This weekend, George Strait christened the new Moody Center in Austin, Texas, and he brought a few friends along with him.
Joined by Willie Nelson and Randy Rogers, the night was packed with a number of great country tunes, but there was one moment that made the night extra special.
King George and Shotgun Willie singing together on “Pancho & Lefty,” which was recorded by Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard back in the early ’80s.
It was originally a song written and recorded by Townes Van Zandt for his 1972 album The Late Great Townes Van Zandt, and then later by Emmylou Harris in 1976.
Willie and Merle released their iconic rendition of “Pancho and Lefty,” as the title track to their collaborative album Pancho & Lefty in 1983. It became a classic country hit and reached #1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Singles chart that year.
Needless to say, it was pretty damn special to see George and Willie take a run at it together:
“Pancho & Lefty”
And how about a little “Sing One With Willie.”
A cut from Strait’s most recent album, Honky Tonk Time Machine, “Sing One With Willie” was actually the first time the two Texans ever performed together.
How many years in the country music industry together and the two legends didn’t share the stage until 2019? Pretty hard to believe, but it’s true.
“You know what, Willie’s sung with everybody except me. It kinda started bothering me there for a while, so I had jotted down a few things, sent it to Willie, Willie polished it off just perfect.
Welcome to the stage Mr. Willie Nelson.”
Two of the best to ever do it.
Friday was also Willie’s 89th birthday, so George couldn’t let him leave the stage before leading the crowd in a good old fashioned “Happy Birthday” to him.
As Willie left the stage, George said:
“Amazing… I’ll never forget that. Thank you so much Willie.”
Eric Church On Willie Nelson & Merle Haggard Recording “Pancho & Lefty”
Of course, Eric is a huge fan of The Hag, dedicating an entire song on his first album Sinners Like Me, “Pledge Allegiance To The Hag”, to the greatness and legend that is Merle Haggard. He even told Zane:
“I believe Merle Haggard is the greatest country singer, of his songs, of all time.”
Which is due in large part to Merle’s authenticity.
And Eric has the greatest example you’ll ever hear about the legend that is Merle Haggard:
“I heard Willie tell a story one time. This will put it in perspective of that era…
So ‘Pancho and Lefty’ is a big Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson song. They’re partyin’, they’re at Willie’s studio, they’re at Willie’s house and they’re goin’ hard one night.
And Willie convinces Merle to record this Townes Van Zandt song called ‘Pancho and Lefty’.”
Seems like the perfect time to record a hit country song if you ask me.
“Merle hears it, Merle loves it, Merle goes in and does that last verse, which I think is a classic last verse of any Merle Haggard performance. Well, Merle goes to his bus, which is parked at Willie’s studio, he passes out.
He gets up the next morning and walks in and goes ‘Hey Willie, what did we do last night? We recorded, what was that thing?’
Willie says, ‘We recorded the song called ‘Pancho and Lefty’ Townes Van Zandt wrote.’ Merle goes, ‘I don’t think I was in the right frame of mind to do that.
I wanna re-record it.’ And Willie goes, ‘Hoss, that’s already out of here on its way to New York. It’ll be on the radio next week.'”
Willie knew there was going to be some next-day regret from their wild night of drinking and sent the mix off before Merle even woke up. These are the kinds of stories that make country music what it is.
A lot of the time, the best music is raw and natural, not over polished and perfectly edited for the radio:
“And I thought, that is the purity of music right there. Merle couldn’t even fix it, it was gone. It’s classic. It sounds fantastic.”
Just a wild story… but why don’t you listen to Merle tell the story himself: