Living on the road my friend,
Was gonna keep you free and clean
And now you wear your skin like iron,
And 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

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 dying words,
Ah but that's the way it goes

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

The poets tell how Pancho fell,
And Lefty's living 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
We could have had him any day
We only let him go so long
Out of kindness, I suppose

A few gray Federales say
We could have had him any day
We only let him go so long
Out of kindness, I suppose


Lyrics submitted by fallacies, edited by Gizmopolis

"Pancho and Lefty" as written by Townes Van Zandt

Lyrics © BUG MUSIC O/B/O KATIE BELLE MUSIC

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Pancho And Lefty song meanings
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38 Comments

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  • +2
    General CommentIt seemed to me that Pancho and Lefty were the same person. Pancho was a bandit who decided his luck wouldn't hold up much longer, so he faked is death "Nobody heard his dyin words". Apparently he changed his name to Lefty "The dust tha Pancho bit down south, ended up in Lefty's mouth."
    After retiring from his life of crime, Lefty decided to move north with whatever money he had left from his "banditing".
    "The day they laid poor Pancho low, Lefty split for Ohio
    Where he got the bread to go, there ain't nobody knows"

    That's how I see it, although I do like the other interpretations.
    nivlem9on January 24, 2007   Link
  • +2
    General CommentI believe this song is about one friend betraying the other. The lyrics, in my view, clearly point to the fact the in someway lefty was paid off and that led to the demise of pancho
    CMABCAon September 16, 2008   Link
  • +2
    General Commentthe proposed meanings of this song are totally different from the understanding I developed by listening to it — I don’t know if I’m crazy, but I always took it to mean that Lefty was an American who came down to hunt Pancho — He killed him where the Federales refused to. They said they could have but they didn’t. I took the line about dust that Pancho bit ending up in Lefty’s mouth to mean that Lefty was following him. He killed him, got paid and then went back up north. The day they buried Pancho was the day Lefty left. It’s unusual to ask for prayers for the killer — that’s why Van Zandt reminds us to save a few for Lefty too.
    williefanon November 28, 2009   Link
  • +1
    General CommentThe meaning of this song has always haunted me, so one day I spent a few hours on the internet trying to hunt dow the meaning. Here's what I found. The song was written by the legendary Townes Van Zandt, who went to his grave without ever revealing anything about the song. Wow.
    IJBandon February 20, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentTrue indeed this song was not ever with any direct intention to be about the legendary Pancho Villa. However, the similarities are astounding. Look for yourself what history has to say. That aside, time for my worthless 2 cents :D.

    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

    Pancho and lefty spent a lot of time together, but then there is a split. One continues to ride, the other prisoned, perhaps in his own mind.

    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 appears to be the favorite one, leaving lefty jealous. Pancho left, prolly at an early age, because Pancho dies at a somewhat early age, as lefty grows old after Pancho is laid low.

    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

    Introducing Pancho as the "Bandito", living life as he saw fit. Free in his mind, on not afraid to let others around him to see it. Since he was a bandit and also his mothers favorite, gives him a Robin Hood feel, as stated before ( and a striking resemblance to Pancho Villa).

    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

    At the time of his defeat, and demise, Pancho was alone, without Lefty around. (Another striking resemblance to Pancho, since we were already SUPPOSED to know how he met his end hmmm.... )

    All the Federales say, they could've had him any day
    They only let him slip away, out of kindness I suppose

    The cocky Federalies tell all the they "could have had him any day" (implied by writer to be BS :) )
    Also telling us that someone sold him out prior to his final battle.

    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

    Lefty's conscious is now starting to haunt him. He can't sing with the purpose that he once had. And the guilt is so bad Lefty can taste it :(

    The day they laid poor Pancho low, Lefty split for Ohio
    Where he got the bread to go, there ain't nobody knows

    Lefty gets paid off by Federalies, and thus leaves town after Pancho's demise.

    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

    Basically a reiteration of whats said before. Pancho was a bandit, met his fate and needs our prayers. lefty sold out Pancho and now lives with his guilt and thus needs our prayers too. This also, to me anyway, leaves the impression that Lefty was weak, perhaps propositioned by the Federalies to talk in exchange for money and nothing else. But this also leaves open the possibility that Lefty was tortured or threatened too. Needless to say Lefty feels guilty as he grows old while Pancho does not.

    A few gray Federales say, they could've had him any day
    They only let him slip away out of kindness I suppose

    Even after many years have passed. The Ones involved maintain that they "could have had him" any day. This of course is BS as it required the "brother" to make the capture. Now they all get to live with their guilt and lies as well :D.










    walaka7on September 03, 2011   Link
  • +1
    General CommentLefty in this song was my grandfather. My grandfather and his family were captured by Villa and they hanged his mother and father and sister in front of him. Pancho was about to hang my grandfather when Pancho's daughter came running out begging him to not hang Lefty. So he did not but made him ride with him for several years. After leaving the group my grandfather went to Bridgeport, Ohio where he met his future bride.
    dkflyson January 13, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentAccording to Townes Van Zandt, when he wrote the song, it was not about Pancho Villa...as a matter of fact, it was completely fictional..so I doubt it was written about anyone's grandfather.

    I believe it is about a partnership of two outlaws. In the end, Lefty sold out Pancho to save himself. Pancho is dead, and Lefty has to live with the fact that he sold out his friend. The shame he has felt has stuck with him, dragging him down financially and emotionally. While Pancho "needs your prayers" for the things he did to others, Lefty needs prayers (forgiveness) for what he did to his partner in crime.
    madmaxvolon July 03, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI think these lines make it pretty clear the relationship between Pancho and Lefty:

    The day they laid poor Pancho low,
    Lefty split for Ohio.
    Where he got the bread to go,
    There ain't nobody knows.

    Lefty sold Pancho out to the Federales, and is now guilty about it.
    jlk7eon July 22, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentI'm in agreement re Lefty selling Pancho to the law. The bread he used to split for Ohio, the federales knowing just where to find him, but why bother? He's a tool and a traitor, forgotten and alone in wintry Ohio, and the taste of the dust his buddy bit will always stick with him. He's no threat. Pancho died in the saddle, forever youthful and trusting, while his buddy grows old and pale alone with his guilt. Seems pretty clear to me.
    InfantTyroneon March 19, 2017   Link
  • 0
    General CommentIt is about two brothers pancho being the outlaw and lefty bieng the Good son..And this song brings back memories of my youth..because the contry station my mom listend to played this song alittle too often..I dont know why I like it now though??
    gdoggon August 26, 2006   Link

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