January 26

The Best Duet Ever Recorded: “Pancho and Lefty”

One of the best duets ever recorded in country music over the decades, I must say, is “Pancho and Lefty”. Composed by Townes Van Zandt’s, many consider it as his most enduring and well-known song. Then, two of the biggest names in country music made it even more interesting.

“Pancho and Lefty” became a chart-topper on the Billboard Country Singles chart in late July 1983. The track remained on the chart for exactly one week. On the other hand, Pancho and Lefty, the album, topped the Billboard Country Albums chart. This happened five separate times between April and October of that year.

In Haggard and Nelson’s music video, Van Zandt cameos as one of the federals who take down Pancho. It would seem that the double-crossing Lefty helped him. When Townes had his interview in 1994, he humbly said that it was really nice of Merle and Willie to invite him. He added that it was not necessary for them to do so. Van Zandt said, too, that he thought he earned $100 a day. Zandt excitedly shared that he was the captain of the federals and had the experience to ride a horse. It took them four and a half days to shoot the video, but the track was four and a half minutes long.

Townes Van Zandt on  a Short Account on “Pancho and Lefty”

The late Van Zandt wrote “Pancho and Lefty”. It was originally a part of the former Houstonian’s ironically titled 1972 album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. According to a PBS interview, Zandt gave in the mid-’80s, Van Zandt and his band was pulled over near Brenham. On their way to a gig in Houston, an officer approached them. The officers let him out of the speeding ticket because the Washington County dispatchers used the handle “Pancho and Lefty” to identify the two cops.

Townes Van Zandt realized that he just wrote the song. In addition, he further explained that it was hard to take credit for its writing as it came from out of the blue. Zandt admitted, too, that it simply came through him that turned out to be a really nice song.

Over time, “Pancho and Lefty” became more than just a song. It turned to be something closer to a pop-culture touchstone, notably in Texas and the Southwest. Moreover, Haggard and Nelson’s cover of “Pancho and Lefty” was not only a smash. It is a milestone that would be hard to beat for months and even years.


merle haggard, Outlaw, pancho and lefty, willy nelson

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