The Anatomy Of Merle Haggard And Willie Nelson's “Pancho And Lefty” 1

Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson are, indeed, two of the best country artists or should I say two of the best country legends in history. They are loved and admired by many country music enthusiasts. Moreover, both artists placed great songs on the country charts. One of was “Pancho and Lefty,” one of the most controversial compositions both has recorded. Despite the argument, the song was accepted and capped the country charts. This only proves that their work of art is undeniably embraced all throughout the word. With this, they gained the respect of the viewers and listeners up to these days.

In this particular article, an anatomy of the song will be presented. The in-depth study of the hit will educate us about “Pancho and Lefty”. From the perspective of the writer, the singer, Merle Haggard himself and Willie Nelson, and the entire history of the song.

Pancho And Lefty As A Song…

The song tells the story of a Mexican bandit named Pancho and a more enigmatic character, Lefty. Additionally, it says about Pancho’s death and implies that he was betrayed by his associate Lefty who was paid off by the Mexican federals.


Francisco “Pancho” Villa was a Mexican Revolutionary general and one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution.

As commander of the Division of the North in the Constitutionalist Army, he was a military-landowner of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. Given the area’s size and mineral wealth, it provided him with extensive resources. Additionally, Pancho was also provisional Governor of Chihuahua in 1913 and 1914. Moreover, Pancho can be credited with decisive military victories leading to the ousting of Victoriano Huerta from the presidency in July 1914. Pancho then fought his erstwhile leader in the coalition against Huerta, the first chief, of the Constitutionalists Venustiano Carranza.

Pancho was assassinated in 1923 while visiting Parral for banking and other errands. Villa passed by a school, and a pumpkinseed vendor ran toward his car and shouted “Viva Villa.” It was a signal to a group of 7 riflemen who then appeared in the middle of the road. They then fired more than 40 rounds into the automobile. In the crossfire, nine dumdum bullets, used for hunting big game, hit Villa in the head and upper chest, killing him instantly.

The Anatomy Of Merle Haggard And Willie Nelson's “Pancho And Lefty” 2

The Composition And Lefty…

Townes Van Zandt, the Texas songwriter wrote “Pancho and Lefty”. The composition was Zandt’s most enduring and well-known song in 1972.

The lyrics are not exactly reconcilable with the historic details of the life and death of the famous Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa.


The song was a collaboration of Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson in 1983. In addition, “Pancho and Lefty” dominated the country music for a year and helped establish both artists as two of the best-selling and most critically acclaimed of their generation.

Haggard and Nelson’s View…

Most of Merle Haggard’s songs were about his life story in prison, his struggles in life, and his family. Haggard wanted to record the song. This is due to the political aspects of the song’s structure. He then had a communication with Willie Nelson to collaborate and sing the song together.

On the other hand, Willie Nelson liked the story as much as Haggard. With this, they have recorded and came out as their signature song as a duo.


It was a debate when the song came out due to its meaning and story. Since the title talks about Pancho Villa and his death. The song portrayed Pancho’s death through betrayal. On the other hand, in the real story of Pancho, riflemen assassinated him.

As mentioned in the first part of this article, Zandt explained that his composition was not exactly the story of Pancho Villa but only a mere representation of Pancho.

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