Archive for the ‘Paul English’ Category

Watching Willie Nelson’s Back

Saturday, October 10th, 2015

by:  Joe Nicki Patoski

Paul English was talking about breaking someone’s legs, cheerily using the threat as a means to get to the punch line of a story. The four men listening to him in the back of the touring bus hung on every word—because it was Paul, because it was very difficult deciphering his nasal mumble filtered through a twang, and because whatever he said was likely to be true.

“I told Lana we could do something,” Paul was saying. “We could break his legs. We have to do something to him. We cain’t go and leave him walking. We’d of done that to him. That’s nothing.”

He was discussing the shoot-out at Ridgetop back in 1970, just outside of Nashville, when Willie Nelson and Paul English defended a house full of family against Willie’s daughter’s husband and his gun-toting brothers, one of many larger-than-life incidents that have been burnished into legend over the course of the career of Paul English’s boss and best friend, Willie Nelson. In this particular story, Willie’s daughter Lana’s  husband, Steve, had hit her, prompting Willie to go over to their house and slap Steve, pissing off Steve so much that he and his brothers drove over to Willie’s house and started shooting. The altercation ended with Paul firing .380-grain bullets from his M1 rifle into the bumper of Steve’s car to “get him to go on, goodbye.”

When Steve returned to apologize the next day, Paul told him he was glad he had kept driving away. “Otherwise, I would’ve had to aim to kill, rather than shoot to miss,” Paul said in a low growl that suggested a ruthless predatory killer, followed by a sharp cackle. Everyone hearing the story laughed. But Paul wasn’t kidding.

For almost fifty years, Paul English has spent his nights literally watching Willie Nelson’s back, as his drummer. The rest of the time he has functioned as Willie’s more figurative back—a job that runs 24/7.

From the drummer’s chair, English sees everything, just like the catcher on a baseball team. His oversight goes far beyond maintaining the odd, minimalist beats that guide Willie’s music. For him, the drummer’s chair is the perfect perspective for running the most storied touring organization in country music. More important than being Willie’s drummer, or his best friend, is Paul English’s combined role as the road boss of Willie’s traveling company, tour accountant, protector, collector, and enforcer, roles embellished by his proud past as a hoodlum, pimp, and police character. For all the good vibes that the Red Headed Stranger imparts at his Fourth of July picnics, Farm-Aids, and wherever he plays “On the Road Again,” there’s an understanding shared by one and all in this band of gypsies: Mess with Willie Nelson and the next thing you’ll see is the wrong end of a gun held by the Devil himself, Robert Paul English.

Say what you want about economics, ethics, efficiencies, legalities, and proper ways of conducting commerce in the world of entertainment. Anyone who’s survived six decades in the music business understands the value of having a police character in your organization. As Willie explained to an associate who’d wondered why he kept an asshole like Paul on the payroll, especially when he couldn’t keep time as a drummer: “He’s saved my life.” More than once. Besides, as the singer Delbert McClinton has observed, “Everyone in this business needs an asshole.”

That sort of explains why the asshole drummer who can’t keep time was once the highest-paid sideman in the business, getting 20 percent of all of Willie’s action as well as a fat salary for drumming and for doing the books, which he has done since he signed on in 1966.

Those songs, such as “Nightlife” and “Family Bible,” that Willie famously sold for fifty bucks a pop, giving up his publishing rights? Paul got them back.

No telling what his method of persuasion might have been, but with Paul there is always, always—to this very day—the veiled threat of violence bubbling under the surface. Often as not, the perception is tied to Paul’s fondness for guns, at least one of which is always somewhere on his person.

Largely thanks to Paul, Nelson was able to survive on the rough and rowdy honky-tonk circuit traveled by Nashville recording artists in the 1960s. He was also instrumental in running the road part of the business when Willie ascended to one-name superstar status in the 1970s and 1980s.

At eighty-two, a year older than Willie and four years off a minor stroke, Paul has slowed down considerably. But in the musical subgenre known as outlaw music, where country and rock have mixed it up ever since Waylon and Willie and the boys stepped forward, Paul English is that rare bird who really is an outlaw, a hoodlum-made-good as sideman, sporting so much character for a character that his boss wrote not one but two songs about him: the autobiographical “Me and Paul” and “Devil In A Sleeping Bag,” complementing Leon Russell’s tribute, “You Look Like the Devil.”

As his son Paul Jr. observed, “If you’re writing songs about shooting people, it’s nice to have a guy who’s shot people up there onstage with you.”

The high cheekbones, long sideburns, thin beard and goatee, the widow’s peak and slicked-back hair framed by designer glasses (whose tinted lens mask a glass eye) all telegraph Beelzebub, despite his age. Although he no longer wears the black satin cape with red lining that was once his trademark on stage, and he doesn’t appear to carry his “bidness” in his sock anymore, darkness shrouds Paul’s lanky frame—black shirt, black slacks, black hat, and black boots. It’s his favorite color, he’ll tell you.

Paul English at Willie Nelson’s Atlantic Session. © Estate of David GOf all the characters in the merry-prankster rolling revue known as Willie Nelson and Family, no one—not even Willie—casts a shadow like Paul, Willie’s shadow for life. He first drummed for Willie on the fly in 1955, on Willie’s radio show on KCNC in Fort Worth, and he drums for Willie today, assisted for the past thirty years by his younger brother Billy, who also plays percussion.

Inside the Family, Paul is the ultimate authority. He’s the Judge. It’s the same role he played back in Fort Worth in the 1950s and early 1960s when the Dixie Mafia ruled the underworld. If two hoodlums had a beef that they couldn’t take to the police, they’d go to Paul. No matter what he decided, his word was accepted as law, because Paul English had the reputation among characters as a man who was even-handed, judicious, and demanded respect.

“I was a good street hustler because I treated it as a business,” he explained. (more…)

Farm Aid Board Member Paul English, Farm Aid 30 (Chicago) (9/19/15)

Monday, September 28th, 2015

hoto:  Alice Kaufman

Farm Aid Board Member Paul English, at the Farm Aid 30 press conference.

Willie Nelson and Paul English

Sunday, September 6th, 2015

Paul and Billy English

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015


The talented and handsome English brothers.

photo thanks to Katrina Smith

Bobbie Nelson, Paul English, Lana Nelson

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015

This great photo was taken at the BMI Awards Banquet on November 6, 2007, when Willie Nelson was honored with the BMI Icon Award.

Willie Nelson and Paul English

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

photo: Janis Tillerson

Love this moment when Willie Nelson turns around and shakes Paul English’s hand, after the band plays, “Me and Paul.” Hard to capture sometimes, but Janis did a good job on the 4th of July

Willie Nelson & Family

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015


Willie Nelson and Family on the 4th of July in Austin

Monday, July 13th, 2015

photo: Janis Tillerson
Willie and Paul

Bobbie Nelson

IMG_2990IMG_2861 Billy English



Mickey Raphael IMG_2955

Kevin Smith

Paula Nelson Band & the SPring Fiesta, Saturday May 2, 2015 (Wimberley, TX)

Friday, April 17th, 2015


Paul English, on drums

Monday, January 19th, 2015


Thank you, Katrina Smith, for sharing your photo of the great Paul English, from the sold-out Phoeniz, AZ show.

Paul English, on drums

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

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I love this photo Janis Tillerson took in Austin on New Year’s Eve.

Willie Nelson and Family, NYE (Austin City Limits) 2014

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

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photo: Janis Tillerson

I know you are as happy as I am when you hear Janis Tillerson is going to a Willie Nelson & Family show. We fans get photos like this. Thanks, again, Janis. She took all these photos.

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Bobbie Nelson

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Paul English

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Mickey Raphael and Billy Gibbons.

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Billy English

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Kevin Smith

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Mickey Raphael

Willie Nelson & Family, and fans (NYE, Austin City Limits)

Friday, January 2nd, 2015


Willie Nelson, Bobbie Nelson and Paul English spent a long time after the NYE’s show, signing autographs and shaking hands.   Janis Tillerson is holding onto a guitar that belongs to a woman, who would like Willie to sign her guitar.   Willie, Paul, Bobbie all signed the guitar.  Plus, Willie tossed his first bandanna to her that night.  She was crying by the end of the evening, just feeling that love.



Tuesday, December 16th, 2014


photo:  George Fowler

Paul English: The man behind Willie Nelson (Oxford American: Southern Music Issue)

Thursday, December 4th, 2014


Order your copy here:

The Oxford American is proud to release the 16th annual Southern Music Issue, which honors the profound musical history of TEXAS in 160 pages of writing and art, along with a 25-song CD compilation.

The cover features a stunning portrait of Guy and Susanna Clark taken in 1975 by iconic Nashville photographer Jim McGuire. Guy Clark’s song “My Favorite Picture of You,” the title track from his Grammy-winning 2013 album—written for his wife just a year before she died in 2012—is a highlight of the CD.

Along with Clark, the Texas compilation features music that best exemplifies the state’s rich, diverse sounds and traditions. Artists showcased on the album include Ray Price and Bob WillsBilly Joe Shaver and James McMurtryBuddy Holly and Waylon JenningsLee Ann WomackOrnette ColemanSarah JaroszFreddy FenderWillie NelsonBarbara LynnJohnny Winter, and others.

In the magazine: Tamara Saviano on the poetry of Guy Clark; Joe Nick Patoski profiles Willie Nelson’s longtime drummer, Paul “The Devil” EnglishAmanda Petrusich remembers Houston hip-hop genius DJ ScrewDom Flemons interviews Arhoolie Records founder Chris StrachwitzRachel Monroe tries on Roy Orbison’s glasses; Michelle García searches for the birth of Tejano music; Margaret Moser pays tribute to the Austin music scene; Tom MaxwellCynthia Shearer, and Nathan Salsburg profile Texas folklorists and the musicians they recorded—and much more. The issue also presents new poetry by John PochNaomi Shihab Nye, and David Tomas Martinez, and short fiction by Bret Anthony Johnston.

The Oxford American’s Southern Music Issue has generated high praise during its years of publication. The Houston Chronicle described it as “the single best music-related magazine of any given year,” while the Boston Globe simply termed the issue “a welcome fix.” Chris Issak called it “a great, great magazine . . . like getting four years of Rolling Stone all in the same magazine.” In December of 2012, New York Times critic Dwight Garner wrote that the Music Issue CDs “practically belong in the Smithsonian.”

The Texas Music Issue was funded, in part, by a successful kickstarter campaign that raised $53,757 from 1,008 individuals.