Ever heard music so mighty you couldn’t help but stomp your feet? This is what the “Dueling Banjos” scene in the movie Deliverance did for everyone that saw the movie. The energetic and really tense duel between a guitar player and a banjo player in the 1972 movie Deliverance gave birth to one of the most iconic music scenes in the film to this date. The dark past of this movie, however, almost didn’t give recognition to its original composer.
Eric Weissberg, the man behind the arrangement and playing the banjo himself in Deliverance died on March 22, 2020, but his legacy lives on. Weissberg passed away at the age of 80 due to Alzheimer’s disease complications, but his legacy lives on.
Weissberg was born in New York City on August 16, 1939 as a very young bluegrass musician. Weissberg was a popular collaborator of Jody Collins and Tom Paxton and even worked as an esteemed session man for music legends Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, John Denver, Billy Joel, and the Talking Heads.
The true roots of Dueling Banjos is a bluegrass composition originally from Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith back in 1954. Smith composed the song as a banjo instrumental originally called “Feudin’ Banjos.”
The song’s use in the movie led to a lawsuit by Smith when it spread like wildfire through the film Deliverance. Apparently, Smith was never asked for his permission to use the song. The credits only went to Eric Weissberg as the song retained its position as #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 4 weeks straight in 1973.
The song was also nominated for the 30th Golden Globe Awards as well as the Best Original Song category. In the end, Smith sued the filmmakers for no acknowledgment being given as the original composer, and he eventually won. The case was considered a landmark copyright infringement suit.
Smith was able to receive not only songwriting credit but also royalties for the song but passed away on April 3, 2014 just two days before he turned 93. The scene is extremely well celebrated by banjo players and musicians alike to this day.
Make sure to check out the scene as not only was it a high-profile copyright discussion, Dueling Banjos also showed remarkable roots of what a banjo is capable of doing.