Willie Nelson‘s 60th birthday concert in 1993 featured luminaries from Ray Charles and B.B. King to Bill Clinton and Gary Busey. Even Roseanne and Tom Arnold dropped by. The highlight of the night, however, was Willie’s duet with Bob Dylan on “Pancho and Lefty.” Backed by bassist Don Was, drummer Kenny Aronoff, keyboardist Benmont Tench and mandolinist Marty Stuart, Nelson and Dylan delivered one of the definitive versions of the 1972 Townes Van Zandt classic.
The song has been in Willie Nelson’s repertoire ever since he recorded it with Merle Haggard in 1983. They turned it into a huge hit, and six years later Bob Dylan began sprinkling it into his set list on the Never Ending Tour. Dylan last played the song at Bonnaroo in 2004, along with Hank Williams’ “You Win Again” and Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home.”
Dylan and Nelson have toured together many times in recent years. In the summer of 2004 they often duetted on “Heartland” (a song they wrote together in 1993), but they have yet to tackle “Pancho and Lefty” again. Willie continues to play it at his shows, but Dylan’s set lists have grown increasingly predictable and he almost never plays cover songs.