Ronny Cox is a man who was in many ways made famous by the movie Deliverance. There is little doubt that he would have made it in music or some other life vocation without Deliverance, but it was in fact, the movie Deliverance which catapulted him into the world of film. Ronny has been in many favorites over the years, from such movies as Robocop, Total Recall, and Vision Quest, to television roles in Dexter, Apple’s Way, and The Starter Wife. He has recorded numerous albums, and tours nationally, playing his music. There are interesting tid-bits I learned while doing this piece, for example, the scene in Deliverance where he plays dueling banjos took all of two hours to record. The movie Deliverance was filmed in sequence, an almost unheard of thing nowadays, but one of the reasons many believe the actors did so well in their parts; as the story developed, so did their characters because the characters were in fact developing along with the story lines.
Ronny has a new book out, titled Dueling Banjos: The Deliverance of Drew. The book is available in paperback, hardback, and e-reader versions. It is a captivating story of stories related to the movie Deliverance. Included are stories of how Ronny Cox was largely responsible for the author of Deliverance being asked to no longer be on set during the initial filming of the movie. There are other well told, captivating stories such as the story of Billy Joe Redden, the 15-year-old boy at the time who played the banjo in the now infamous and iconic scene in the movie. While the 40th Anniversary Blu-ray DVD version of the movie has a mini-book that comes with it, Ronny’s book carries far more detail than previously told before. The book in itself is a worthy companion to the film Deliverance. I have seen the movie many times, seen various features on the making of the movie, but the book Dueling Banjos was a captivating, page turner of a read that I couldn’t put down until completing it.
I recently had the opportunity to interview Ronny in an exclusive for The Virtual Pew and Hollywood Jesus. I enjoyed the short time we had together, and hope that others glean some information about Ronny and of course, the movie Deliverance. The interview was about much more than the movie though and in it are lessons we can all learn from and things of interest we can learn about Ronny Cox. Enjoy and hopefully you will have as much fun reading it as I did getting it.
Ronny Cox (RC): Hi Mike
Mike Furches (MF): Hi Ronny, how are you doing?
RC: I’m good, how about you?
MF: I’m doing pretty well; I guess you’re staying pretty busy right now?
MF: I have a number of questions, don’t think I’ll be able to get through them all, but over the years I’ve been a huge fan of Deliverance. One of the questions is related to music as I’m also a musician. Some of your music has intrigued me over the years. Can you tell me some about your music and the guitar you play?
RC: Well, I have one off the great guitars in the world. It is a hand made guitar by Dave Bertoncini. He is a luthier out of Tacoma Washington. He made this guitar for me. I’ll drop just a little bit of names; I live here in L.A. and I have a guy who works on my guitars, and to drop just a few names, Paul McCartney picks this guitar shop as does Jackson Browne and people like that, and according to the guy who works on my guitar, he said none of those guys have a guitar as good as mine. So that’s about as good as it gets.
I play acoustic stuff. I am a really simple player who plays with a 3 finger picking style. I play more acoustic and rarely play with a pick.
MF: I love your style of music, would you say you play more of a folk style than anything else? I also have seen that you are going to be coming to my neck of the woods in Kansas.
RC: Yeah, but I like all kinds of music, but I am a singer songwriter and I play a whole lot of folk clubs, folk and music festivals and things like that. When I come to Kansas I’ll have a piano slash accordion player and a fiddle slash mandolin player with me.
MF: I look forward to seeing you when you are out here. Another question though, how did you develop your love for music?
RC: I actually started playing when I was 10-years-old. I grew up in New Mexico and most people don’t realize this, but where I grew up in New Mexico is a little town called Portales, New Mexico. It is nineteen miles south of Clovis New Mexico. In the late 50’s and early 60’s Clovis was a hotbed of recording. I was actually at the studio where they were cutting the Buddy Holly cut “Peggy Sue.” Do you remember Jimmy Boyle and Buddy Knox?
MF: Oh yeah!
RC: Remember I’m Sticking with you, the Fireballs, Sugar Shack?
MF: Yeah I remember all of that.
RC: There was a country artist named Charlie Phillips who had a song called “Sugar Time”: (Ronny starts singing here) Sugar in the morning, sugar in the evening, sugar at suppertime. (Ronny starts speaking again) Those were all cut there so I was cutting records when I was in high school. I had a rock-n-roll band back in those days, Ron’s Rock Outs, (starts laughing.) I put myself through college with a rock-n-roll band and then, when I started struggling as an actor, I went to Arena Stage in Washington DC and I was in New York so I was playing folk clubs at the same time. I was struggling sort [sic] at the same time as an actor as I was struggling as a musician. I got the role in Deliverance because I could play. My second film was a film called Bound For Glory, a Woody Guthrie film, I also played music in that.
MF: I see that you’re going to be playing the Woody Fest down in Oklahoma?
RC: Yeah, I’m going to be at the Woody Fest in almost another month.
MF: Have you been there before?
RC: Oh yeah! This will be my sixth or seventh time there. I just got back from another Folk Festival. What kind of stuff do you play?
MF: I’ve played everything from a little bit of classic rock to—with my wife I play some folk music, so it’s kind of a full-circle thing.
MF: You have a new book that has just come out which I have been reading. Can you tell us some about it?
RC: As you can see from the book, it is a book of stories about the making of Deliverance. The film meant so much to me that I just wanted to write about what it was like. I was a total unknown and to get to be in a place where I was one of the stars in a picture, but not only just a picture, but a picture that ended up being one of the most talked about and iconic films that has been made in the last forty or fifty years. It really was an incredible breakthrough for me. It was my first time in front of a camera and it was Ned Beatty’s first film. While the film is forty years old it still holds up pretty well today and it is, I think, an incredible film. Now did you get the Blu-ray version of the film?
RC: Are you enjoying the book?
MF: Yes I am, one of the things I appreciate is that it reads like a story. One of the questions I have is that the editor of your book makes mention of the fact that you are a storyteller. I love the Harry Chapin style and the art form. Do you think that storytelling as an art form is kind of lost in today’s society?
RC: I think that is part of it. The music just becomes so important. These days, I spend most of my time playing music. I don’t mean to be cavalier about this but most of the acting jobs I get offered these days I say no to just because I would rather go and play music.
MF: I have a question about possibly the most iconic song in the history of film, at least in my opinion. The song is “Dueling Banjos.” I can’t think of any single song that has had the impact in film. There is likely no one left alive to better tell the story of the song in the movie than Ronny Cox.
RC: Well, you know it was originally played with two banjos. In the book they were playing “Wild Wood Flower,” but Jim Dickey had heard “Dueling Banjos” and recommended it to John Boorman. Warner Bros. wasn’t too in favor of it because they didn’t think that anyone listened to Bluegrass Music. (laughter) It became a huge hit. I think “Dueling Banjos” along with [sic] theme from Bonnie and Clyde and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? are primarily responsible for the popularity of Bluegrass in America today.
MF: Why do you think that scene is so iconic and has such a lasting memory?
RC: Well, I think there is an energy about that scene. It is also the incredible connection that music makes with a scene like that. One of the reasons that Drew, my character, has no fear of the mountain people like the other characters is because he was able to make a connection with that young boy through the music. It shows the power of music. I think that people, without maybe even realizing it consciously, subconsciously get it, they feel the power that that energetic piece of music occurring between two human beings. It becomes that energy which brings about a connection for everybody and it becomes infectious. If you notice that old man starts dancing, there is another guy that starts whistling, people start moving and there is something about that piece of music that transcends the movie for a little while.
MF: I have two friends that asked me to ask you specific questions. One was a great fan of the show Apple’s Way. He wanted me to ask your thoughts as to if you think there is still a need for strong families in television oriented programs?
RC: Yeah, I loved doing that show in that it was a kind of modern day Waltons. Shows that talk to the human condition are, I think, really important in television and movies and I think need to be done. Now, I am in no way in favor of censorship, but it seems to me that we are just doing these reality shows where people trash other people and I just don’t know what those are all about.
MF: Another friend wanted me to ask [sic] your long love affair with your wife Mary who passed away several years ago. He wanted me to ask, what you think was the reason for the success of your long love affair and marriage with your wife?
RC: You know, I was just lucky that I found that love of my life, early in my life. Mary lived in my hometown and we met when she was 11 and I was 14. We started going together when she was 15 and I was 18 and we got married when she was 22. I’ve never had another date or another girl in my life. I think one of the reasons for our success is I married someone way, way, way, way smarter. (Each of us, including the publicist present during the interview, starts laughing here.) Mary had a PhD in Chemistry, that is the secret for us guys, to marry up. (Myself and the publicist start laughing again, but Ronny stays serious.) I said that to Mary, thinking I would get some brownie points, “Mary I know the secret to our great marriage.” She said, “What?” I said, “I married up.” She looked at me kind of funny and she said, “What? All men do!” (we all, including Ronny, start laughing again.)
Mike Furches here, with just a thought; there are so many places I could have gone with this interview, so many things I could have concluded with, but I think it appropriate that Ronny and I ended our conversation on a note about his long love affair with his wife. In a world where so many couples just don’t seem to make it, there is something to the concept that a husband loves his wife so deeply and sees her as much more than he. It is a concept of servitude I think Ronny lives by, it is a concept many of us can learn by. His character in the movie, Drew, is one who tries to maintain a sense of normalcy with the world around him, with his surroundings, with doing what is right. It was a role in many ways made for a man like Ronny Cox, it is a character, that through the actor Ronny Cox we can still learn from, not just in the things presented in the movies, but in this thing called life which Ronny has continued to live for some years now. You can find out more about Ronny, his touring schedule, plus listen to his music at his web site: www.ronnycox.com