Dueling Banjos   


Richard Franklin Bishop

© Copyright 2013 by Richard Franklin  Bishop      

Photo of a banjo being played.

Near Misses to Fame and Fortune

There are cases where someone already well known in show business was grabbed by the"fickle finger of fate" and lost out on higher fame and fortune due to a decision by someone in high places; usually a Movie Director.

A good
example is Ronnie Cox, a really pleasant-looking, nice guy. A first-class musician on the Guitar and an actor of note in both Movies and several Television Series. In 1972 he was offered a part in the Award-winning film Deliverance. All sources agree that he was only given the part because he could play the Guitar expertly. This was his film debut. Those of you who have not seen the film probably remember a side issue that must have caught your attention in the intervening years. This was the picture that made "Dueling Banjos" a hit not only in Bluegrass music but also exploded in both the Country and Western and Pop Charts with a big bang and was a million-seller overall. It also became an "Evergreen" at every Bluegrass festival, Country and Western get-togethers, as well as The Grand Ole Opry, etc.

The performance in Deliverance by Ronnie Cox as the Guitar player and Billy Redden as the Banjo picker may be seen on U-Tube at:


Billy Redden, was cast as an autistic inbreed (one source said he was supposed to be an "Albino") whose facial appearance and looks were all Hollywood. He was actually a normal young student picked for the part and was not autistic and was not an "inbreed." For his appearance in this part, the makeup did it all. As a matter of fact, he could not play a Banjo and with an unusual camera angle, another person substituted his arms and Banjo fret maneuvers, realistically.

Ronny Cox actually did play the Guitar during the filming. He used the music composed by Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith and the tune was called "Feudin' Banjos." But when filming began, the Director played a recording of Dueling Banjos by Eric Weissberg (Banjo) and Steve Mandell (Guitar). Ronnie Cox was told about this in advance and during the filming had to adjust his Guitar fret moves to the musical notes as performed on the professional audio recording and not to the music of "Feudin' Banjos," as written. It takes a really professional musician to do this “on the fly.

He was quoted later as saying: “I lost a 'gazillion' Dollars” by not being the actual performer on the final cut of the film audio sound track because Dueling Banjos became an all-time million seller. It picked up a "Golden Globe" award as the best original musical score for a film. Also, the tune was selected in 1974 for a "Grammy" Award as the Best Country Instrumental Performance (later on, Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith, through a lawsuit, insisted on - and won - past royalties as well as the Dueling Banjos Music Composer Credits for the tune in the film Deliverance).

Ronnie Cox is not hurting too much, though. Since his wife died in 2006, his one love has been performing as a musician and he regularly turns down offers for acting jobs in film and television series to be on the road at “Music Festivals” more than two-thirds of the year. You can look him up on Wikipedia (ironically, as an Actor) under:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronny Cox

And if all this has whetted your appetite for Bluegrass music, then take a look at the newest performers; three young Brothers from New Jersey, who have become the "toast" of the Internet, and were featured on the Letterman Show, the Today Show, at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium and many Bluegrass Festivals lately. It's the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys Band playing Dueling Banjos - Revenge of the Guitar. The youngest (the Banjo picker) was only 9 years old when he appeared on the Letterman Show a couple of years ago. He's now about 11.


At this same Internet address for U-Tube (look over on the right side of your screen) you can see other offers for viewing Banjo pickers - many are from the same group Sleepy Man Banjo Boys Band or the girls in Bluegrass such as Mean Mary or the bouncy Wendy Holcombe (1963-1987; unfortunately she died at the young age of 24 of an enlarged heart). Wendy Holcombe was often paired off as a performer with Buck Trent at various Festivals around the Country. Other names to look for are John Hartford, Earl Scruggs, Roy Clark, naturally Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell, Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith, and the Master of Ceremonies at this year's Academy Awards Ceremony, Stand-Up Comedian Steve Martin who also plays a mean Banjo and who has lately been instrumental in digging up prize-money for young contestants in Banjo competitions.

Well, that's it -- an example of a Show Biz hit and/or near miss. We hope you have enjoyed the ride.

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