Pancho and Lefty

by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard • Lesson #57 • Apr 15, 2017

In this lesson, I show you how to play the song Pancho and Lefty as performed by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. This song was originally written by Townes Van Zandt and released in 1972. Van Zandt’s version is a bit different: he plays in a different key, uses a distinct fingerpicking style instead of strumming, and doesn’t play the recognizable intro heard in the Willie & Merle version.

Here, I’ll show you how to the chords needed, explain the strumming pattern, break down the chord progressions for the verse & chorus, and walk you through the intro riff – with tabs included.

  • 0:00 Playthrough
  • 1:25 Chords Needed
  • 1:43 Strumming Pattern
  • 2:27 Verse
  • 3:00 Chorus
  • 5:09 Intro Riff

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Easy-Going Fingerstyle Cover

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If you’re looking for a Key of C fingerstyle version of this song, similar to what Townes Van Zandt plays — check out this play-along cover I made. It shows me playing the song from start to finish, using the simplified Travis Picking approach I demonstrate in lesson #509. It may not sound as intricate or fancy as Townes Van Zandt’s more intricate version, but in a pinch it does the job just fine!

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Additional Notes (from 2017)

This is another song I very recently fell deeply in love with for the first time. I first came across the Willie & Merle version (which I enjoyed), and then discovered Townes Van Zandt (who wrote this song) – who I embarrassingly didn’t even know existed. I began devouring his music, and this song in particular. Aside from his fingerstyle work, I wouldn’t describe his guitar arrangements as flashy or readily distinct as Willie’s – which really allows for his lyrics to shine through in an unreal way.

It was hearing his version of the song that really let the raw emotion and sentiment creep in. I couldn’t get enough, and of course being in love with Willie’s guitar style right now – went to him and Merle’s version so I could finally learn that very cool intro riff. One day I’ll learn the solo, and do a lesson for it! But it will probably be a bit down the road. In the meantime, enjoy.

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