Billy Redden as "Lonnie" in the 1972 iconic Georgia film "Deliverance"
Photo: [Insomnia Cured, CC BY-SA 2.0]
Photo: [Insomnia Cured, CC BY-SA 2.0]

Lonnie was faking it: A look back at 'Dueling Banjos'

The movie, which chronicles an ill-fated canoe trip taken by four Atlanta businessmen, was a major box office success and encouraged then-Gov. Jimmy Carter to create a state film commission in 1973, setting the foundation for film production in Georgia.

Another cultural contribution is the iconic "Dueling Banjos." The song is at the center of the film's signature scene in which Drew, on guitar, plays a duet with a local boy named Lonnie, on banjo.

Here are some things you may not know about the infamous scene and song:

1. Director John Boorman didn’t want an actor to play Lonnie, who is described in the script as “probably a half-wit, likely from a family inbred to the point of imbecility.” Sixteen-year-old Billy Redden was spotted at a local high school and cast.

2. Redden did not know how to play the banjo. The arm you see playing the chords belongs to a local musician, who was hiding out of sight.

3. Ronny Cox, who plays Drew, was hired because he played guitar. "Deliverance" was his first time in front of a camera

4. Steve Mandel, who played the guitar part on the soundtrack, taught Cox the song for the scene.

5. Arthur Smith recorded “Feudin’ Banjos” with Don Reno in 1955. The song reached its first major audience when it was played in a 1963 episode of "The Andy Griffith Show." Its popularity skyrocketed with "Deliverance," which used a version of Smith's. Smith was not credited and sued Warner Brothers. He was awarded past and future royalties, as well as songwriting credit.

6. “Dueling Banjos” won a Grammy in 1973 for best country and western instrumental performance.  

7. The song rose to No. 1 on Billboard's adult contemporary chart. It also spent four weeks at No. 2 on Billboard's all-genre Hot 100 chart — just behind Roberta Flack's wildly popular "Killing Me Softly With His Song."

8. An Irish gangster broke into Boorman's home and stole the "Dueling Banjos" gold record.

9. "Dueling Banjos" has been used in several TV commercials, including Toyota, Mini Cooper and Mitsubishi products. Here it is on "The Andy Griffith Show."


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