Townes van Zandt – “Pancho and Lefty” (1972)

“‘Pancho and Lefty’, originally ‘Poncho and Lefty’, is a song written by American country music singer-songwriter 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. … The song is composed as a ballad of four stanzas which use the two-verse refrain: ‘All the Federales say they could’ve had him any day/ They only let him slip away out of kindness I suppose.’ The first two stanzas are sung back-to-back with the refrain being sung only after the second stanza. The verses of the first stanza introduce Lefty as a restless young soul who leaves home and his loving mother to seek his fortune south of the border. The verses of the second stanza introduce Pancho as a Mexican ‘bandit boy’, who ‘wore his gun outside his pants for all the honest world to feel’. After the refrain, the third stanza tells of Pancho’s eventual death in “the deserts down in Mexico” and implies that he was betrayed by his associate Lefty who was paid off by the Mexican federales. Lefty uses the money to ‘split for’ Ohio, trying to return to friends and family who apparently have moved on. Lefty grows old in cheap hotels without his friend from Mexico. Following the refrain, the fourth stanza poetizes Pancho’s life and appears to evoke sympathy for Lefty’s attempted homecoming. A final extended refrain extends the two verse refrain to three. 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. … Like much of Van Zandt’s output, the song went largely unnoticed at the time of its release in 1972. Neither it nor its parent album made any music charts. In 1977, Emmylou Harris covered the song on her critically acclaimed number one album Luxury Liner. … Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard took the song to number one on the country charts in July 1983 on their duet album Pancho & Lefty. …”
Townes Van Zandt and the Truth of Pancho and Lefty (Video)
Genius (Audio)
YouTube: Pancho and Lefty (Live)

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