Eric Weissberg Dies: Arranger & Player On ‘Dueling Banjos’ Song From ‘Deliverance’ Was 80

Eric Weissberg Obit
Warner Bros Records; Shutterstock

Eric Weissberg, who arranged, played banjo on and won a Grammy for “Dueling Banjos,” from the 1972 movie Deliverance, died Sunday of Alzheimer’s disease complications. He was 80.

His son, Will Weissberg, confirmed the news to our sister publication Rolling Stone.

Born on August 16, 1939, in New York City, Weissberg was a bluegrass musician from an early age, having seen Pete Seeger play at his school in Greenwich Village, and went on to attend the Juilliard School of Music in the 1950s. He also played guitar, mandolin, fiddle, pedal steel, and string bass.

He also became a frequent collaborator of Tom Paxton and Judy Collins and worked as a session man for such acts as Bob Dylan, Talking Heads, Billy Joel, Jim Croce and John Denver.

In 1972 he was asked to record a cover of Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith’s 1954 song “Fuedin’ Banjos” for Deliverance, a Warner Bros film starring Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight, Ned Beatty and Ronny Cox. He agreed, resulting in the memorable duet between Cox’s character and a local backwoods boy (played by Billy Redden).

Warner Bros Records

Weissberg arranged the track with Steve Mandell and played the banjo on it, with Mandell on guitar. Weissberg was credited alone on the ensuing single.

At a time when instrumentals and songs from movies were regulars in the pop Top 10, “Dueling Banjos” became a huge hit, spending four weeks at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1973 (all behind Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” which was the No. 1 song of that year). Famous for its halting intro as the two players get a feel for the song and each other, it also was a hit in many other countries. It went on to earn Weissberg a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song.

Songwriter Smith sued Warner Bros over the song, claiming the studio did not secure the rights to use his “Feudin’ Banjos.” He eventually won the case and received royalties and partial credit. The song originally was credited to “a traditional arrangement by Eric Weissberg.”

Director John Boorman’s Deliverance, a disturbing film about four friends who take a canoe adventure in the Georgia wilderness and meet with unwelcoming locals, became one of the year’s top-grossing films.

On the heels on the single’s success, Weissberg and Mandell recording an album titled Dueling Banjos that spent three weeks atop the Billboard 200 chart in March 1973, He went on to form a group called Deliverance, whose late-1973 album Rural Free Delivery barely dented the top 200.

Dylan recruited Weissberg and Deliverance to work on his seminal 1974 album Blood on the Tracks.

Weissberg later performed a recycling-themed song on a 2009 episode of the Schoolhouse Rock! revival as part of the Trash Can Band.

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