Ever since Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” was recorded in 1972 for his album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt, it has been widely considered as his most enduring and renowned song.
Written by Townes Van Zandt himself, the country classic tells the tale of two partners in crime – Pancho and Lefty. Pancho is a Mexican bandit boy who “wore his gun outside his pants,” while Lefty is a restless young soul who left home and his adoring mother for a greener pasture.
While the two began as an accomplice, the lyrics tell the story of how Lefty crossed Pancho, which led to his untimely death at the hands of the federals. He died alone in “the deserts down in Mexico” while Lefty left for Ohio with a load of cash.
The song may have some similarities to the life and death of the famous Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, who was killed by unknown assassins in 1923, the country singer-songwriter claimed that he wrote “Pancho and Lefty” without Villa in mind. He recounted that the outlaw ballad “came from out of the blue” while he was in a hotel room with nothing to do the day before a gig.
“It came through me, and it’s a real nice song,” Van Zandt said.
Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson’s Version
“Pancho and Lefty” is one of the most covered among Townes Van Zandt songs. It was recorded by some of the world’s biggest names, including outlaw country musicians Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, who released it as the title track of their duet album Pancho & Lefty.
Their version did not only reach No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart, but it also entered the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2020.
You can listen to Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho And Lefty” in the video below.
Townes Van Zandt