This Day in Music – Dueling Banjos

7th March 1973, a song from the movie Deliverance called ‘Dueling Banjos’ by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandel became one of the few 1970s instrumentals to be awarded a Gold record. The record had topped the Cash Box Magazine Best Sellers list and reached No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Dueling Banjos” was composition by Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith in 1955 as a banjo instrumental he called “Feudin’ Banjos”, which contained riffs from “Yankee Doodle”. Smith recorded it playing a four-string plectrum banjo and accompanied by five-string bluegrass banjo player Don Reno. The version by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell went to #2 for four weeks on the Hot 100 in 1973 and topped the adult contemporary chart for two weeks the same year.

In Deliverance, a scene depicts Billy Redden playing it opposite Ronny Cox, who joins him on guitar. Redden played “Lonnie”—a mentally challenged inbred, but extremely gifted banjo player. (Redden could not actually play the banjo. A local musician, Mike Addis, reached around from behind Redden; this was disguised using careful camera angles).

After the song was made famous by the 1972 film Deliverance, a successful lawsuit by the song’s composer was taken out, after the song it was used in the film without his permission. More recently, a cover of the song by Steve Ouimette (using electric guitars, bass, and drums) was released as downloadable content for the video game Guitar Hero World Tour.

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