A Southern California bluegrass band is leading an effort to compensate the former child actor for his iconic “Dueling Banjos” scene in the movie Deliverance. A GoFundMe campaign is underway.

Los Angeles, CA – March 12, 2024 – A Southern California-based bluegrass band is leading an effort to raise funds for Billy Redden, the one-time 15-year-old local Georgia boy who was cast as “the banjo boy” in the 1972 landmark motion picture Deliverance. Redden played the part of “Lonnie” who gets locked in a musical duel – “Dueling Banjos” – with actor Ronny Cox in one of the films enduring and iconic scenes.

The now 69-year-old Redden, still residing near Clayton Georgia where the movie was filmed, was not a professional actor when he was spotted at a local school by Director John Boorman. Boorman was seeking to cast a backwoods-looking boy. Redden was paid a day wage for his work.

The film, starring Burt Reynolds, as well as Ned Beatty, Jon Voight and Ronny Cox in early roles, was a nominated for Best Picture and Best Director at the 1973 Academy Awards. It was later selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

The composition “Dueling Banjos” went as high as #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973 and No. 5 on Hot Country Singles, bringing prosperity and notoriety to established bluegrass musicians Eric Weissberg and Steve Mandell, who performed the track, and Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith who composed the track.

“Billy Redden was largely forgotten,” states musician Lance Frantzich, who has started a GoFundMe campaign to raise funds for Redden. “Like everyone, I love ‘Dueling Banjos’. I’ve watched the YouTube video countless times. I assumed Redden was playing the banjo. When I recently spotted him in the film “Big Fish”, I was intrigued and began doing some research. I learned he didn’t earn much for filming a scene – essentially an early music video – that has become so culturally significant.”

Frantzich is a member of the prominent Los Angeles-based progressive bluegrass band The Storytellers. The YouTube video of the “Dueling Banjos” scene has racked up over 16 million views.

Over the years, Redden has mostly earned his living with blue-collar labor jobs in his local community. He has worked as a greeter and custodian at the local Walmart in Clayton, GA. Redden has struggled with health issues and was discharged from the hospital on the very day the GoFundMe campaign was launched. He does not play the banjo. Redden told the fund organizers that medical bills are mounting.

“As a Storyteller, I can tell you for sure, this is not as happy story as it could be,” said Frantzich. “At first, we launched the campaign simply to compensate Billy for helping to create a scene that has brought so much joy to so many people. His acting performance was wonderful. We think he deserves something for his creative contributions.”

“The morning we met Billy, I realized he could use a helping hand. He’s a very kind man. He has given his blessing for the GoFundMe and he is appreciative. We want him to not have to worry about paying his bills. Billy joked that if the campaign is successful, he can finally take banjo lessons,” said Frantzich.

According to the GoFundMe, which seeks to raise $20,000, a local trust attorney will be retained to manage the funds that are donated on behalf of Redden.

Scott Diehl, the Storytellers guitarist, believes the movie’s storyline runs parallel to real life. “At the end of the ‘Dueling Banjos’ scene, Ned Beatty’s character, speaking about the banjo boy, dismissively tells Cox’s character, ‘Give him a couple of bucks’,” stated Diehl. “It’s like a metaphor for the relationship between Redden and the movie-makers. We hope the fund compensates Billy for helping to create art that is so recognizable and influential.”

However, “to be fair to the movie-makers,” how could they have supposed at the time that this scene would become not only iconic, but legendary,” mused Frantzich. This allows us all an opportunity – for just a few dollars each – to recognize Redden’s vital contributions to the film and to finally make things right.”

To share – and contribute to – the fundraiser, visit: https://gofund.me/d8a0a229

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Scott Diehl and Lance Frantzich of The Storytellers speak with Christina Fuoco-Karasinski, Pasadena Weekly Executive Editor on February 6, 2022

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