“Pancho and Lefty” – Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard
“Pancho and Lefty” is a folk song written by Townes Van Zandt. Van Zandt first recorded it for his 1972 album, The Late Great Townes Van Zandt. Emmylou Harris then covered the song for her 1977 album, Luxury Liner and the song became a number one country hit in 1983 when Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson adopted it as the title track of their duet album Pancho & Lefty.
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 many people assume the song is about the famous Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, Van Zandt denied this. The lyrics are not reconcilable with any historic details of Villa’s life and death. It is far more likely, as with many of Van Zandt’s songs, that the song is about himself.
In an 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.”