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
The marketplace is vulgar, isn't it? Deliverance was, I thought, one of the better films of recent years, but it quickly became encircled by a gang of gamy and resolute hucksters playing ring-around-the-dollar. The hawkers' clatter is sort of dissonant counterpoint to the film's own sensibilities, and James Dickey and John Boorman must be shaking their heads. Eric Weissberg, too, for that matter. He and Steve Mandel, the now-famous pickers behind that strange scene with the in-bred banjo boy, have their names displayed over a still from that scene on the cover of the album jacket. But once you get past the "Dueling Banjos" cut, there's no more Mandel. Marshall Brickman, who's been playing with Weissberg for at least a dozen years, is the other featured picker from there on in -- and that's eminently logical, seeing as how this actually is a reissue of the Weissberg-Brickman Elektra album of the hopelessly hopeful title, New Dimensions in Banjo and Bluegrass. "Dueling Banjos" was simply grafted onto it.
The problem now is to avoid being turned off by all this: Weissberg (like Dickey and Boorman) deserves all the attention, however it came about. For years, he has been capable of playing every instrument in a bluegrass band -- so well that he could step into just about any such band, at any position, and improve the sound. The banjo is probably his favorite instrument, and he must surely be one of the fastest banjo pickers alive. He isn't gifted with Scruggs' instincts, but his approach to an old tune usually involves a unique mix of purist's reverence and tinkerer's curiosity. Brickman's rhythm guitar, which is infallible, slyly provides more than just rhythm. Weissberg is also an excellent, though somewhat clinical, fiddler.
And, since the graft didn't cover it up, you can hear the "other" version of "Dueling Banjos," appearing as the first cut on side two under the more likely title "End of a Dream." There it really is a pair of banjos dueling -- both played by Eric, I think -- instead of the more famous banjo and guitar. Reissue or not, the album deserves to be heard, and Weissberg deserves whatever positive rewards come of all this.
- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 8/73.
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.
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.
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.
"When it was obvious that it was going to be a big hit, I happened to be sitting in my lawyer's office and I told him that in three days I could record an entire album to go with the single," Weissberg says. The attorney put in a call to Warner Bros. president Joe Smith. "All of a sudden his eyes got real wide. He put his hand over the mouthpiece and said, "Joe says the album's already out.' I said that's impossible. What album?" says Weissberg.
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.
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