Eric Weissberg, who had a huge hit in 1973 with the instrumental hit “Dueling Banjos,” passed away Sunday at a senior care facility near Detroit after a long battle with dementia. He was 80.
Weissberg was fascinated by the banjo after seeing Pete Seeger play it as a part of his folk act in the 1960s. He managed to get to know Seeger and get a personal lesson from him when he was only eight years old. The interest became a passion, and Weissberg became a virtuoso on the instrument.
His big pop breakthrough came from the film Deliverance. I likely don’t have to remind you of the scene from the film where Ronny Cox ends up in a banjo battle with a local. The song from the scene, “Dueling Banjos,” went on to become a #2 chart hit.
It was also a remake. Weissberg knew the song as “Feudin’ Banjos,” which is a name I think I like better. Arthur Smith and Don Reno performed the original in 1955, which sounded a little different. It was different again when performed on The Andy Griffith Show a few years later.
Oddly, the clearest memory I have of the song comes from Christmas 1992. Back in the days of live radio I had a habit of working every Christmas Day to spell the other members of the air staff with kids. I was on the air at WCFL/Morris, where I had started working for the second time the month before. That was the same year that my stepbrother Mark got a banjo for Christmas, and as a way of including me in the festivities, the family called the station and requested that I play the track for them. You know, I hadn’t thought about that in years until now. Power of music, right?
You can hear the hit single version of “Dueling Banjos” by clicking here.