Franny Beecher: Lead guitarist who joined Bill Haley and the Comets and helped kick off the rock'n'roll revolution

 

As lead guitarist for Bill Haley and the Comets, Franny Beecher helped kick off the rock'n'roll revolution with "Rock Around the Clock" in 1955. Although the Philadelphia session musician Danny Cedrone had played on the original recording before his death in 1954, Beecher played the epochal number for the first time on US television in 1955 and also played with the group on the big screen.

Many historians of popular music name the first rock'n'roll record as that 1951 blast of distorted guitar and wild sax, "Rocket 88" by Ike Turner and Jackie Brenston, but as a social phenomenon it wasn't until "Rock Around the Clock" went to No 1 on both sides of the Atlantic that rock'n'roll was unleashed upon the world. As Bob Stanley put it in last year's Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, "it was the first record to have – all in one place – a lyric about all-night partying, a thrilling guitar solo and a rock-solid beat."

Beecher was born in 1921 in Norristown, Pennsylvania and started performing when he was 17. Before joining the Comets, initially as a session musician to replace Cedrone, he had played with Buddy Greco and Benny Goodman, and when he cut his first disc with Haley, the single "Dim, Dim the Lights", he was told to make his solos less jazzy. "They wanted to play a more basic style than I was used to, more country really, they called it rockabilly," he recalled.

He was soon promoted to a full-time member, appearing with the band in the films Rock Around the Clock and Don't Knock the Rock. He had the ability to make his voice sound like a small child's, a gimmick that was used for the opening of "See You Later Alligator", "(You Hit the Wrong Note) Billy Goat" and "Rip It Up". Beecher would also occasionally sing during live shows, with Haley or the steel guitarist Billy Williamson introducing him as a baritone. In 1959, Williamson and Beecher recorded a duet, "ABC Rock", in which Beecher sang two verses in his little-kid voice. He also wrote the classics "Blue Comet Blues", "Goofin' Around", "Week End" and "Shaky".

The Comets broke up in 1962, but in the 1980s Beecher and other original members reunited and played tour dates around the US and internationally until 2006. "My dad didn't play music for money," his daughter Caroline said. "He was no businessman. He played music for music."

CHRIS MAUME

Francis Beecher, guitarist and songwriter: born Norristown, Pennsylvania 29 September 1921; married (two sons, one daughter); died Philadelphia 25 February 2014.

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