DEAR JERRY: My question is about one of the most famous recordings ever, “(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock,” by Bill Haley and His Comets.
Though I have heard it played thousands of times, there is one facet about it I've never heard discussed: the first instrumental bridge.
This ranks among the most famous and instantly recognizable guitar solos ever, no doubt comparable to Chuck Berry's “Johnny B. Goode” intro.
We know Bill Haley is the singer, but does he also play that wicked lead guitar?
If not Haley, which of the Comets is it? It's time this maestro got some credit.
I play electric guitar
and I can't even begin to duplicate that riff. How does this guy do it?
David Shell, Chicago
DEAR DAVID: The lightning-fingers lead on “(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” is played by none of the above.
This guitar whiz is Mr. Danny Cedrone, a founding member of the Esquire Boys who moonlighted doing session work for numerous other artists besides Bill Haley.
Already an established act, Haley signed with Decca in early 1954. They booked a three-hour session on April 12th at Decca's New York studio, hoping for a hit song in the then-new Rock and Roll style.
Having worked with Danny Cedrone before, Haley brought him in to play lead guitar on the two tracks scheduled that day.
Getting a finished take of the first tune, “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town),” consumed all but about 30 minutes of their studio time. But since the producers pegged this as the A-side, they stuck with it until everyone was happy.
With only a half-hour of studio time left to get a B-side on tape, Haley, Cedrone, and the Comets pretty much winged it on “(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock.”
Rather than create all new music for the first instrumental bridge, Cedrone saved time by simply playing an identical riff to one he used two years earlier on Haley's “Rock the Joint.”
The similarity ends there, as the second bridge on “(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” spotlights the saxophone.
On “Rock the Joint,” the piano takes the second solo and the third break fronts the steel guitar.
As for emulating Cedrone's rapid-fire, down-scale runs, I called Retro Rick, an extraordinary guitarist based in Wichita Falls, Texas
Formerly with the Retro Rockets, a '50s and '60s Rock and Roll band, Rick is now playing Western music with the Texas Trailhands. He is now known as Red River Rick.
Rick performed “(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” regularly at Retro Rockets shows, and to prove he hadn't forgotten, he even played it for me over the phone.
He also describes for us exactly what Danny's fingers are really doing in guitarist jargon of course:
“With the left hand, Cedrone is hammering-on and pulling-off with his third finger, while still maintaining a position fretted with his first finger. Meanwhile he is playing 16th notes with his right hand, followed by a glissando rubato chromatically descending in half-step increments also played at 16th note speed.”
My suspicion is knowing how to play it does not necessarily mean being able to play it.
DEAR JERRY: I watched that dreadful Elvis “Viva Las Vegas” mess a few days ago on ABC-TV.
I don't know if it was supposed to be a tribute or a documentary, but to me it seemed like a prime time opportunity to promote a bunch of new acts, most of which I have never heard of.
It got so bad, they even had a segment on Rap crap. Now that is the bottom of the barrel.
But what incensed me the most was when they, not once but twice, stated as fact that “Elvis went seven years without a hit song,” before he returned to live appearances in Las Vegas in mid-1969.
Whoever wrote that part of the script is a completely uninformed idiot who must have been too lazy to do any research whatsoever!
Please set the record straight, in hopes those clowns at ABC are reading this. How many hits did he have between summer 1962 (“Good Luck Charm”) and summer 1969 (“Suspicious Minds”)?
Marlene Harrison, Queens, N.Y.
DEAR MARLENE: Okay, we know they made a horrific blunder. They definitely should have gotten the facts straight, which, as you say, would have been so easy in this case.
However, an answer depends on a very random element: what qualifies as a hit?
Let me provide a total using each of three different definitions of “hit”:
Songs in the nation's Top 100: 54.
Songs in the nation's Top 50: 38.
Songs in the nation's Top 30: 26.
Obviously, no matter what your criteria, the king had dozens of hits in the seven years before he took the stage again in Vegas.
IZ ZAT SO? Danny Cedrone reportedly was paid about $20 for the April session that produced “(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” and “Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town).”
Whether an appropriate payment for work in 1954 or not is hard to say, but converted to 2007 currency it would be about $400.
The single came out May 10, 1954 (Decca 29124) and inexplicably sold far below expectations. Impossible though it seems, “(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock” barely crawled into the Top 40, peaking at No. 38.
Five weeks later (June 17) Danny Cedrone fell down a flight of stairs and died as a result of injuries received. Unfortunately, Danny didn't live long enough to see “(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock,” fueled by his guitar solo, top charts around the world.
This it did when reissued one year later (May 1955) in conjunction with being used as the opening theme of the film “Blackboard Jungle.”