Booked to Cook
We were backing up Doug Kershaw in Berkeley and after the first number he pointed to us and said to the audience, 'Not bad for a bunch of whiteys, eh?"
Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen rolled into Worcester Tuesday midway through their first nationwide tour.
"We played at the spectrum in Philadelphia with Alice Cooper and the Chambers brothers and there were 17,000 13-year-olds there waiting to see Alice Cooper hang himself. The Chambers brothers came out all coked up and ready to go. Then we came out and plunk, I got kit in the head with a roll of toilet paper. Then there were all these kids on reds throwing bottles. This one bottle came down and hit right in front of the band and the next thing I saw was our manager up in the balcony choking shit out of somebody."
Their music is a combination of rock, country, cajun, boogie, swing and western. The songs range from some of the raunchiest truck-driving songs ever written, through Doug Kershaw's "Diggie-Diggie Low" to Carl Perkins's "Boppin' the Blues."
"Here I sit with a broken heart, I took three bennies and my semi truck won't start."
The group seems at times to be the epitome of a country-western bar group.
"Our next album is going to be recorded four tracks, with no over-dubbing. It will be named Cold Steel, Hot Licks and Other Truck Songs."
The band is as unlikely a bunch of hombres as ever played together.
"Me and Tichy are just hippies from Berkeley trying to make a living. Now Bobby Black, the new pedal steel player is a pro. He gives the group a lot of class."
The Commander himself has a Master of Fine Arts from Michigan.
"The first drummer we had was a spade who didn't get into country music, especially my song 'Family Bible.' He said that if we did that song once more he'd walk off stage. I grabbed the mike and said, 'Family Bible it is.' He left..."
The fiddle and saxaphone player, Andy Stein, used to play first violin for the Detroit Symphony.
"When the band first started I was about the only one with an old lady. Now I'm the only person in the group without one, Fuck..."
John Tichey, the rhythm guitar player, has a PhD in hydraulic engineering.
"Man, we blew $8000 on redubbing the West Virginia Creeper's pedal steel on that album. That dude was always out of tune."
The band was originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, but several years ago moved to Berkeley.
"Man, the Berkeley blues scene is the best. On any given night you might have Hot Tuna, Jerry Garcia, James Cotton, Quicksilver, Elvin Bishop and the New Riders of the Purple Sage all playing around the area."
Over two years passed between the Rolling Stone article which heralded their arrival as the best band in Berkeley, and their first album.
"We are about 300 per cent better now than we were when we recorded the lost in the Ozone album. This new pedal steel player is so good he just keeps pushing the rest of us to get better."
The band probably couldn't play straight.
"If you got any questions to ask you better ask 'em now. Later on I'll be too fucked up to do anything but talk about philosophy."
The dressing room was a mass of people with one guiding impulse: to get lost in the ozone as quickly as possible.
"We get dosed to play on the national holidays. There are only three of them you know, Halloween, New Year's and the Fourth of July. Man, we get into some really weird stuff--Wooly Bully and shit like that."
A 20-gallon keg of beer was gone within minutes of the band's arrival.
"One night this freak with eyes about as big as silver dollars give the group this bottle of Boone's Farm. It was full, but the seal had been broken. It didn't worry us too much, but it turned out that it had about a hundred hits of PCP in it. Anyway, we were passing it around and Billy C., the lead singer, just had to finish it off, so he killed the last couple of slugs, the part with most of the PCP in it. We went on stage, just playin' right along, when Billy C. passed out and fell off stage. The lead guitarist started singing and then bam, he passed out. Fifteen seconds later the rhythm guitarist sat down and said, 'Hey, I don't even know where I am'. That's when I stopped the concert. The doctor just barely pulled Billy C. through."
The grass never quit circulating.
"Dope that smells like piss tastes really fine."
A case of home brew disappeared long before the concert started.
"Hey, man, you'd better make the next number mellow, 'cause I'm about to pass out."
Then when they hit the stage there was another case of Falstaff waiting, but not neglected.
"About that second set--I had it all together, but I forgot it."
In spite of this, or maybe even because of it, the group played with the ease and assurance of a really tight band.
"This first song was done by Johnny Horton; after that we got a Bo Diddley number. We're going to do the Johnny Horton song like Bo Diddley and the Bo Diddley song like Don Covay...Actually, this is just another ballad."
I never thought I'd see anyone who enjoyed playing for an audience as much as Jerry Garcia, but I saw eight of them Tuesday night.
"Well, before I came on stage I smoked about a half pound of something, and drank a few pints of something else. But I'm just going to keep on boogie-ing."