John Huston
John Huston

I can pinpoint the day I wanted to become an actor… not the actual date, mind you, or the year… but the day.   We were living in Roswell, New Mexico… (yeah, Roswell, New Mexico in the 40′s..((aliens))… my dad was actually working at Walker Air Force Base at the time, which might explain more about me than you know… but that’s another story).  Anyway, back to acting… when I was a kid I loved Westerns and every Saturday afternoon, if I could scrape together a dime I could go see Gene or Roy or Johnny Mack Brown… or Hopalong.  The day in question I went to see a movie called The Treasure of Sierra Madre…. so different from the other movies I had seen.  When it got to be dark and I still hadn’t come, my parents finally thought to look in the theater for me… and there I was, sitting mesmerized.  From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be an actor.  Now, you’d think I would’ve become a fan of Humphrey Bogart or Tim Holt or Walter Huston… but for some reason I became a fan of John Huston and from then on immersed myself in every movie he had anything to do with… either as a writer or director or actor.  Late in his life, I actually got to meet him and become friends and to play poker with him.  John loved poker… he thought you could learn more about the character of a man by playing poker with him than any other way.  He loved everything about it, the rituals, the banter … he was a gracious loser and a generous winner.

This was the final year of John’s life.. he was on oxygen and we would go over to his house in the afternoon and play poker for a couple of hours and then he would have a meal brought in for us and we’d eat and shoot the bull and then play for another hour or so, until he got tired.  We had some of the most wonderful conversations of my life.  For some reason John and I were always drawn to each other… he was the most vital and engaged and engaging man I had ever known.  He would ask everyone…. “What do you want?”…. and he wanted an answer, not some wisecrack like younger women or faster horses… he wanted to know!  Now, this is a man who was dying… so at some point, someone asked John what he wanted… and he said what I think was a profound thing…. “To be interested”.  Not interesting, but interested and it reminded me that when my mom was dying she lost interest long before she died.

When John died… and we all knew he was dying… it hit me like a ton of bricks… it hit me in a way I wasn’t prepared for.  My own father and I had had a stormy relationship and he had died before we had really patched things up between us… and everybody realized before I did that John was a sort of surrogate father figure for me.  I mourned for John for almost a year and it allowed me to get in touch with the feelings for my own father.

The very night John died was an amazing thing and one which eventually I felt compelled to write a song about.  John loved songs of the Mexican Revolution… so at the wake they were playing the corridos.  John was in his bedroom with Maracella by his side… drifting in and out of consciousness.  At one point he opened his eyes and said to Maracella… “Do we have enough rifles?”…. she said, “Yes John, we have plenty of rifles.”  He drifted off…. after a few minutes, he stirred again… “Do we have enough bullets?”  “Yes, John,we have lots of bullets.”  He drifted off… Finally he opened his eyes and found Maracella’s hand and held it up and said…. “Then give ‘em Hell.”    And he died.

When I was writing the song with Don Schlitz, I wanted to put a few bars of a corrido at the beginning of the song… but then I remembered an old Mexican folk song about a village that was so poor they only had one burro for the whole town and when the burro died they gave it a funeral… so I decided to put that song at the beginning… knowing John would love being associated with a funeral song for a Jackass!!!

*** NOTE….. I have put two versions of the song on here… the first one is the full band overproduced version, but it has “El Burro” on at the beginning… the 2nd one (my favorite) is a simpler version, which I like better…. if you click on either, or both of the titles, below, you can listen to the songs.

Ah… the life of a folksinger.. I don’t act much any more, but occasionally something comes along that appeals to me.  Recently, I was sent a script for a “big” Hollywood movie… big name director, lot’s of major actors… well written, and the role they were interested in me for was perfect, an important but small role… would only work for four days.   I met with them and they offered me the job.  We checked their shooting schedule and it fell perfectly into my schedule and did not conflict with any of my gigs.  Wardrobe fittings were arranged… (my character is an extremely wealthy guy and I’m kinda hard to fit, so…) they had a tailor come in and they arranged to have my shirts for the role custom made.  Holy crap… I’m gonna look like a million bucks!!

Now… cut to the chase… yesterday I got a frantic call from my manager saying they had changed the shooting schedule and that now the days I’m scheduled to work on the movie happen to fall when I’m performing at Kerrville and in Houston.  They’re saying I have to cancel my gigs… I refuse… their solution is to offer me more money… I refuse… they heatedly ask:  “How much are they paying you?”  I say, “I’ve probably got more money in my pocket.”  …… I’m back to being a folksinger.

I have a whole bunch of stories… of random thoughts… of likes… dislikes and general opinions of the world.  My aim is to write about any and all of them and perhaps even include a song occasionally.  I hope they’re as interesting to you as they are important to me.

Dueling Banjos Book… reads like a sit down conversation with an old friend.
In sharing, after 40 years, his vivid memories of the experiences he shared with Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight and Ned Beatty [Ronny] welcomes his readers along the river ride. His anecdotes, transcribed from audio tapes by his collaborator Barbara Bowers, are funny, touching and sometimes wistful. Always engaging, “Dueling Banjos: The Deliverance of Drew” answers many of the more interesting myths and legends around this oft-quoted film. “ –Eleanor Hinds

Dueling Banjos: The Deliverance of Drew is a collection of stories of the making of the iconic movie Deliverance, told from the perspective of one of the four main actors in the film, Ronny Cox, who played the character of Drew. Based on the novel by James Dickey, the movie was filmed in the summer of 1971 and was released the following year in 1972. Forty years later, it remains one of the most recognized films in movie history for being raw, emotional, violent and shocking – yet it leaves a lasting impression of artistic excellence. It is one of those films that have somehow managed to remain timeless.

Ronny was just a struggling stage actor when he was cast in the film. He has since gone on to appear in over one hundred and forty-five movie and television productions, and has had a very successful career as a folk musician, playing in venues all over the country. He also happens to be one of the world’s great storytellers, and this book follows his journey from a struggling unknown to a leap through the doors of Hollywood stardom. The stories are told with both humor and honesty, with perspectives on the artistic details that most movie-goers really never take into account. There are great anecdotes about his fellow actors: Burt Reynolds, Jon Voight and Ned Beatty. There is a look inside the brilliant vision of director John Boorman and how the presence of author James Dickey created friction on the set. There are harrowing tales of how each actor nearly lost his life during the filming of the movie, and the facts about how everything was accomplished with no stunt men.

There are many myths that surrounded the movie when it was released and many of those myths persist today. In putting together this collection of stories, Ronny Cox tells the “real” stories and puts those myths to rest. It is a fascinating look at what went into making a film that was named to the Library of Congress National Film Registry Film Preservation List in 2008 as a film that is “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant, to be preserved for all time. It was selected as a work of enduring significance to American culture. In Ronny Cox’s own words, he shares the wonder, the hardships, the laughter, the brotherhood, and the magic that brought to life the great novel written by James Dickey.

Dueling Banjos: The Deliverance of Drew is currently out of print but the Audio Book version is available on Audible