4 min readCommander Cody And His Lost Planet Airmen – Hot Rod Lincoln (1971)

Charlie Ryan / Commander Cody, 1972: Hot Rod Lincoln - Bill Kirchen, Fender Telecaster

 

Now that you’ve read along and know the story, let’s watch them playing it with a few added enhancements.

Commander Cody & His lost Planet Airmen - Hot Rod Lincoln 1974

 

“Hot Rod Lincoln” was written by singer-songwriter Charlie Ryan in 1955. It was written as an answer song to Arkie Shibley’s 1951 hit “Hot Rod Race”.

HOT ROD RACE No 1 by Arkie Shibley

 

It describes a race in San Pedro, Los Angeles between two hot rod cars, a Ford and a Mercury, which stay neck-and-neck until both are overtaken by “a kid in a hopped-up Model A”. “Hot Rod Lincoln” is sung from the perspective of this third driver, whose own hot rod is a Ford Model A body with a Lincoln-Zephyr V12 engine, overdrive, a four-barrel carburetor, 4:11 gear ratio, and safety tubes. Safety tubes were made by Goodyear. They had a second inner tube inside the main inner tube. If you had a blow out the car would settle slowly on the inner tube that still had air and you could control the car. They were harder to mount than regular inner tubes.

Ryan’s original rockabilly version was released in 1955 through Souvenir Records under the artist name Charley Ryan and the Livingston Bros.

Charlie Ryan - Hot Rod Lincoln

 

Ryan based the description of the eponymous car on his own hot rod, built from a 1948 12-cylinder Lincoln chassis shortened two feet, with a 1930 Ford Model A body fitted to it. Ryan raced his hot rod against a Cadillac sedan driven by a friend in Lewiston, Idaho, driving up the Spiral Highway (former U.S. Route 95 in Idaho) to the top of Lewiston Hill; he incorporated elements from this race in his lyrics to “Hot Rod Lincoln”, but changed the setting to Grapevine Hill (a long, nearly straight grade up Grapevine Canyon to Tejon Pass, near the town of Gorman, California) to fit it within the narrative of “Hot Rod Race”.

Was there really a “hot-rod Lincoln?” Yes and no. Actually, it was a rebuilt car with the body of a Model “A” coupe set into the frame of a 1941 Lincoln, along with a “hopped-up” Lincoln engine block. However, at the time of this song’s writing, Ryan built a second car, this time with a chop-shop melding of a 1930 Model “A” Ford coupe and a wrecked 1948 Lincoln. It is this second restored car with which has Ryan toured.

Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, who were a Country-Rock group formed at the University of Michigan, never intended to be a famous band. They have devoted themselves body and soul to country music and old-time rock and roll. But that devotion is not an easy thing to stick to in the Midwest where, chances are, you associate that type of music with the greasers at the drive-in who love to vamp on longhairs and inevitably wind up becoming cops. And it was even harder in 1967 when everyone was just getting into acid and revolution and high-powered MC5 music and all the other things that have put Ann Arbor and Detroit on the map.

“We didn’t think of appealing to anybody,” says the Commander. “We were just having a good time, picking and playing and making a few dollars on the side. It was when the psychedelic ballrooms were starting to be big. We played the Grande Ballroom in Detroit on the same bill with Canned Heat so, naturally, the audience hated us, booed us, you know.”

Formed in 1967, the group’s founder was George Frayne IV (alias Commander Cody) on keyboards and vocals. The classic lineup was “Billy C.” Farlow on vocals and harmonica; John Tichy on guitar and vocals; Bill Kirchen on lead guitar; Andy Stein on saxophone and fiddle; Paul “Buffalo” Bruce Barlow on bass guitar; Lance Dickerson on drums; Steve Davis (a.k.a. the West Virginia Creeper) on steel guitar.

Frayne is also an artist. He received a Bachelor’s degree in design from the University of Michigan in 1966 and a Master’s degree in Sculpture and Painting from the Rackham School of Graduate Studies of the University of Michigan in 1968. He taught at University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, and has had his art exhibited at numerous shows.

The band broke up and reformed several times over the years, and as of 2016, Commander Cody was still touring with some old and new members making up the Airmen.

The original line-up released one other well-known song.

Commander Cody - "Lost In The Ozone"

 

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