Dueling Banjos

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"Dueling Banjos"
Single by Eric Weissberg
B-side "End of a Dream"
Released December 1972
Format 7-inch 45rpm
Recorded 1972
Genre Bluegrass[1]
Length 2:10
Label Warner Bros.
Songwriter(s) Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith, Don Reno, arranged by Eric Weissberg, Steve Mandell
Producer(s) Joe Boyd
Eric Weissberg singles chronology
"Dueling Banjos"
(1972) Dueling Banjos1972
"Reuben's Train"
(1973) Reuben's Train1973

"Dueling Banjos" is an instrumental composition by Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith. The song was composed in 1954[2] by Smith as a banjo instrumental he called "Feudin' Banjos," which contained riffs from "Yankee Doodle." Smith recorded it in 1955 playing a four-string plectrum banjo and accompanied by five-string bluegrass banjo player Don Reno. The composition's first wide-scale airing was on a 1963 television episode of The Andy Griffith Show called "Briscoe Declares for Aunt Bee," in which it is played by visiting musical family the Darlings (played by The Dillards, a bluegrass group) along with Griffith himself.

The song was made famous by the 1972 film Deliverance, which also led to a successful lawsuit by the song's composer, as it was used in the film without Smith's permission. The film version was arranged and recorded by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell (died 14 March 2018, age 76),[3] but only credited to Weissberg on a single subsequently issued in December 1972. It went to #2 for four weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973, all four weeks behind Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly with His Song," and topped the adult contemporary chart for two weeks the same year.[4] It reached #1 for one week on both the Cashbox and Record World pop charts. The song also reached No. 5 on the Hot Country Singles chart at the same time it was on the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary Singles charts. It was also nominated for the 30th Golden Globe Awards in the Best Original Song category.[5]

Use in Deliverance[edit]

In Deliverance, a scene depicts Billy Redden playing it opposite Ronny Cox, who joins him on guitar. Redden plays "Lonnie," a mentally challenged and inbred, but extremely gifted, banjo player. Redden could not actually play the banjo and the director thought his hand movements looked unconvincing. A local musician, Mike Addis, was brought in to depict the movement of the boy's left hand. Addis hid behind Redden, with his left arm in Redden's shirt sleeve. Careful camera angles kept Addis out of frame and completed the illusion, though anyone familiar with bluegrass banjo playing can see that the left-hand movements do not match up with the music produced, and that the banjo being used (an open-back instrument) could never produce the music one hears (clearly from a resonator banjo). The music itself was dubbed in from the recording made by Weissberg and Mandell and was not played by the actors themselves.[6] Two young musicians, Ron Brentano and Mike Russo, had originally been signed to play their adaptation for the film, but instead it was performed by Weissberg and Mandell.[7]

"Dueling Banjos" was arranged and performed for the film by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell and was included on its soundtrack.[8] When Arthur "Boogie" Smith was not acknowledged as the composer by the filmmakers, he sued and eventually won, receiving songwriting credit as well as royalties.[9]

Chart performance[edit]

Chart (1973) Peak
position
Canadian RPM Top Singles 2
Canadian RPM Adult Contemporary Tracks 1
Canadian RPM Country Tracks 9
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 2
U.S. Billboard Easy Listening 1
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles 5

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Dueling Banjos - Eric Weissberg". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 November 2015. 
  2. ^ Arthur Smith, video where the composer tells the story of the song's genesis, which he states is 1954 (posted to YouTube Aug 21, 2011)
  3. ^ Alan Feiler, Editor-in-Chief (2018-03-15). "Steve Mandell of 'Dueling Banjos' Fame Dies". JMore Baltimore Jewish Living. Retrieved 2018-03-19. 
  4. ^ Joel Whitburn (1996). Weissberg stole the song and failed to credit Arthur Smith, who sued and won to receive credit and royalties for the music that he had written in 1954 and recorded in 1955. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, 6th Edition (Billboard Publications)
  5. ^ "Dueling Banjos". Golden Globe Award. Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Retrieved 16 June 2016. 
  6. ^ Heldenfels, Rich (2009-11-05). "Body double plays banjo". Akron Beacon Journal. Retrieved 2009-11-06. 
  7. ^ James Dickey, Gordon Van Ness (2005). The One Voice of James Dickey, University of Missouri Press.
  8. ^ "Don Reno biography". Archived from the original on August 22, 2008. Retrieved 2008-12-09.  - Don Reno website (archived 2008)
  9. ^ DePriest, Joe (3 April 2014). "Charlotte's Arthur Smith, who wrote 'Dueling Banjos,' died Thursday at 93". The Charlotte Observer. The McClatchy Company. Retrieved 16 June 2016.