Billy Redden, best known for his portrayal as the Banjo Kid from Deliverance, hails from Rabun County in Georgia. Although he maintains a small acting career – yet leads a quiet lifestyle.
Redden is beloved among Deliverance viewers and banjo players, even appearing in the movie Big Fish. Unfortunately, though he adored by both groups, he couldn’t play the banjo himself; thus wearing a special shirt that allowed a double to strum the instrument for him instead.
Billy Redden was chosen for the role of Lonnie when he was still only sixteen. The filmmakers selected him because of his unique appearance – an unusual blend of large head, skinny body and moronic smile that was typical among residents in Rabun County at that time – but also to demonstrate that their community wasn’t composed solely of inbreeds and idiots.
The movie was an enormous hit, changing viewers’ perspectives of Rabun County locals while prompting people to visit and see its beautiful scenery firsthand. This caused a tourism boom and Redden took advantage of his opportunity by serving as tour guide for visitors coming to see shooting locations; later appearing in other films including Big Fish and Blastfighter as a tour guide or even with Ace Cruz’s Outrage: Born in Terror.
Redden could not play the banjo himself; in fact, he had never tried until filming of Deliverance began and needed to learn its song via playback track. Luckily, another local musician named Mike Addis could step in as cover and help play for Redden using a special shirt with hidden sleeves which allowed Mike Addis to strum away while hiding his hands inside them!
Eric Weissberg, best known for arranging and playing banjo on “Dueling Banjos” from Deliverance, passed away this weekend due to complications associated with Alzheimer’s disease at 80. Weissberg is one of only few bluegrass musicians to win a Grammy Award; “Dueling Banjos” remains popular today, being composed originally by bluegrass musician Arthur Smith in 1955 and not properly credited despite his lawsuit claiming ownership over its creation – so he sued to gain credit, ultimately succeeding.
No matter how you feel about Deliverance, its banjo scene must be appreciated. It has become one of the most iconic scenes in cinematic history and showcases how versatile an instrument banjo can be; used across genres from rock to bluegrass it offers its own distinct sound which surely contributed to its immense success as seen in Deliverance.
Eric Weissberg was one of the premier banjo players of his era and played many other instruments as well as singing and guitar – most famous for playing banjo in Deliverance but also known for guitar, dobro, doubro and dobro playing in other movies as well. Born in New York City but dying near Detroit Michigan; Eric worked with artists such as John Denver, Art Garfunkel, Judy Collins Jim Croce and Billy Joel during his sessions career.
Joe Boyd of Warner Bros. music production approached Weissberg in 1972 as part of his John Boorman drama soundtrack production to record an Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith 1954 instrumental Dueling Banjos cover; Weissberg agreed, leading to memorable musical interplay between Cox and Redden during the climactic sequence in the movie.
Redden did not play the banjo himself during this scene of the film; rather he donned a shirt which allowed Mike Addis to hide behind his back and take care of strumming the instrument for him. Still, Redden needed to look and sound authentic enough in order to play his part as an inbred backwoods boy with an intense fear of both Yankees and hillbillies.
This song became a breakthrough hit, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for four consecutive weeks and toping Rural Free Delivery album chart as well. They eventually formed Deliverance band together, while Weissberg became frequent collaborator with other folk artists like Tom Paxton and Loudon Wainwright III; additionally acting as session musician on Bob Dylan’s 1974 Blood on the Tracks album.
Deliverance’s most iconic scene was when Drew and Lonnie dueted on banjos as an uneasy duet in a local gas station; their performance provided an exciting break from all of their friends being attacked violently by sadistic mountain men in other scenes of the film.
Lonnie was a mentally disabled country boy from Rabun County, Georgia where the film was shot. Billy Redden played his part as the local resident he lived near; with large ears, thin body type, pale skin complexion, expert banjo player skills as part of Marie and the Washington Square Ramblers band he belonged.
Lonnie challenges Cox to a banjo duel when they stop at a gas station for supplies, prompting a lengthy musical encounter during which local cowboys applaud while another whistles happily in appreciation. “Dueling Banjos” was written originally by Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith in 1955 before Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell arranged it and recorded on a single that was released later that same year.
After the film’s release, Smith sued Warner Bros. for copyright infringement; after which, the filmmakers reached an agreement with him and awarded royalties as crediting. Furthermore, its success led to renewed interest in folk music; today banjo remains a staple instrument within American culture with many learning the instrument from it.
Deliverance, set in a fictional version of northeastern Georgia, features the river Cahulawassee (a fictional name for Chattooga) running through Spectre town and town’s surrounding countryside. Since filming ended, however, much has changed – now mostly becoming retirement communities and tourist spots with few residents remembering any violence from Deliverance’s plotline.
Steve Mandell was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. As an amateur banjo player he participated in NYC folk and bluegrass scenes of the 60s before going on to establish Lone Pine Capital LLC (a firm named after a Dartmouth College pine tree that survived an 1887 lightning strike) as an investment management firm in 1977. Although no longer actively managing investments he continues as managing director.
Deliverance’s banjo-guitar duel from 1972 is legendary, yet nearly invisible in the movie itself. Eric Weissberg was not acknowledged during production; years later however, it would become one of cinema’s most beloved music scenes. Eric passed away in 2020 but his legacy lives on.
Deliverance was John Boorman’s follow-up to Leo the Last, and was both critical and commercial success. A dark fantasy about society’s ineffective response to primal squalor, Deliverance inspired a generation of directors – its iconic banjo duel between an Appalachian child and Ned Beatty as well as redneck couple’s attempted sexual assault are now considered classic scenes in cinema history.
Warner Bros insisted on finding two major stars to keep costs under control, so Boorman searched the theater scene until he came upon Burt Reynolds and Ronny Cox, both now household names due to Deliverance.
As the movie unfolded, the canoe trippers encountered several unfriendly and uneducated locals who did not deserve their respect – or any greater consideration than they provided each other – leading to violent confrontations that soon escalated to deadly clashes. Within this chaos, Drew struck up an unexpected banjo duet with Lonnie who had mental disabilities as they both engaged in playing an impromptu song together to calm things down a bit.
Lonnie may be unable to communicate verbally and recognize people, but he is musically gifted. Clapping along to songs he enjoys playing, he whistles joyfully claps along to them while enjoying them deeply – an emotional scene from Deliverance; yet later films show us its unsavory reality as an oppressive community with ulterior motives.
Arthur Smith’s song, “Feudin’ Banjos,” had become popular on The Andy Griffith Show but made even wider waves thanks to its inclusion in Deliverance. It won a Grammy award for best country and western instrumental performance; unfortunately Smith was uncredited; after filing a lawsuit against WB, however, and winning in court against past and future royalties due. After several less-than-successful films (Two Nudes Bathing and Beyond Rangoon were two such examples), Boorman returned as director with 1998’s The General (based on real events concerning Irish crime boss Martin Cahill) which brought Brendan Gleeson back into public view once again.