January 8

In Memory of Townes Van Zandt and His Song “Pancho and Lefty”


John Townes Van Zandt (March 7, 1944 – January 1, 1997).  He is highly regarded as a songwriter’s songwriter for his profound influence on many distinguished artists. Among them are Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Guthrie Thomas, Norah Jones, Lyle Lovett, Nanci Griffith, Emmy Lou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, and Steve Earle and Alison Krauss.

Despite his doctor’s diagnosis of being a “schizophrenic–reactionary manic depressive,” that did not impair Van Zandt’s creative works. In fact, many of his works were released posthumously and were well acclaimed. This resulted in a bitter legal battle between his family and record company.

As for his musical inspiration, he was fond of the late Hank Williams Sr., Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Sam Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Woody Guthrie. His known recordings were from the late 60s to the 70s. It was also in the 60s that he met “Cowboy” Jack Clement, one of Nashville’s exceptional producers.

His Legacy

A reclusive writer, he always opted venues with small crowds for his live acts.

His songs were narratives of his own experiences. They were mostly on the dark sides of living like alcoholism and bouts of depression. Still, the sophistication in his writings could not be overlooked.

Hence, he was given various labels like the “poet laureate of Texas,” “premier poet of the time,” “the James Joyce of Texan songwriting” and “the best writer in the country genre.”

In recognition of his valuable contributions, Townes Van Zandt was inducted into the Austin Music Memorial in 2010 and the Texas Heritage Songwriters’ Association Hall of Fame in 2012.

His “Pancho and Lefty”

A tale about two friends who were enamored with the carefree life of being an outlaw. Sadly, there was no happy ending for their romanticized road life. In the following video, Zandt said his song was about two bandits he saw on TV. In another interview though, he recounted another story about two policemen who stopped him on the road. Funny, but they happened to be called Pancho and Lefty.

From its first release in 1973, the song was covered twenty-eight times to date. The cover duet by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard made this song a #1 country hit in 1983.

“Pancho and Lefty” by Townes Van Zandt



John Townes Van Zandt, pancho and lefty

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