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Willie Nelson – Pancho And Lefty lyrics
Livin 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 momma's only boy, but her favorite one it seems
She began to cry when you said goodbye
And sank into your dreams
Pancho was a bandit boy, his horse was fast as polished steel
He 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 dyin words, ah but that's the way it goes
All the Federales say, they could've had him any day
They only let him slip away, out of kindness I suppose
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've had him any day
They only let him slip away out of kindness I suppose
The boys tell how old Pancho fell, and Lefty's livin in cheap hotels
The desert's quiet, Cleveland's cold
And so the story ends we're told
Pancho needs your prayers it's true, but save a few for Lefty too
He only did what he had to do, and now he's growing old
All the Federales say, they could've had him any day
They only let him go so long, out of kindness I suppose
A few gray Federales say, they could've had him any day
They only let him go so long, out of kindness I suppose
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Pancho And Lefty meanings Post my meaning

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    Unregistered
    You got these lyrics wrong! In the first stanza, it's the federales let him hang around, not let him slip away! Pancho was hung--townes van zandt had even said so in interviews--they let him hang around, get it? In the last stanza--they only let him go so wrong, not long! Check your facts before posting errors, ok? Or just listen to the damn video--you'll hear townes say the correct words!
    1 reply
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    Unregistered
    I think Poncho and Lefty were brothers (weren't your momma's only boy, but the favorite one it seems). Poncho the favorite and Lefty the loser. I think Lefty resented his brother (the dust that Pancho bit down south ended up in Lefty's mouth) and then killed him, took the money and went to Ohio where he felt overwhelming guilt (Pancho needs your prayers it's true, but save a few for Lefty too He only did what he had to do, and now he's growing old).
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  • d
    + 3
    drjay
    This is an interesting song. Taken literally it is about 2 different people. Knowing about the songwriter, Townes Van Zandt (not Willie Nelson) I think it is actually about the 2 sides of his own personality. He did have a brother, but he was the favorite son of his mom, Dorothy (or Dotsy to her friends). Townes was a bad alcoholic/substance abuser who had dual personalities and recognized his own illness(s) and often wrote of them in his songs. Listen to Marie. Listen to Hangin around to Die. Listen to Nothin. Then listen to Pancho and Lefty again. Pancho was the "good" fun but troubled Townes. Lefty was the "bad" sneaky unreliable cowardly Townes who ran away from responsibiity, including multiple wives and children. His epitaph should have been taken from his song To live is to Fly-- shake the dust off of your wings and the sleep out of your eyes. He was always ready to fly away, and did to the very end. RIP TVW.
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    Unregistered
    I've read the TVZ quote that Lefty sells out his associate Pancho to the Federales and gets some sort of payoff, then hightails it to Cleveland. But I have also heard that TVZ was quite the bullshitter, so maybe he would have given a different explanation if he had been asked about it on a different day. And sometimes songs seemingly write themselves, the writer doesn't even understand the meaning until later on. I think the interpretation that Lefty collaborates with the Federales is probably the correct one, but I have another possible explanation I have not heard before. Lefty is traveling through the desert alone when he runs into Pancho, who tried to rob him. But Pancho "meets his match" in Lefty, and "the dust that Pancho bit ended up in Lefty's mouth." Lefty keeps the money that Pancho has stolen from other travelers, and uses it to high-tail it to Cleveland, since he has just murdered a man in the desert (albeit in self-defense, but with no witnesses). The Federales, who were inept, find the dead Pancho, but no money and no Lefty. Since Pancho is taken out by someone other than them, they claim with false bravado that they could have had Pancho any day, but didn't bother. Or perhaps they are talking about Lefty, and that they knew Lefty did it, but they let him get away and keep the $$ because Lefty "only did what he had to do."
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  • i
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    ih8lsu
    Lefty is telling this story to his son who is alot like him(which is why he is his mom's favorite) as a warning to give up his drifter ways. He and pancho were partners and lefty felt he had to betray him for some reason. The federales would have killed lefty because they liked pancho so he had to split. Lefty can't even enjoy singing the blues anymore due to guilt, so who suffered more?
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    Unregistered
    Pancho and lefty are minor league hoods of the type that still hang around the mexico/texas border, even today. Lefty, who has a repatation as a blues singer, sells pancho out to the mexican rural police(federalies, a group renouned for itks curroption) who attempted to kill pancho, but pancho escaped. Leefty took the reward money(bribe) and drifed to ohio. Now heks older and dying and living with a guilty concinse.
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  • U
    - 1
    Unregistered
    Pancho was a bandit. Lefty was his friend (his left hand). Pancho sort of looked out for lefty because he felt sorry for him. Lefty wasn't actually a singer but always down on his luck and telling his hard luck stories. A bandit has few friends -- pancho didn't need lefty but took pity on him and took care of him because of the companionship lefty offered. One night in the desert lefty decided he wanted the loot for himself and shot pancho in the back -- took the loot and split as far away as he could go -- ohio. He no longer tells his sad stories because of his guilt -- he doesn't feel he deserves sympathy because he murdered his friend.
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  • U
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    Unregistered
    This is a great piece of song writing that tells a complete story of two men; poncho and lefty. Also, nice use of internal rhyme for added punch in relating the story. One gets the feeling that poncho was tolerated by the federales for quite a while, but when presented with an opportunity to catch him, they took it. It is implied that lefty, while down on his luck, provided information to the federales that would enable them to capture poncho. Poncho was killed during the capture and lefty likely used the reward money to flee mexico and return to the states. These lines: "lefty can't sing the blues all night long like he used to.
    The dust that poncho bit down south ended up in lefty's mouth".
    Are probably the most evocative of the song. They tell us that lefty's guilt over turning his friend in has taken a heavy toll over the years.
    And the author asks for a little mercy for lefty too; living out the remainder of his life in a cold climate, acutely feeling the burden of his betrayal.
    Willie nelson is a very talented song writer.
    2 replies
  • U
    - 1
    Unregistered
    Ok in reading what jumps out is momma had two sons, one a singer one a bandit. Both spent the life one the road never staying in one spot. The federales wanted pancho but he was elusive so the went after his brother in a frame so to save his own skin he sold out. Took the "reward" and left for the states. Pancho was executed. Lefty carries the burdon.
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  • U
    - 2
    Unregistered
    The story should be taken more literally than symbolically. A young american from a lower middle class background seeks a little adventure. He ends up traveling to old mexico, where become buddies with the young bandit pancho. Eventually, he needs a way out and snitches pancho off the federales, who give him some money allow him to return home.
    Back home, his lack of drive and ambition and the aging process conquer him. Maybe be he was a bit of blues singer, literally. But if he ever was, his probable heavy drinking and aging itself sap his stamina.
    Another story about the adventurous dreams of undereducated young men and ruin they usually lead to. If anything, a tale about social class in america.
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  • U
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    Unregistered
    You don't have to believe me, but my friend Larry Nelson wrote the lyrics to "Pancho and Lefty" and handed them to Townes van Zandt at the Sink restaurant in 1968. Over a period of several hours and lots of beer Townes came up with the melody and the song was complete the next day. I just learned this this very morning at breakfast with Larry.

    Townes, by the way, wanted to drop the line, "Out of kindness, I suppose", but Larry convinced him not to. There is a lot going on in the song, which happens to have originated from the TV show, "The Cisco Kid"! Also, the bit about the Federales saying, "They could have had him any day", came from an FBI statement on TV after they caught some notorious criminal that year.

    I have known Larry many years and he his a quiet, soft spoken guy, and extremely modest. Larry is not prone to bragging or exaggeration. I believe him.
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    • U
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      You got these lyrics wrong! In the first stanza, it's the federales let him hang around, not let... Read more →
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      I think Poncho and Lefty were brothers (weren't your momma's only boy, but the favorite one it... Read more →

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