Dueling Banjos: From the Original
Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell
Warner Bros. 2683
Released: January 1973
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 25
Certified Gold: 3/7/73
By 1972, Eric Weissberg, a onetime member of folk group the Tarriers, had become a much in-demand session player known for his banjo and bass-playing. When he received a call to play a traditional bluegrass tune called "Dueling Banjos" for a film called Deliverance, he figured it was just another gig.
"They asked me if I could play that song and they wanted a guitar and a banjo, so I called Steve Mandell," says Weissberg. "We went to this office and auditioned. We must have played in 25 ways -- sad, slow fast." After passing the audition, Weissberg and Mandell were invited to go on the film's location in Clayton, Georgia. "Then I found out that it was directed by John Boorman."
Once on location, Weissberg discovered Boorman's plan. "He wanted to shoot the scene to the music, because it was a pivotal scene in the picture," says Weissberg. The duo worked on the song on location with Boorman and the film's cast for two days. Once Boorman had effectively choreographed the scene, Weissberg and Mandell traveled to nearby Atlanta to record the track. "We must have recorded 10 different closely related versions of the song," says Weissberg.
When Boorman heard the completed tapes, he invited the duo to record the entire soundtrack for the film, an adaptation of a James Dickey novel called Deliverance. The film about four men on a canoe trip gone awry starred Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty, and Ronny Cox.
"We went back to the studio the next weekend and did 'Dueling Banjos' 50 different ways," Weissberg says.
With the sessions completed, Weissberg moved onto other projects. "About a year later, I was doing a jingle session and one of the singers told me he heard my record on the radio," Weissberg says. "And I said, "What record?,' because it had been 10 years since I did my own record." The singer reminded Weissberg of the soundtrack gig, but as far as Weissberg knew, it did not exist as a record.
After some investigation, Weissberg learned that "Dueling Banjos" had been pressed as a single to be used as a musical bed for live commercial spots for the film. In Minneapolis, one disc jockey began receiving requests for the song. Soon Warner Bros. decided to release the song as a single.
Quick to jump on a hot record, Warner Bros. added "Dueling Banjos" and "End of a Dream" to New Dimensions in Banjo and Bluegrass, a 1963 album Weissberg had recorded with Marshall Brickman for Elektra Records. "Elektra was bought by Warner Bros., so they had the album in their catalog," says Weissberg. "So they took off the first cut on each side and put both sides of the 'Dueling Banjos' single on the album."
The single made number two, and Dueling Banjos hit the summit in its eighth week on the chart. Nonetheless, even to this day, Weissberg is still slightly annoyed. "They never told my anything about this, which really ticked me off, because one of the cuts they took off was a tune I wrote. I could have been getting publishing royalties for it."
- Craig Rosen, The Billboard Book of Number One Albums, Billboard, 1996.
From the 1972 John Boorman film that was supposed to take star Burt Reynolds and poet-author James Dickey into the artistic big time. Instead, the only hit this produced was Eric Weissberg's title track and some other banjo numbers that are much less exciting.
- Dave Marsh, The New Rolling Stone Record Guide, 1979.
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