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"Pancho and Lefty" is a song written by country music artist Townes Van Zandt. Often considered his "most enduring and well-known song," Van Zandt first recorded it for his 1972 album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt.[1]

"Pancho and Lefty"
Song by Townes Van Zandt
from the album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt
GenreCountry, Folk
Songwriter(s)Townes Van Zandt


"Pancho and Lefty"
Single by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson
from the album Pancho & Lefty
B-side"Opportunity to Cry"
ReleasedApril 30, 1983
Songwriter(s)Townes Van Zandt
Merle Haggard singles chronology
"You Take Me for Granted"
"Pancho and Lefty"
"What Am I Gonna Do (With the Rest of My Life)"
Willie Nelson singles chronology
"Little Old Fashioned Karma"
"Pancho and Lefty"
"Why Do I Have to Choose"

The song has been covered by various artists, notably:

Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as the 17th greatest Western song of all time.[3]

In June 2004, Rolling Stone ranked "Pancho and Lefty" #41 on its list of the 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time.[4]

Content and compositionEdit

The song tells the story of a Mexican bandit named Pancho and a more enigmatic character, Lefty. The song tells of Pancho's death and implies that he was betrayed by his associate Lefty who was paid off by the Mexican federales.

Although the lyrics are not exactly reconcilable with the historic details of the life and death of the famous Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, Van Zandt does not rule out the idea. In an interview, he recalled, "I realize that I wrote it, but it's hard to take credit for the writing, because it came from out of the blue. It came through me and it's a real nice song, and I think, I've finally found out what it's about. I've always wondered what it's about. I kinda always knew it wasn't about Pancho Villa, and then somebody told me that Pancho Villa had a buddy whose name in Spanish meant 'Lefty.' But in the song, my song, Pancho gets hung. 'They only let him hang around out of kindness I suppose' and the real Pancho Villa was assassinated."[5]

In the same interview, Van Zandt recalled, "We got stopped by these two policeman and...they said 'What do you do for a living?', and I said, 'Well, I'm a songwriter', and they both kind of looked around like 'pitiful, pitiful', and so on to that I added, 'I wrote that song "Pancho and Lefty". You ever heard that song "Pancho and Lefty"? I wrote that', and they looked back around and they looked at each other and started grinning, and it turns out that their squad car, you know their partnership, it was two guys, it was an Anglo and a Hispanic, and it turns out, they're called Pancho and Lefty ... so I think maybe that's what it's about, those two guys ... I hope I never see them again."[5]

Music videoEdit

A music video was released for the song in 1983, depicting Willie Nelson as Pancho, and Merle Haggard as Lefty. Townes Van Zandt also appears in a supporting role.

Chart performanceEdit

Willie Nelson and Merle HaggardEdit

Chart (1983) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles 1
U.S. Billboard Adult Contemporary 21
Canadian RPM Country Tracks 1

Notes and sourcesEdit

  1. ^ Beviglia, Jim (30 April 2012). "Townes van Zandt, "Pancho and Lefty"". American Songwriter. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
  2. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). The Billboard Book Of Top 40 Country Hits: 1944-2006, Second edition. Record Research. p. 148.
  3. ^ Western Writers of America (2010). "The Top 100 Western Songs". American Cowboy. Archived from the original on 10 August 2014. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  4. ^
  5. ^ a b 1984 PBS series, "Austin Pickers". Ed Heffelfinger.

External linksEdit