Songs with Earlier Histories Than the Hit Version

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Pancho and Lefty

Written and first recorded by Townes Van Zandt (1972).
Also recorded by Emmylou Harris (1977), Hoyt Axton (1977).
Hit version by Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard (MOR #21/C&W #1/CAN #1 1983).

From the wiki: “”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. Also in 1977, Hoyt Axton recorded it on his album Snowblind Friend. The song became a #1 Country hit in 1983 when Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson adopted it as the title track of their duet album Pancho & Lefty. Members of the Western Writers of America chose it as one of the Top 100 Western Songs of All Time.

“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, Van Zandt recalled, ‘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’.’

“In the same interview, Van Zandt remembers, ‘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.'”

Emmylou Harris, “Pancho and Lefty” (1977):

Hoyt Axton, “Pancho and Lefty” (1977):

Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, “Pancho and Lefty” (1983):

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