Bob Dylan: Pancho and Lefty (Townes Van Zandt) (Videos & Audio)

bob dylan townes van zandt


Bob Dylan: Pancho and Lefty (Townes Van Zandt)

 Living on the road, my friend,
Is gonna keep you free and clean,
Now you wear your skin like iron,
Your breath as hard as kerosene.
You weren’t your mama’s only boy,
But her favorite one it seems —
She began to cry when you said goodbye,
And sank into your dreams.

“Townes van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.”
~Steve Earle


Released 1972
Genre Country
Length 3:40
Label Tomato
Writer Townes Van Zandt
Producer Kevin Eggers, Jack Clement

Pancho and Lefty” is a song written by country singer and 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. 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. Steve Earle performs “Pancho and Lefty” on his 2009 album Townes, which is composed of songs written by Townes Van Zandt, Earle’s friend and mentor. Canadian country artist George Canyon recorded a version of the song with Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy on Canyon’s album Classics II, released in November 2012.

the late great townes van zandt

Pancho was a bandit boys
His horse was fast as polished steel
Wore his gun outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel
Pancho met his match you know
On the deserts down in Mexico
Nobody heard his dying words
That’s the way it goes

All the federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him hang around
Out of kindness I suppose

[‘Pancho & Lefty’ was written] from not having anything to do and sitting down with the express purpose of writing a song…. It took one day and I played what I had that night at a gig. And a songwriter told me, ‘Man, that’s a great song. But I don’t think it’s done yet’. So I went back to the hotel the next day and wrote the last verse. The only thing I remember thinking about while I was writing it was consciously thinking that this was not about Pancho Villa”
~Townes Van Zandt (to Paul Zollo – “Songwriters On Songwriting”)

 Other notable versions

Townes Van Zandt – from the brilliant DVD “Heartworn Highways”:

Emmylou Harris – live 1977:

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard – live:

Steve Earle – Live at Amoeba (2009):

Jason Isbell – The Garage, London – 20 November 2013:

Gillian Welch and David Rawlings – live 1997:

Lefty he can’t sing the blues
All night long like he used to
The dust that Pancho bit down south
Ended up in Lefty’s mouth
The day they laid poor Pancho low
Lefty split for Ohio
Where he got the bread to go
There ain’t nobody knows

All the federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him slip away
Out of kindness I suppose

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan played this wonderful Townes Van Zandt tune a couple of times in 1989, with the debut performance being in Italy on June 21. The song was then played three times during the summer and fall of 1991, and was also performed on April 28, 1993 at the Willie Nelson “Big Six-0” concert, broadcast on CBS-TV on May 22, 1993. After a considerable gap, ‘Pancho & Lefty’ re-emerged during Dylan’s cover-laden set at the Bonnaroo Music Festival on June 11, 2004.
~Derek Barker (The Songs He didn’t write)

Dylan played it twice in 1989, 3 times in 1991, once in 1993 & once in 2004.

..Let’s get serious..

First performance:

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & guitar)
  • G. E. Smith (guitar)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • Christopher Parker (drums)

Stadio Lamberti Cava de’ Tirreni, Italy – June 21, 1989 (video)

with Willie Nelson – KRLU-TV Studios, Austin, Texas  – 28 April 1993
Filming of Willie Nelson 60th birthday party

Bonnaroo Music Festival – Manchester, Tennessee – 11 June 2004

  • Bob Dylan (vocal & piano)
  • Stu Kimball (guitar)
  • Larry Campbell (guitar, mandolin, pedal steel guitar & electric slide guitar)
  • Tony Garnier (bass)
  • George Recile (drums & percussion)

The poets tell how Pancho fell
Lefty’s livin’ in a cheap hotel
The desert’s quiet and Cleveland’s cold
So the story ends we’re told
Pancho needs your prayers it’s true,
But save a few for Lefty too
He just did what he had to do
Now he’s growing old

A few gray federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him go so wrong
Out of kindness I suppose


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9 thoughts on “Bob Dylan: Pancho and Lefty (Townes Van Zandt) (Videos & Audio)”

    1. I play this song due to Adrian Richardson . from England , (hope you are well Adrian) a big Dylan fan who told me durind a Dylan tour throughout South America , in Rio de Janeiro , that Dylan could possibly perform this song in Rio , ita was in 1991 , he didn`t , but this awakened me my curiosity for that song that I was fascinated by when I heard it later when I came back home in Buenos Aires , here’s my latest version

  1. Love this. Thanks. Hadn’t heard Dylan’s version before. Wonderful. Always wanted to turn this into a movie with a younger Matthew McConaughey and a less dead Ernest Borgnine. Guess that ship has sailed…

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