Featured in and further popularized through the 1972 film “Deliverance,” “Dueling Banjos” has quite a fascinating history.
The tune was originally composed and played by Country star Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith in 1955 with the title, “Feudin’ Banjos.” Some music experts state that it could have been based on a 17th-century dance tune, “In The Mountains.”
In its original arrangement, Arthur Smith played a tenor banjo while Don Reno played a five-string banjo.
“Feudin’ Banjos” was then covered by the bluegrass band The Dillards during the ’60s. They also had it played on one episode of ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’ This was the first national broadcast for “Feudin’ Banjos”
Soon, its fame reached the ears of novelist James Dickey who decided that the tune would be a perfect fit for the film version of his novel, “Deliverance”.
Released in 1972, “Deliverance” starred Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight with Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox. The story featured a group of friends who went on a canoe trip. They were also quoted as “City Boys” placed in a setting where they faced uncertainties and horrific dangers.
One of the highlight scenes was when a backwoods lad named Loonie and one of the adventurers, Drew Ballinger had a music jam using their stringed instruments. The tune’s original recording was done by Steve Mandell and Eric Weissberg. The recording was titled “Dueling Banjos.” Critics, however, noted the discrepancy. The movie featured a single banjo and a guitar, so it wasn’t actually a duel of banjos.
The tune was recorded two years prior to the release of the film. It was the first and the only newest recorded song in the film’s soundtrack. The rest of the soundtrack was mostly from Marshall Brickman and Eric Weissberg’s 1963 album titled “New Dimensions in Bluegrass.”
Mandell and Weisberg
Steve Mandell and Eric Weissberg were folk musicians from New York City. Both grew up having an affinity with the Bluegrass sound which became their inspiration for the music they have been producing.
Weissberg has been playing in folk bands during the ‘50s and was a known studio musician. He was also featured playing with Judy Collins. Mandell also had his stint with the Phoenix Singers and was also a well-known musician.
An Unlikely Hit During the Pop Era
At the entry of the ‘70s, folk music had become a genre of the past. Gone were the days when pure folk songs like those of Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul, and Mary would reach the top of the charts.
But when ”Dueling Banjos” came into the scene, its tune gave listeners a nostalgic feel of the past. Seeing the rising fame of “Dueling Banjos,” Weissberg and Mandell didn’t skip a beat. Immediately, they formed a band which they named “Deliverance.” The group played in several TV shows, state fairs, colleges, and other assorted venues.
“Dueling Banjos” soon became a commercial success. TV shows and movies often used it to set some hillbilly feels. It was also regularly used in commercials for big companies like Toyota and Mitsubishi.
Lawsuit Over Dueling Banjos
After the release of the film, “Deliverance,” “Feudin’ Banjos” composer Arthur Smith filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros. for the unauthorized use of his tune, much less, him being credited as its composer. Warner Bros. offered him $15,000 but he declined. After two dragging years, Smith won and claimed all the rights and royalties. Eric Weissberg, however, was still named for his “Dueling Banjos” arrangement for the said multi-awarded film.
Best ‘Dueling Banjos‘ Covers
While contemporary listeners were more familiar with Mandell and Weissberg’s “Dueling Banjos,” Smith’s “Feudin’ Banjos” has actually been covered by several known artists since its first release in 1955. Among them were Earl Taylor and His Stoney Mountain Boys (1959), The Dillards (1963), and José Feliciano (1965).
The Dillards (May 1963)
José Feliciano (1965)
None, of course, would easily forget the following brilliant covers from our distinguished country stars.
Carl Jackson & Glen Campbell (1973)
Roy Clark and Buck Trent (February 1974)
Call it “Feudin’ Banjos” or “Dueling Banjos,” this tune has been revolutionary in the music industry. Everything in it was richly captivating! More than that, it’s right to call it an undying hit as banjo players around the world are so keen to also master this bluegrass tune.