Country Music

Behind "Pancho and Lefty": "That Son of a Bitch Is a Smash"

"Pancho and Lefty" long ago became more than just a song and something closer to a pop-culture touchstone, particularly in Texas and the Southwest. According to Urbanspoon, you can even dine at Pancho & Lefty's Tex-Mex restaurant in St. George, Utah. Unforgivably, it charges separately for chips and salsa, but still.

Written by the late Townes Van Zandt, "Pancho" originally appeared on the former Houstonian's mordantly titled 1972 album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt, as did "No Lonesome Tune" and "If I Needed You," among others. According to a PBS interview he gave in the mid-'80s, some time after Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson's version had become a monster hit, Van Zandt and his band were pulled over near Brenham on their way to a gig in Houston. The officers let him out of the speeding ticket because the Washington County dispatchers used the handle "Pancho and Lefty" to identify the two cops.

"I realize I wrote it, but it's hard to take credit for the writing, because it came from out of the blue," Van Zandt tells the PBS interviewer. "It came through me. It's a real nice song."

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray