Eric Weissberg & Steve Mandell
Warner Bros. 7659
n the movie Deliverance four businessmen escape the city in an attempt to reconnect with nature. A instrumental connected with one memorable scene from the movie gave a pair of bluegrass musicians their claim to chart fame, a #2 single.
The two artists supported themselves as session musicians, working with the likes of John Denver and Judy Collins, until a request came for them to record a song for Deliverance, the upcoming Burt Reynolds/Jon Voight movie. "Dueling Banjos" had been written by Arthur Smith in 1955 under the title of "Feudin' Banjos." The song was appropriately named since the track seemed to be just that, an argument between two banjos. While the actual track boasted a guitar and a banjo, it still served as a distinctive title.
"Dueling Banjos" hit the charts on January 13, 1973. To the casual listener there was some confusion as to who was performing the song. While some labels credited it to both Eric and Steve, some featured only Eric, and some listed the performer as the movie title, Deliverance. Regardless of who was listed, the public embraced the song. Entering at #80 the song took only seven weeks to reach #2, kept from #1 by Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song." The song also topped the Billboard Adult Contemporary charts and reached #5 on the country charts, which might have been the impetus that helped earn the duo a Grammy Award for Best Country Instrumental Performance. The only person who wasn't pleased was Arthur Smith, the song's writer. When the song was released from Deliverance, the song boasted another writer instead of Smith. He sued for his credit, which was eventually settled in his favor.
The song was featured on the Deliverance soundtrack album Dueling Banjos: From the Original Soundtrack Deliverance, which except for the title song contained performances by Weissberg and future Woody Allen co-scriptwriter Marshall Brickman and had been previously released in 1963 as New Dimensions in Banjo & Bluegrass.
The one-time pairing was the last pop hit for either artist. Eric, however, formed a backing band called Deliverance and reached the country charts in 1975 with a remake of The Coasters' "Yakety Yak." "Dueling Banjos" earned the greatest tribute -- being parodied -- as comedian Martin Mull reached #92 later in 1973 with his own instrumental argument, "Dueling Tubas."
- Christopher G. Feldman, The Billboard Book of No. 2 Singles, Billboard, 2000.
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