Howdy, Folks! Today, we celebrate the man behind Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson‘s hit single “Pancho and Lefty.”

Townes Van Zandt

Townes Van Zandt was born on March 7, 1944, at Fort Worth, Texas. When he was young, he moved from town to town because of his father’s work. Van Zandt became fully committed to learning how to play the guitar when he watched Elvis Presley perform at the Ed Sullivan Show. He was supposed to become a lawyer like his father, but instead, he quit school to pursue his passion for music.

Townes Van Zandt Pancho and lefty birthday

Photo Credit: Townes Van Zandt/ Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images/ Billboard.com

Musical Career

Van Zandt began his career in music in 1965. He performed in small bars. When he was discovered, he began releasing albums and songs he wrote. He released a total of fourteen studio albums.

Notable Songs

His gift for writing music was one that also brought him to the spotlight. Some of the songs he wrote that were made popular by other artists were “Pancho and Lefty,” “If I Needed You,” and many more.

“Pancho and Lefty”

“Pancho and Lefty” is known to be the most popular song by Van Zandt. He wrote the song in 1972 for his album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. The song tells the story of a bandit and his disloyal friend. Pancho, a bandit, was never been caught by the Federales because they just set him free out of kindness.

All the Federales say they could’ve had him any day
They only let him slip away out of kindness I suppose

However, Pancho died at the end of the song because of his friend Lefty. Lefty led Pancho to the hands of the law, which ultimately led to his death.

Covers

His most prominent song was first covered by Emmylou Harris in 1977. After her rendition, other artists followed her by making their own. One of the most successful covers of Van Zandt’s “Pancho and Lefty” was by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson in 1983. The two country legends included the cover as part of their same-titled album. And on the same year, they released it as a single. Nelson and Haggard’s rendition was a success as it reached the number one spot on the Billboard Country chart. In addition, they have secured a spot on the Adult Contemporary chart too.

Thanks to Townes Van Zandt’s father for encouraging him to write his own songs. If it wasn’t for him, Van Zandt wouldn’t have given us a wonderful story of the old western world.