photo: Andrew Shapter
Country Song Roundup
by Susan Scott
Paul English has been with Willie off and on as a drummer since 1954. “We were in Ft. Worth, Texas, and Willie was doing a radio show called Western Express. He needed a drummer and he called me to see if I knew anybody. I told him I could drum for him.”
“I got the job. I debuted that day with a spare drum and brush. The only thing I had neglected to tell Willie was that I had never played a drum before. I had musical training in high school, so I figured I could play the drums just like the trumpet,” he said.
A delightfully sincere individual with a heart of gold, but who really does look like a mind’s image of the devil, English serves as an extension of Willie. He’s more than just a right arm and there appears to be no one more important to Willie than Paul and vice versa.
“When I lost my wife of 14 years,” English said, “Willie stayed by me. He told me we wouldn’t go back to work until I was ready. He stayed off the road for three months and helped me get through some of the pain of losing her.
“He wrote a song for me about her. It’s called, “I Still Can’t Believe That You’re Gone.’ and it came out on the Atlantic ‘Phases and Stages’ album. I guess it means about as much to me as anything in this world.
“There is a love between us that you get after seeing a lot of life together. He wrote a song, ‘Me and Paul,’ about our relationship. We’ve been through a lot of things, covered a lot of ground — we’re more than just friends.”
And then Willie Nelson, red bandana tied around his forehead to keep his long sun-reddened brown hair from falling into his eyes, returned from his picture taking excursion.
“Hey, Susie, glad you could make it,” he said as he leaned over gently, kissed me on the cheek and squeezed my hand in soft salutation.Â these are natural gestures for Willie and other Family members. Paul doesn’t shake hands very often, he hugs everybody.
At the concert that night the backstage area was a conglomeration of Family members, press people and other guests. Also on the bill with Willie was Tracey Nelson (no relation), Linda Ronstadt had come to the club after her performance at another hall across town.
The crowd of Nelsonite fans at the second show went into a frenzy as the three singers swung into the old time gospel standards. The show went into th ewee hours of the morning and it was close to 3:30 a.m. before everybody reached the hotel and congregated in Willie’s suite.
Willie was the center of attention as he sat on the couch and talked about music and life to other writers that had wandered in. “Some say I’m an outlaw and play progressive country. Progressive is more a way of thinking and the way others interpret your music. It’s not how you look or what you do off stage.
“In conventional Country music some things are done and some are not and I never really believed in following all of the conventions. I was doing things that were foreign to a lot of people in Nashville. They’d been doing things their way a long time and it was working so resistance was understandable. We just reached a stand off and that’s about the time I went to Austin.
By 5:30 a.m. thee were only a few people left in the suite. Willie, who had wandered to another room, called out to everyone that was left. “Come here a minute everybody!”
The group gravitated toward the Texan. He was standing in front of a large picture window with the drapes drawn to their full recoil. Shades of gray, pink, violet and orange lighted the skyline. He leaned intently; his face pressed against the window. “Look at that,” he said almost in a whisper. “The moon is sitting there on that mountain, the stars are shining like they just came out and the sun’s going to be here any minute. There’s something about morning, its…” his voice trailed into a mumble and nobody quite got the last of his thoughts. He smiled as he watched the sun break over a distant hill. the group stood motionless and wordless, wrapped in the warmth of a Willie Nelson sunrise. there was an eerie feeling that it was all happening just for him that morning.
Willie Nelson, the Traveling Road Show
Country Song Roundup
by Susan Scott
You can purchase this, and other photographs by Scott Newton at www.WillieNelson.com.
“I take it not only a day at a time, but a moment at a time, and keep it at that pace. If you can be happy right now, then you’ll always be happy, because it’s always in the now.”
Lana Nelson, Billy Nelson, Susie Nelson, Willie Nelson, Grandma Harvie and Martha Jewelle
Thanks to George Fowler for sharing this family photo.