The duo released their iconic song, “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.
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.
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.
“You know why you believe him? It’s true. Everything he did. That’s him. Merle dying was a really hard day for me, because Merle is the quintessential country music singer.
At least of my generation, of my life. His interpretation of songs, the interpretation not his own songs, but other people’s songs.
I mean the ‘Yesterday’s Wine’ record between George Jones and Merle Haggard is the most fun record I’ve ever heard. You can tell they’re completely blitzed out of their mind and it’s awesome. It’s awesome.”
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.”
I love hearing stuff like that and it’s so cool to see Eric impart his wisdom of the genre on all of us.
Listen to Merle tell the story himself:
“Pancho & Lefty”
“Pledge Allegiance To The Hag”
Eric Church Watches George Strait Dance To James Brown
Eric Church shared a hilariously awesome George Strait story with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe on his “At Home” podcast recently, and it’s one for the ages.
Back on George’s farewell tour in 2014, Eric was opening a show for him in Omaha, Nebraska. Of course, Eric is a massive George Strait fan and even told Zane he would not only put him on the Mount Rushmore of country music greats, but he very well may be the greatest to ever do it in the genre:
“There’s an argument that you’re talking greatest artist of all time, in country, you’re talking about that.”
He goes on to talk about his time touring with The King, and that’s where it gets really good.
“We played Texas stadium. That was his last show. But, my favorite thing is we came up on his bus, the first show I played was an acoustic show I did in front of his show in Omaha, Nebraska, and we go up on his bus after the show. I took my wife.”
I mean, hanging out on George Strait’s tour bus? If that isn’t already the dream. But wait, it gets even better.
“We’re up there and George is, you know, he’s The King. And he just played in the round for all these people.
He’s up there, and we’re talking about music and I mention James Brown. And he goes ‘I love James Brown!’ I said ‘oh, good.’ So George has got his boots off, he’s in gold toe black socks, like dress socks.
And I said ‘let’s play some James Brown, come on.’ So he puts on some James Brown. And next thing I know, George Strait is tearing down in the middle of the bus, my wife’s tearing down with him, they’re all dancin’.”
You have to love it. I mean, what else would we expect from The King?
“I’m watching George Strait dance in gold toe socks to James Brown. It’s one of the coolest damn things I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve never seen anything like that. It is cool as shit.
So I’m watching this guy do this, goin’ ‘it doesn’t get better than this. This is the best I’ve seen.’ So, he’s tearing it up, man. George Strait and James Brown. Beat that.”
Well, George, James and Katherine (Eric’s wife). What I wouldn’t give to see that.
Of course, what’s the world’s biggest rodeo without George Strait himself?
The country legend drew a crowd of 79,452 fans, almost topping his 2019 appearance, where he set an NRG Stadium record of 80,108 fans.
For this year’s show, he played an astounding 29 songs over a course of two-plus hours, according to Houston Culture Map.
Although he drew nearly an identical crowd at his 2019 show, which featured Texas country legends Robert Earn Keen and Lyle Lovett, he decided to bring in a young face to join him on stage this year as an opener, and it was Ashley McBryde.
She performed her hits like “Martha Devine,” “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega,” “Voodoo Doll,” “Whiskey + Country Music,” as well as a kickass rendition of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider.”
After a 20 minute intermission, it was time for Strait to hit the stage.
He strutted on stage reppin’ a red and white plaid dress shirt, a black cowboy hat, blue jeans, and brown cowboy boots.
He kicked things off with his Pure Country movie hit song, “Heartland,” and the crowd was on their feet, roaring.
Needless to say, it was quite the memorable night for the man.