Music

Paul English, Longtime Drummer for Willie Nelson, Dies at Age 87

Paul English, Willie Nelson's longtime drummer in the Family Band and the namesake of classic Nelson song "Me and Paul," recently passed away at the age of 87. Per a Feb. 12 report by Austin 360, English died in a Dallas-area hospital following a bout with pneumonia.

Outlaw was no mere artifice for English, a former pimp from Vernon, Texas. His relationship with Nelson dates back to at least 1955 when they played together on a Fort Worth radio station. Between then and English joining the Family Band in 1966, he toured with Delbert McClinton and others.

"If I hadn't gone with Willie, I would be in the penitentiary or dead," English told Rolling Stone in 2014. "I was running girls and playing music at the same time."

Touring with Nelson didn't exactly soften English's image or separate him from danger. A 2014 deep dive penned for the Oxford American by Nelson biographer Joe Nick Patoski describes English's role in shootouts to protect Nelson's family and other moments from a life as a de facto bodyguard. Another legend cited by the Houston Press depicts English as a strong-arm collections agent whenever club owners owed Nelson money.

In Nelson's 2015 autobiography It's a Long Story: My Life, he described English as someone "who always had my back and got me out of more scraps than I care to recall."

English's off-stage persona as "The Devil" was accentuated by an all-black wardrobe and a cape now on display as part of the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum's Outlaws and Armadillos exhibit. This image lent itself to two songs on the Shotgun Willie album: "Devil in a Sleepin' Bag" and the Leon Russell-penned "You Look Like The Devil."

Just as Nelson's Family Band really was a family affair because of his sister Bobbie Nelson's involvement, the touring ensemble also included English's brother Billy English.

English performed for Nelson until the end, despite suffering a minor stroke in 2010 and missing shows in January during which Green Day's Tre Cool filled in on drums.

The classic song "Me and Paul" debuted on the 1971 album Yesterday's Wine, appeared on the game-changing 1976 compilation Wanted! The Outlaws and served as the title track for the 1985 album Me & Paul.

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Paul English, Longtime Drummer for Willie Nelson, Dies at Age 87