Pancho and Lefty
|"Pancho and Lefty"|
|Song by Townes Van Zandt from the album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt|
|Writer(s)||Townes Van Zandt|
|The Late Great Townes Van Zandt track listing|
|"Pancho and Lefty"|
|Single by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson|
|from the album Pancho & Lefty|
|B-side||"Opportunity to Cry"|
|Released||April 30, 1983|
|Merle Haggard singles chronology|
"Pancho and Lefty" is a song written by country music artist Townes Van Zandt. Often considered his "most enduring and well-known song," Van Zandt first recorded it for his 1972 album, The Late Great Townes Van Zandt.
- Emmylou Harris then covered the song for her 1977 album, Luxury Liner.
- Also in 1977, Hoyt Axton recorded it on his album Snowblind Friend.
- In 1983, Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson adopted it as the title track of their duet album Pancho & Lefty, and was a number one country hit .
- Steve Earle performs the song on his 2009 album Townes, which consists of songs written by van Zandt, Earle's friend and mentor.
- Dick Gaughan performs the song on his 1998 album Redwood Cathedral.
- Frank Turner performs the song on his 2014 album The Third Three Years.
Content and composition
The song tells the story of a Mexican bandit named Pancho and a more enigmatic character, Lefty. The song tells of Pancho's death and implies that he was betrayed by his associate Lefty who was paid off by the Mexican federales.
Although the lyrics are not exactly reconcilable with the historic details of the life and death of the famous Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, Van Zandt does not rule out the idea. In an interview, he recalled, "I realize that I wrote it, but it's hard to take credit for the writing, because it came from out of the blue. It came through me and it's a real nice song, and I think, I've finally found out what it's about. I've always wondered what it's about. I kinda always knew it wasn't about Pancho Villa, and then somebody told me that Pancho Villa had a buddy whose name in Spanish meant 'Lefty.' But in the song, my song, Pancho gets hung. 'They only let him hang around out of kindness I suppose' and the real Pancho Villa was assassinated."
In the same interview, Van Zandt recalled, "We got stopped by these two policeman and...they said 'What do you do for a living?', and I said, 'Well, I'm a songwriter', and they both kind of looked around like 'pitiful, pitiful', and so on to that I added, 'I wrote that song Pancho and Lefty. You ever heard that song Pancho and Lefty? I wrote that', and they looked back around and they looked at each other and started grinning, and it turns out that their squad car, you know their partnership, it was two guys, it was an Anglo and a Hispanic, and it turns out, they're called Pancho and Lefty ... so I think maybe that's what it's about, those two guys ... I hope I never see them again."
Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard
|U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles||1|
|U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary||21|
|Canadian RPM Country Tracks||1|
Notes and sources
- Beviglia, Jim (30 April 2012). "Townes van Zandt, "Pancho and Lefty"". American Songwriter. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
- Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 148.
- Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014.
- 1984 PBS series, "Austin Pickers". Ed Heffelfinger. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZrAy6iXj7o
- Chords and lyrics from the Townes Van Zandt Blue Sky Homepage
- Song review at Allmusic
- Townes Van Zandt explains "Pancho and Lefty" (MPEG video) from Townes Van Zandt Central
- Lyrics of this song at MetroLyrics
"The Closer You Get"
|Billboard Hot Country Singles
July 23, 1983
"I Always Get Lucky with You"
by George Jones
|RPM Country Tracks
August 6, 1983
"He's a Heartache (Looking for a Place to Happen)"
by Janie Fricke