Guitar lesson for
Pancho and Lefty
by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard • Lesson #57
Get the sheet music(2 pages)
- A properly licensed, print-friendly arrangement is available for individual purchase at Musicnotes.com
- This sheet music was designed & hand-crafted by me (David Potsiadlo) with care, providing you with everything needed to both learn and play this song.
- On the fence? Here's a video guide I made showing the purchase & print process.
Patreon supporters: click here to get the 50% off discount code on this purchase
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
Lyrics w/ chords
INTRO RIFF: E ––10––––9–––7–––9–––7–––5–5–––––––5–––––3–––2–––3–––2–––0–2–––––––– B ––10––––10––8–––10––8–––5–7–––––––7–––––3–––3–––3–––3–––3–3–––––––– G ––11––––9–––7–––9–––7–––7–7–––––––7–––––4–––2–––4–––2–––2–2–––––––– D ––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + D D A A ...Living on the road my friend... was gonna keep you free and clean G G D A ...And now you wear your skin like iron... and your breath as hard as kerosene G G D G ...You weren't your mama's only boy, but her favorite one it seemed Bm (G) (D) A A G Bm Bm (A) ...She began to cry when you said---- goodbye...... and sank into your dreams D D A A ...Pancho was a bandit boys.... his horse was fast as polished steel G G D A ...He wore his gun outside his pants.... for all the honest world to feel G G D G ...Pancho met his match you know, on the deserts down in Mexico Bm (G) (D) A A G Bm Bm ...Nobody heard his dying words...... oh, but that's the way it goes G G D G ...All the Federales say... they could have had him any day Bm (G) (D) A A G Bm Bm ...They only let him slip a--way...... out of kindness I suppose D D A A ...Lefty, he can't sing the blues... all night long like he used to G G D A ...The dust that Pancho bit down south... ended up in Lefty's mouth G G D G ...The day they laid poor Pancho low... Lefty split for Ohio Bm (G) (D) A A G Bm Bm ...Where he got the bread to go....... there ain't nobody knows G G D G ...All the Federales say... they could have had him any day Bm (G) (D) A A G Bm Bm ...They only let him slip a--way...... out of kindness I suppose (solo over chorus chords...) D D A A ...The poets tell how Pancho fell... and Lefty's living in cheap hotels G G D A ...The desert's quiet, Cleveland's cold... and so the story ends we're told G G D G ...Pancho needs your prayers, it's true... but save a few for Lefty too Bm (G) (D) A A G Bm Bm ...He only did what he had to do...... and now he's growing old G G D G ...All the Federales say... they could have had him any day Bm (G) (D) A A G Bm Bm ...They only let him slip a--way...... out of kindness I suppose G G D G ...A few gray Federales say... they could have had him any day Bm (G) (D) A A G Bm ...They only let him slip a--way...... out of kindness I suppose
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 finger style 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.
How Merle actually plays it
Not only is this the way Merle plays it, but it’s also how I recommend learning it. This isn’t trivially easy to play, but it’s easier than the version further below AND it provides a consistent sound when played, which is a good thing. The great part about this approach is you’re 100% on the highest 3 strings. True, you can let the D string ring on some / any / all of these chords (and it sounds great!) – but because that D string is always left open (not fretted), it doesn’t require any add’l left hand work to do this.
E ––10––––9–––7–––9–––7–––5–5–––––––5–––––3–––2–––3–––2–––0–2–––––––– B ––10––––10––8–––10––8–––5–7–––––––7–––––3–––3–––3–––3–––3–3–––––––– G ––11––––9–––7–––9–––7–––7–7–––––––7–––––4–––2–––4–––2–––2–2–––––––– D ––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––0–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
First way I learned it
At first, I was convinced this was it – and for sure, if you wanted to you could play it this way and be 100% fine. The downside of this version is about practicality – in that, you’re on the highest 3 strings for the first half, and then the 4th / 3rd / 2nd strings for the second half. One reason this is bad has to do with picking accuracy –– it’s quite a bit harder to cleanly strum the 2nd/3rd/4th strings (only) in a way that matches the sound of the 1st half, where you’re on the highest 3 strings. If you’re curious, feel free to practice it this way! I enjoyed getting this under my belt. But again, after doing some digging and watching a video of Merle Haggard playing it –– I’m won over by the practicality of his version.
E ––10––––9–––7–––9–––7–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– B ––10––––10––8–––10––8–––8–10––––––10––––8–––7–––8–––7–––5–7–––––––– G ––11––––9–––7–––9–––7–––7–11––––––11––––7–––7–––7–––7–––6–7–––––––– D ––––––––––––––––––––––––9–12––––––12––––9–––7–––9–––7–––7–7–––––––– A ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– E ––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
E ––––2–––3–––0–––2–––– B ––––3–––0–––2–––3–––– G ––––2–––0–––2–––4–––– D ––––0–––0–––2–––4–––– A ––––––––2–––0–––2–––– E ––––––––3–––––––––––– D G A Bm
Chord progression cheat sheet
| D . . . | D . . . | A . . . | A . . . | | G . . . | G . . . | D . . . | A . . . |
| G . . . | G . . . | D . . . | G . . . | | Bm . . . | G D A . . . | A . . . | | G . . . | Bm . . . | Bm . . . |
See the PDF for diagrams showing two ways to strum it.
Coming, one day, eventually :)
Let me know if you have questions. I hope this was helpful.
Get my lessons in your inbox!
Every couple weeks I send out an email newsletter with links to whatever new lessons I've made. Sign up here and stay in the loop!
Enjoy my lessons? Buy me a beer!
If this and my other lessons have proven helpful to you, please consider making a one-time donation to my tip jar. Contributions of any amount help make this project possible (including the many, many hours I put into it).
Subscribe to my YouTube channel
Be sure to never miss a lesson by subscribing on YouTube. I put out 2-3 new videos every week. These include full song lessons, as well as covers, practice tips, behind-the-scenes updates. Thanks!
Recent video lessons:
📝 My "song" PDFs are now individually purcasheable! I've arranged a licensing agreement with Musicnotes, a service that lets you buy my sheet music arrangements. Patreon supporters get 50% off each purchase. Learn more here »
June 22, 2022
A beginner's guide to using GarageBand's Beat Sequencer tool to create custom drum beats! Even if you're a total novice when it comes to drumming (like me), I'll walk you through the basic steps to create rich-sounding drum tracks to play over while practicing or performing.
May 27, 2022
A few years after learning American Girl the way Tom Petty plays it, I returned to it — this time determined to work out a low-key, easy-going fingerstyle arrangement. Here's how it went!
May 22, 2022
As part of my Learning Lead Guitar series, I share a realization I recently had showing different ways to fill out melody lines using triads, double-stops, and harmonized sixths.
May 19, 2022
I answer an audience question about how to go about learning a song (with a tricky riff) for a peformance at a family wedding.
May 12, 2022
After many requests from y'all, I finally created this list of all my beginner-friendly song lessons! These are grouped by key, allowing you to take the chord shapes you already know and find other songs using those same shapes.
May 4, 2022
Two easier ways to play B-minor, using open chord voicings — super helpful to have these in your toolkit. Includes different practice riffs to accompany each chord voicing.
Browse my all lessons
By lesson type
- Full Song Lessons
- Beginner Songs
- Backing Tracks
- Play-Along Covers
- Warm-Up Exercises
- Tips & Techniques
By song decade
By musical genre
By guitar technique
By musical key
By popular artist
- Johnny Cash
- Tyler Childers
- Tom Petty
- Neil Young
- Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Willie Nelson
- John Denver
- Guns N' Roses