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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. Relations 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 normal 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 Music.” (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 Times, actors and banjo gamers Steve Martin and Ed Helms mentioned the music’s deep impression on them, talking for a lot of whose love for the model or instrument stemmed partially 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 season camp, our counselor confirmed us ‘Deliverance’ to point out us what we have been in for on the journey. That film obtained 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 music was a hit, keep in mind.” He talked about different songs that had had an analogous impression within the 1960s: “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” popularized by “Bonnie and Clyde,” and Earl Scruggs’ “Beverly Hillbillies” theme. “I assumed, ‘What did these songs have in frequent? Oh, they’re all from motion pictures or tv reveals.’ When folks heard it, they beloved it. However they obtained 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 music and particularly the hit album that adopted it has some attention-grabbing wrinkles. Weissberg was, by the early 1970s, a nicely regarded session participant on a number of devices in addition to a member of the folks group the Tarriers. He recalled getting a fateful telephone name from Warner Bros. Movies’ head of music, Joe Boyd, and spoke with Craig Rosen, who wrote the book “Number 1 Albums,” interviewed Weissberg about what transpired subsequent.

He stated that after going into the studio to attempt rehearsing the music in quite a lot of methods, he and Mandell have been known as to the Burt Reynolds movie’s Georgia location, though the music was to be mimed by actors. Then they went to close by Atlanta to chop the tune, once more with a variety of different preparations.

“A few yr later, I used to be doing a jingle ses­sion and one of many singers advised me he heard my document on the radio,” Weissberg advised Rosen. “And I stated, ‘What document?,’ as a result of it had been 10 years since I did my very own document.” A DJ had taken a pressed single that had been supposed solely as a foul for radio commercials and begun airing it with out voiceover, serving to spur an unforeseeable sensation. Weissberg stated his legal professional known as Warner Bros. Data president Joe Smith and supplied to have his shopper lower a complete album. “Swiftly his eyes obtained 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?”

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Because it turned out, Warner Bros. had taken a 10-year-old album that Weissberg and Marshall Brickman had recorded for Elektra, known as “New Dimensions and Bluegrass,” and took off the primary lower on all sides and put either 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 may 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 generally known as Deliverance, have been known as to again Dylan on the preliminary classes for the basic album in September 1974. The band and Dylan didn’t fairly mesh in any significant approach on the session, and the singer-songwriter finally 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 (though they oddly acquired sole credit score on the album sleeve). Nevertheless, when a boxed set of the entire extant “Blood” classes was launched in 2018, the recordings with Weissberg’s band turned out to not be horrible, simply not as outstanding as those that got here later.

After rising up on New York’s Decrease East Facet, 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 college’s blessings, by the way in which,” 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.

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Years earlier than he ever met up with Boorman or Dylan, Weissberg performed on albums by Judy Collins and Doc Watson, amongst others, shifting on to classes within the 1970s with Jim Croce, John Denver, Loudon Wainwright III, Melanie, Sha Na Na and Barbra Streisand.

“Dueling Banjos” received the Grammy for greatest 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 street and had him play “Dueling Banjos” as part of his reveals. He additionally toured as a co-headliner with Tom Paxton. The Beastie Boys sampled a music from his 1963 album, “Shuckin’ the Corn,” for his or her monitor “5-Piece Rooster Dinner.”

In a 2008 interview with Banjo News, requested about the way forward for the banjo, Weissberg stated, “Generally I’m wondering how extra may be gotten out of it. And but it’s depending on folks but unborn, in all probability.”


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