For most people, San Francisco and the 1960's are synonymous with flower power, drugs, and psychedelic music. While the perception may have been that all the bands bore names like Strawberry Alarm Clock or Quicksilver Messenger Service and played songs with names like "Incense and Peppermint", trippy lyrics, and strange soaring guitar noises that featured lots of feedback were supposed to be typical of the song that was born on the streets of San Francisco.
But there was another guitar, and another sound that was being explored at the same time. The guitar was pedal steel and the sound was country rock. Of course, there was nothing new about country rock; that was the sound of Elvis when he stepped into the Sun Record studios in Memphis, but a label was needed to differentiate this sound from either the psychedelic or the heavier blues base of straight ahead rock and roll.
This tag was slapped on groups ranging from The Eagles to The Byrds. It was The Byrds in 1968 that became the first big name band to foray into country rock. After one of their major line up shuffles, they ended up with Graham Parsons on keyboards, and he picked them up and dragged and them down to Nashville where they became one of the first group of longhairs to perform on the stage of the Grand Ol' Opry.
Parsons left the Byrds for the Flying Burrito Brothers and continued along in a pure country vain, utilizing the instruments previously associated with the sound of Nashville not Ashbury. Pedal steel, fiddles, and mandolins became acceptable instruments to show up in songs then.
While people like Parsons were going pure country and other bands like The Eagles would veer towards a more popular sound, a third option was being exploited by a group of guys who had moved out en masse from Ann Arbour Michigan. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen were one of the first honky-tonk country rock bands from that period.
Covering both country and classic rock and roll hits, they would give them their own bluesy, roadhouse treatment, turning almost any song into a rollicking good time. Their first big hit was a cover of the song "Hot Rod Lincoln" that had been a rockabilly hit in the 1950s.
George Frayne was the prime mover behind the band and took the name of Commander Cody. He has led the band through various incarnations and a multitude of lineup changes. The Commander and his boys were never a huge commercial success, but that doesn't stop their music from being a rollicking good time.
As with a lot of bands like this, high energy and infectious, their live performances would probably have far outdistanced their studio albums in terms of energy and listener appreciation. Therefore, the release of Texas Roadhouse Favourites on the Music Album label is a treat for both new and old fans of the Commander.
Back in the mid-seventies, they released Deep In The Heart Of Texas, which had been recorded live at the famous Armadillo World Headquarters bar. The band wanted to release all the material recorded as a double album, but their label at the time didn't like the idea. Now, close to thirty years after the fact, those left over tracks have been released as new collection.
There's nothing second rate about the material on Texas Roadhouse Favourites. It's not like these songs weren't good enough technically or musically to be released originally, it's just that the label hadn't liked the idea of a double live album. The sound is good and clear, occasionally a vocal is lost, but that's more the singer missing the microphone than anything else and the material is awesome.
Texas Roadhouse Favourites starts off with a great rocking version of the old Carl Perkins tune "Blue Suede Shoes" and doesn't once lose momentum. Even the slower, purer country tunes like "What Made Milwaukee Famous" and "Wine, Wine, Wine" don't let the energy sag. As a band the energy they exude is not dependent on speed or loudness but on their commitment to playing great music with as much heart and soul as they can muster.
What made the studio to decide to exclude "Hot Rod Lincoln" from the original recording I don't know, but their loss is of course our gain. Having heard this song so many times growing up, listening to it live makes it all the more fun.
Fun. How long has it been since you have just had fun listening to a disc? When was the last time you just plunked something down in your disc player for the sheer fun of bouncing around the room with an idiot grin on your face? Song titles like "Milk Cow Blues", and "Nothin' Shakin' (But Just The Leaves On The Trees)" can't help but make you smile before you even listen to the tracks.
It's funny how you hear about all these bands who feel like they've made this big discovery by playing what they call roots music, when thirty years ago, Commander Cody was playing the same stuff. Listening to these guys cut it up at the Armadillo World Headquarters on Texas Roadhouse Favourites is as close as most of us will come to hearing the Commander and his crew live. This is an experience not to be missed.