By rights, Danny Cedrone should be at least as well-known as Scotty Moore. Much as Moore's reputation resides in his status as Elvis Presley's lead guitarist on his Sun Records and the early RCA Victor sides, so Cedrone ought to be a legend for his work as lead guitarist on "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & His Comets and a handful of other classics by the pioneering rock & roll band. Cedrone played what was arguably the first guitar solo ever to capture the imagination of the rock & roll audience, or to make itself felt to millions of listeners on radio. Alas, because of an accident, Cedrone was cheated of ever knowing just how successful his work would become and of most of the recognition he deserved.
Cedrone was, like Haley, part of a very active colony of white country based players working around Pennsylvania after World War II. Born in Philadelphia, he was a prodigiously talented guitarist, a jazz player who was also fluent in country and blues styles, and quickly made a name for himself locally. He even led his own band, the Esquire Boys, but it was as a session man with Bill Haley's group the Saddlemen (subsequently rechristened the Comets) that he was most visible. His playing could be heard on the group's recordings of "Rocket 88," "Tearstains on My Heart," "Sundown Boogie," "Pretty Baby," "I'm Crying," "Dance With the Dolly," and, most notably, "Rock the Joint," that they cut for Dave Miller's Essex Records in the years 1952-1953. When they jumped to Decca Records, Cedrone was with them at the April 12, 1954, session date in New York where they cut "Rock Around the Clock," utilizing virtually the identical solo that he had employed on "Rock the Joint." It was as part of "Rock Around the Clock" that it became the first guitar solo of the rock & roll era to capture the listening public, although at first it just seemed like another good dance record. Initially released four weeks after it was recorded, the single sold about 75,000 copies, charting modestly but not exactly setting the world on fire.
On June 7, 1954, Cedrone was back with the band in New York for the session that yielded "ABC Boogie" and "Shake, Rattle & Roll." A little more than a week after that, when the guitarist was back in Philadelphia, Cedrone went into an eating establishment to order some food and, while leaving, fell down a flight of stairs and broke his neck, dying instantly. He never lived to see "Shake, Rattle & Roll" make the Top Ten, as it did later that year, thus establishing Bill Haley & His Comets nationally; and he never had an inkling of the events that would transpire early in 1955, in which "Rock Around the Clock" co-author James Myers would go out to Hollywood to hawk the song to MGM studios, which was in the process of producing a picture called The Blackboard Jungle. Myers got it accepted for use over the credits, over the producers' initially preferred choices of "Rock the Joint" and "Shake, Rattle & Roll" -- Cedrone died never knowing that any more than 75,000 people had heard his work on the record, or that the single, re-released in tandem with the movie, would hit the top of the charts in June of 1955, a year after his accident. He never knew that "Rock Around the Clock" would make him, in the summer of 1955, perhaps the most widely heard guitarist in history.
It was Cedrone's successor, guitarist Franny Beecher, who was seen playing lead with the band in the national tours that followed, the appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, and in the movies that came afterward. Cedrone became the forgotten man in the early history of rock & roll. Ironically, Beecher was obliged to re-create Cedrone's solo on "Rock Around the Clock" for years afterward in concert when they did the song, and he didn't actually get to put his own stamp on the song until 1960, when the group cut it anew for Warner Bros. (in a version that has been heard by perhaps a thousandth of one percent of the people who know the original), and even that version, for obvious reasons, couldn't depart too radically from what Cedrone had done.
It's impossible to know, or even guess what would have ensued for Cedrone, if not for that fatal fall. By most accounts a very big man, on the corpulent and husky side, he was also a good ten years older than most of the people making rock & roll music in the 1950s; he was four years older than Haley, who was regarded as virtually over-the-hill once Elvis Presley came along. How he might've fit in with the Comets in television appearances or on-stage -- assuming he would've done them -- once they began cultivating their rock & roll audience full-time, is anyone's guess. He might never have been anything more than a top session player for the rest of the 1950s, and perhaps would have hit the oldies circuit at some point in his fifties, had he lived to have seen them, and maybe issued a how-to book-and-record set at some point for would-be guitarists. But he would always have been able to claim credit for an essential role in creating a half-dozen rock & roll classics. As it is, apart from the ranks of hardcore Philadelphia music buffs and rockabilly scholars, Cedrone's memory has been woefully neglected in the decades since, despite his status -- alongside Scotty Moore and a tiny handful of others, including Beecher (who played on his share of important records with Haley, though none as significant as those that Cedrone cut with Haley) -- as one of rock & roll's earliest guitar heroes.