On Wednesday, the world lost one of the original outlaws of country music. Paul English was not only Willie Nelson’s drummer, but also a friend and a protector for over half a century.
And English was a true character, often decked out in a black satin cape with red lining. He was the “money man” for Nelson’s band, ready with a .22 pistol if the need arose. It usually never did.
Texas-based music writer and Willie Nelson biographer Joe Nick Patoski wrote what’s considered the definitive article about English for the Oxford American in 2015. He says Nelson and English had known each other since the 1950s.
“Paul really looked up to what Nelson was doing, so he joined the band in 1966 and has been with the band ever since,” Patoski says.
Their relationship is what led to Nelson’s transformation into a country music “outlaw.” English was Nelson’s “muscle” – he made sure Nelson got paid for his gigs.
As a drummer, English was self-taught. But Patoski says he made it work because he “loved the idea of what music was … and how it affected people.”
English’s strength was keeping a steady, mid-tempo rhythm. He’s used mostly brushes instead of drumsticks for the past few decades, which toned down the band’s sound, Patoski says.
For Nelson, losing English is like losing his best friend – and more.
“It’s not just his drummer; this is Willie’s business partner,” Patoski says.
And he was an integral part to every performance of Nelson’s band, making sure everything was in place before the show started.
“This hole’s not gonna be filled,” Patoski says. “You can’t invent another character like Paul; he was one of a kind.”
Written by Caroline Covington.