The Fallacy Of The Famous Dueling Banjos

I’ve always been interested in musical oddities; things that just seem a little out of line. It’s difficult to describe exactly what I mean but I’ve  written before about quirky happenings, and I thought I’d provide another example today. Who knows, maybe this will eventually develop into another Special Feature.banjo

A lot of people like banjo music and I’m emphatically one of them. But I always thought it was a little strange that one of the most familiar banjo tunes around became famous when it was performed on a banjo and a guitar, not two banjos as you’d expect. That was about forty years ago, when “Dueling Banjos” made a memorable appearance in the movie Deliverance and also hit the record charts in a big way.

Originally known as “Feudin’ Banjos,” it was written around 1955 by a guy we’ve featured before on the GMC, Arthur ‘Guitar Boogie’ Smith. He soon made a record of the song, playing a four-string plectrum banjo and teaming up with Don Reno, who played a five-string bluegrass banjo. The record didn’t exactly set the world on fire but various versions of the song kept showing up from time to time in subsequent years. In one case, it was even played on TV’s Andy Griffith Show by the Darlings, a musical family played by the real-life Dillards.

When 1972’s Deliverance presented the song as an impromptu musical showdown between two characters in the movie, it was as “Dueling Banjos” but was actually played on guitar and banjo. And to further confuse things, the banjo player on screen was using a different variety of instrument than what was heard on the soundtrack. The music was actually furnished by a couple of solid pros, Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell, and they also sold a lot of records with the song, helping cement its place in music history.

It was an interesting movie scene in another way. Ned Beatty’s character is shown to be elitist and dismissive of the locals several times, but we now know that he gets punished in the ‘end’. However, the final quirky thing about the film is that the producers had failed to get Smith’s permission to use his music. He later sued and won, receiving songwriting credit and royalties.

bcdArthur Smith & Don Reno – “Feudin’ Banjos”

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