A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Track #26 on Thommy Ford’s Playlist
“Play uh… This song first called uh… Called uh Pancho and Lef… Sorry about the air conditioners being off but it, it won’t be very long. If it gets really hot I don’t know what were gonna…”
A guitar arpeggio cuts off Townes Van Zandt’s last word. It’s not just a stuttering bit of stage banter. Everytime I hear it open Live at the Old Quarter, it takes me to a 1973 I never lived, puts me in a crowded little room I’ve never seen, a Houston I’ve never visited, and a Texas-in-July heat I’ve never experienced.
Though, maybe it wouldn’t have that same fantastical, transporting impact if the song that followed wasn’t a perfect bit of storytelling that immediately takes us even further South and even further out of time. You see, Pancho was a Mexican bandit. And his buddy, that’s Lefty, he sold Pancho out for just enough dough to head North. It’s a simple story, but Townes tells it beautifully:
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.
The poets tell how Pancho fell
Lefty’s livin’ in a cheap hotel
The desert’s quiet and Cleveland’s cold
So the story ends we’re told
Pancho needs your prayers it’s true,
But save a few for Lefty too
He just did what he had to do
Now he’s growin’ old
I’m no judge of what a Texas Troubadour should be, but Townes Van Zandt sweating his way through this song in his blunt voice, it’s what I want a Texas Troubadour to be. None of the various studio recordings (by Townes himself, Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard, Steve Earle, or Emmylou Harris) can compete with this relatively raw live recording of just Townes and his guitar. It could hardly be better, and it kicks off one of the great live albums of all time. So if you haven’t heard it, hurry in to the library and check out Live at the Old Quarter. It’s the easiest route to Texas and on to the deserts of Mexico, and from there to a world of heartbreak and humor and truly memorable three minute stories.
Review by Matthew