan’s Model A.
The 1972 release by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen went to #9 on the Billboard charts and #7 in Canada. Cody’s version is essentially true to the original-with only minor changes.
Hot Rod Lincoln and Hot Rod Race are defining anthems of the hot rod community.
Arkie Shibley, who recorded a series of Hot Rod Race songs, died in 1975. Charlie Ryan died in Spokane, Washington, on February 16, 2008, at age 92. He was a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
My pappy said, “Son, you’re gonna’ drive me to drinkin’
If you don’t stop drivin’ that Hot Rod Lincoln.”
Have you heard this story of the Hot Rod Race
When Fords and Lincolns was settin’ the pace.
That story is true, I’m here to say
I was drivin’ that Model A.
It’s got a Lincoln motor and it’s really souped up.
That Model A Vitimix makes it look like a pup.
It’s got eight cylinders; uses them all.
It’s got overdrive, just won’t stall.
With a 4-barrel carb and a dual exhaust,
With 4.11 gears you can really get lost.
It’s got safety tubes, but I ain’t scared.
The brakes are good, tires fair.
Pulled out of San Pedro late one night
The moon and the stars was shinin’ bright.
We was drivin’ up Grapevine Hill
Passing cars like they was standing still.
All of a sudden in a wink of an eye
A Cadillac sedan passed us by.
I said, “Boys, that’s a mark for me!”
By then the taillight was all you could see.
Now the fellas was ribbin’ me for bein’ behind,
So I thought I’d make the Lincoln unwind.
Took my foot off the gas and man alive,
I shoved it on down into overdrive.
Wound it up to a hundred-and-ten
My speedometer said that I hit top end.
My foot was blue, like lead to the floor.
That’s all there is and there ain’t no more.
Now the boys all thought I’d lost my sense
And telephone poles looked like a picket fence.
They said, “Slow down! I see spots!
The lines on the road just look like dots.”
Took a corner; sideswiped a truck,
Crossed my fingers just for luck.
My fenders was clickin’ the guardrail posts.
The guy beside me was white as a ghost.
Smoke was comin’ from out of the back
When I started to gain on that Cadillac.
Knew I could catch him, I thought I could pass.
Don’t you know by then we’d be low on gas?
We had flames comin’ from out of the side.
Feel the tension. Man! What a ride!
I said, “Look out, boys, I’ve got a license to fly!”
And that Caddy pulled over and let us by.
Now all of a sudden she started to knockin’,
And down in the dips she started to rockin’.
I looked in my mirror; a red light was blinkin’
The cops was after my Hot Rod Lincoln!
They arrested me and they put me in jail.
And called my pappy to throw my bail.
And he said, “Son, you’re gonna’ drive me to drinkin’
If you don’t stop drivin’ that Hot… Rod… Lincoln
- Audio from the 1971 album, Lost in the Ozone: