Eric Weissberg, who along with Steve Mandell recorded the iconic "Dueling Banjos" song for the film Deliverance in 1973, has died at 80. Weissberg passed away Sunday following a five-year struggle with dementia, his son, Will Weissberg, confirmed to Rolling Stone.
Born in New York City in 1939, Weissberg became infatuated with the banjo as a child after watching a Pete Seeger performance at his Greenwich Village school, and, at the age of eight, he received lessons from Seeger. In the late 1950s, he attended he Juilliard School of Music and became a frequent collaborator with the likes of Tom Paxton and Judy Collins.
Although already a fixture on the New York folk scene, his life changed when Warner Bros. music producer Joe Boyd asked if he'd record a cover of the 1954 Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith instrumental "Dueling Banjos" with Mandell for Deliverance. The song became a surprise hit and peaked at #2 on the Billboard singles charts, where it repeated that slot for four weeks in a row. The song even nabbed Weissberg and Mandell a Grammy for Best Country Performance and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Original Song.
Following the single’s success, Weissberg and Mandell went on to record an album titled Dueling Banjos, which spent three weeks atop the Billboard 200 chart in March 1973, and Wiessberg later went on to form a group called Deliverance. In 1974, the group was asked to record with Bob Dylan during the New York Blood on the Tracks session.
Weissberg also collaborated with Billy Joel, Talking Heads, Jim Croce, and Richard Thompson.
He eventually moved to Woodstock, New York later in life and continued to tour and perform until health issues sidelined his career. According to The New York Times, Weissberg passed away in a nursing home near Detroit.
Following news of his death, his longtime friend and collaborator Happy Traum paid tribute to him in a Facebook post.0comments
"Eric Weissberg was a consummate musician, a solid and seemingly effortless player of stringed instruments of all kinds — banjo, guitar, mandolin, fiddle, pedal steel, and string bass," the post read. "Despite his prodigious talents and musical successes, he was humble, down-to-earth, and an easygoing companion with not a bit of artifice in him. He had many wonderful stories from his long career that he told in minute detail and with a twinkle of good humor that could keep you entertained for hours."
Weissberg is survived by his wife Juliet Savage, whom he married in 1985, his son Will, and two grandchildren.