"Dueling Banjos" is a traditional composition by Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith. The song was composed in 1954 by Smith as a banjo instrumental he called "Feudin' Banjos," which contained riffs from Smith recorded in 1955 playing a four-string plectrum banjo and accompanied by five-string bluegrass banjo player Don Reno. The composition's first wide-scale airing was on a 1963 television episode of The Andy Griffith Show called "Briscoe Declares for Aunt Bee," in which it is played by visiting musical family the Darlings (played by The Dillards, a bluegrass group) along with Griffith himself.
The song was made famous by the 1972 film Deliverance, which also led to a successful lawsuit by the song's composer, as it was used in the film without Smith's permission. The film version was arranged and recorded by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell, but only credited to Weissberg on a single subsequently issued in December 1972. It went to #2 for four weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973, all four weeks behind Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly with His Song," and topped the adult contemporary chart for two weeks the same year. It reached No. 1 for one week on both the Cashbox and Record World pop charts. The song also reached No. 5 on the Hot Country Singles chart at the same time it was on the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary Singles charts. It was also nominated for the 30th Golden Globe Awards in the Best Original Song category.
The song quotes the first 12 notes of "Yankee Doodle".
Several radio stations play an edit version, because of the slow introductions, plus the repetitions.
Use in DeliveranceIn Deliverance, a scene depicts Billy Redden playing it opposite Ronny Cox, who joins him on guitar. Redden plays "Lonnie," a mentally challenged and inbred but extremely gifted banjo player. Redden could not actually play the banjo and the director thought his hand movements looked unconvincing. A local musician, Mike Addis, was brought in to depict the movement of the boy's left hand. Addis hid behind Redden, with his left arm in Redden's shirt sleeve. Careful camera angles kept Addis out of frame and completed the illusion, though anyone familiar with bluegrass banjo playing can see that the left-hand movements do not match up with the music produced, and that the banjo being used (an open-back instrument) could never produce the music one hears (clearly from a resonator banjo). The music itself was dubbed in from the recording made by Weissberg and Mandell and was not played by the actors themselves. Two young musicians, Ron Brentano and Mike Russo, had originally been signed to play their adaptation for the film, but instead it was performed by Weissberg and Mandell.
"Dueling Banjos" was arranged and performed for the film by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell and was included on its soundtrack. When Arthur "Boogie" Smith was not acknowledged as the composer by the filmmakers, he sued and eventually won, receiving songwriting credit as well as royalties.
The song was briefly used in a TV commercial for the 2003 Saturn Vue.