Eric Weissberg, Whose ‘Dueling Banjos’ Was an Unlikely Smash, Dies at 80
Eric Weissberg, half of the duo that recorded “Dueling Banjos” for the movie “Deliverance” in 1973, leading to an unlikely smash hit single and album, has died at 80. Members of the family and pals stated Weissberg had been affected by Alzheimer’s for years.
Weissberg was a fixture on the New York folks scene earlier than being enlisted to deliver his banjo cowl the standard however largely unfamiliar instrumental with Steve Mandell for John Boorman’s adventure-thriller in 1972. When it was launched as a single, it rose to No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart and stayed there for 4 weeks in 1973, blocked from the highest spot solely by Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly With His Tune.” (It did attain No. 1 on the Cashbox pop chart, nevertheless.) An album of Weissberg’s roots music that was rush-released as a soundtrack to “Deliverance” bumped into no such hindrance — it topped the album gross sales chart for 3 weeks.
In a 2011 dialog with Chris Willman for the Los Angeles Instances, actors and banjo gamers Steve Martin and Ed Helms mentioned the tune’s deep impression on them, talking for a lot of whose love for the fashion or instrument stemmed partly to its 1973 ubiquity.
“I’m from Georgia,” stated Helms, “and once we have been going to canoe the river the place it was shot at summer time camp, our counselor confirmed us ‘Deliverance’ to indicate us what we have been in for on the journey. That film received me enthusiastic about bluegrass. However I do suppose there’s a stigma connected to banjos, due to ‘Deliverance’,” Helms added, alluding to the unsavory habits related to the backward hillbillies who’re seen gathering to listen to the music within the movie.
“Oh, I don’t suppose so,” Martin replied. “As a result of that tune was a hit, keep in mind.” He talked about different songs that had had the same impression within the 1960s: “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” popularized by “Bonnie and Clyde,” and Earl Scruggs’ “Beverly Hillbillies” theme. “I believed, ‘What did these songs have in widespread? Oh, they’re all from films or tv exhibits.’ When folks heard it, they cherished it. However they received to it from one other medium.”
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Mandell, who shared a Grammy Award for “Dueling Banjos” with Weissberg, died two years in the past this month at age 76.
The story behind the recording of the tune and particularly the hit album that adopted it has some fascinating wrinkles. Weissberg was, by the early 1970s, a properly regarded session participant on a number of devices in addition to a member of the folks group the Tarriers. He recalled getting a fateful cellphone name from Warner Bros. Movies’ head of music, Joe Boyd, and spoke with Craig Rosen, who wrote the 1996 e book “The Billboard Guide of #1 Albums: The Inside Story Behind Pop Music’s Blockbuster Data,” interviewed Weissberg about what transpired subsequent.
He stated that after going into the studio to attempt rehearsing the tune in a wide range of methods, he and Mandell have been referred to as to the Burt Reynolds film’s Georgia location, regardless that the music was to be mimed by actors. Then they went to close by Atlanta to chop the tune, once more with a lot of different preparations of the tune. It was composed by Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith within the mid-’50s and initially bore the title “Feudin’ Banjos” — and had gotten some lesser mass-media publicity when the Dillards performed it on “The Andy Griffith Present.” Weissberg was not notably a fan of the Dillards performing it with a rhythm part and relished the prospect to take it again to its drum-less bluegrass roots.
“A couple of yr later, I used to be doing a jingle session and one of many singers advised me he heard my file on the radio,” Weissberg advised Rosen. “And I stated, ‘What file?,’ as a result of it had been 10 years since I did my very own file.” A DJ had taken a pressed single that had been supposed solely as a nasty for radio commercials and begun airing it with out voiceover, serving to spur an unforeseeable sensation. Weissberg stated his lawyer referred to as Warner Bros. Data president Joe Smith and provided to have his shopper lower a complete album. “Rapidly his eyes received actual large. He put his hand over the mouthpiece and stated, ‘Joe says the album’s already out.’ I stated that’s not possible. What album?”
Because it turned out, Warner Bros. had taken a 10-year-old album that Weissberg and Marshall Brickman had recorded for Elektra, referred to as “New Dimensions and Bluegrass,” and took off the primary lower on all sides and put each side of the ‘Dueling Banjos’ single [the B-side being “End of a Dream”] on the album …They by no means advised me something about this, which actually ticked me off, as a result of one of many cuts they took off was a tune I wrote. I might have been getting publishing royalties for it.”
Weissberg can be well-known amongst Bob Dylan buffs for his contributions as guitarist to the “Blood on the Tracks” album. He and his backing group, which have been by then referred to as Deliverance, have been referred to as to again Dylan on the preliminary periods for the traditional album in September 1974. The band and Dylan didn’t fairly mesh in any significant manner on the session, and the singer-songwriter in the end re-recorded a lot of the songs with different gamers, leaving solely their contributions to “Meet Me within the Morning” intact on the completed album (regardless that they oddly acquired sole credit score on the album sleeve). Nonetheless, when a boxed set of the entire extant “Blood” periods was launched in 2018, the recordings with Weissberg’s band turned out to not be horrible, simply not as exceptional as those that got here later.
After rising up on New York’s Decrease East Aspect, Weissberg attended the Juilliard Faculty of Music for 3 years earlier than succumbing to the decision to be a full-time musician. (“It was with the varsity’s blessings, by the best way,” he stated. “They stated, ‘Look, you could have a job. We’re right here to get musicians jobs; if it doesn’t work out, come again!’”) He was a member of Greenwich Village-based folks teams just like the Greenbriar Boys in addition to Tarriers within the late ’50s and early ’60s.
Years earlier than he ever met up with Boorman or Dylan, Weissberg performed on albums by Judy Collins and Doc Watson, amongst others, transferring on to periods within the 1970s with Jim Croce, John Denver, Loudon Wainwright III, Melanie, Sha Na Na and Barbra Streisand.
“Dueling Banjos” received the Grammy for finest nation instrumental efficiency and led to Weissberg getting a recording contract with Warner Bros. that produced one album, “Rural Free Supply.” In later years, he recorded as a session musician with Speaking Heads, Aztec Two-Step, Nanci Griffith, Bette Midler, Herbie Mann, Richard Thompson and even Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen. Artwork Garfunkel took him out on the highway and had him play “Dueling Banjos” as part of his exhibits. He additionally toured as a co-headliner with Tom Paxton. The Beastie Boys sampled a tune from his 1963 album, “Shuckin’ the Corn,” for his or her monitor “5-Piece Hen Dinner.”
In a 2008 interview with Banjo Information, requested about the way forward for the banjo, Weissberg stated, “Generally I’m wondering how extra could be gotten out of it. And but it’s depending on folks but unborn, in all probability.”