"Dueling Banjos" is an instrumental composition by Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith. The song was composed in 1955 by Smith as a banjo instrumental he called "Feudin' Banjos", which contained riffs from "Yankee Doodle". Smith recorded it 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).
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 his permission. The film version, arranged and recorded by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell and subsequently issued as a single, went to #2 for four weeks on the 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. 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.
A cover of the song by Steve Ouimette (using electric guitars, bass, and drums) was released as downloadable content for the video game Guitar Hero World Tour. The Toy Dolls also covered the song on their album Absurd-Ditties.
Use in Deliverance:
In Deliverance, a scene depicts Billy Redden playing it opposite Ronny Cox, who joins him on guitar. Redden plays "Lonnie"--a mentally challenged inbred but extremely gifted banjo player. (Redden could not actually play the banjo. A local musician, Mike Addis, disguised using careful camera angles, reached around from behind Redden.) 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 the others.
"Dueling Banjos" was arranged and performed for the film by Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell and was included on its soundtrack. When Smith was not acknowledged as the composer by the filmmakers, he sued and eventually won, receiving songwriting credit as well as royalties.
Canadian RPM Top Singles
Canadian RPM Adult Contemporary Tracks
Canadian RPM Country Tracks
U.S. Billboard Hot 100
U.S. Billboard Easy Listening
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles