Archive for the ‘Paul English’ Category

Paul English

Sunday, April 5th, 2020

Wow, what a collection.

Thanks, Phil Weisman, for sharing this photo of Paul.

Paul English and Mickey Raphael

Friday, March 27th, 2020

Me and Paul

Thursday, March 26th, 2020

A video of fan photos with Paul English. We miss you.

Thank you, WillieNelson.com

Watch video here.

Paul English, Willie Nelson’s friend, drummer, enforcer, dies at 87

Wednesday, March 11th, 2020
“If I hadn’t gone with Willie, I would be in the penitentiary or dead,” Paul English, shown here in 2011, once said of his best friend.  (Rick Diamond/Getty Images)
“If I hadn’t gone with Willie, I would be in the penitentiary or dead,” Paul English, shown here in 2011, once said of his best friend. (Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

By Meagan Flynn

It was 1955 when Paul English, transitioning between roles as a gang leader and a Fort Worth pimp, met Willie Nelson on a small-time country radio show.

One of the most storied friendships in country music history began that afternoon by accident, really. English had tagged along to the station with his older brother, who scored a gig playing steel guitar on Nelson’s “Western Express” radio program. But Nelson’s drummer didn’t show, and so he looked to English to fill in. He had never beat a drum in his life. “They just told me to keep patting my foot,” English told Oxford American in 2015.

From that day forward, English never stopped tapping his foot for Nelson.

English, who would go on to become Nelson’s best friend, bodyguard, accountant, road manager and one of the most formidable gun-toting drummers in country music, has died at the age of 87, Nelson’s publicist, Elaine Schock, confirmed to The Washington Post on Wednesday night.

Schock said she was notified of English’s death on Tuesday. She said that she did not know the exact cause, but knew from close family friends that English had been battling pneumonia.

Nicknamed “the Devil” for his famous black-satin cape and matching hat, English toured with Nelson and Family right up until the end. The two friends’ escapades, immortalized in Nelson’s “Me and Paul,” would take them from the underbelly of Fort Worth honky-tonks to some of the world’s biggest stages. “We received our education/In the cities of the nation, me and Paul,” as Nelson sings in the titular track of his 1985 album “Me and Paul.”AD

After decades on the road with Nelson, English told Rolling Stone in 2014 that Nelson saved his life.

“If I hadn’t gone with Willie,” he said, “I would be in the penitentiary or dead.”AD

The drummer was born on Nov. 6, 1932, in Vernon, Tex., to devoutly religious parents active in the Assembly of God Church, where English played the trumpet, he said in Nelson’s 1988 autobiography. He soon got into gangs as a teenager once he started hanging on Hell’s Half Acre, a wild strip of honky-tonks in Fort Worth. He beat up a couple guys who tried to jump him and won praise from the Peroxide Gang, a group of outlaw cowboys named for the chemicals they slicked into their hair, as Oxford American reported.AD

After sometimes committing up to a dozen break-ins a day, English took pride in being named on a Fort Worth tabloid’s list of “10 Most Unwanted” criminals for five years in a row, he said in the autobiography. But after getting jailed for a burglary, he tried to get back on the straight and narrow.

And that’s about the time he met Nelson.AD

English knew of him only from hearing his show on KCNC, and from Nelson’s voice and persona, English “thought he was an old man,” he told Oxford American. He said Nelson reminded him of an “ol’ cotton-picking, snuff-dipping, tobacco-chewing, stump-jumping, gravy-pot sopping, coffee pot dodging, dumpling-eating, frog-giggin’ hillbilly from Hill County, Texas.” But when he showed up to the station that afternoon in 1955, he was surprised to see Nelson was his own age.AD

Despite his lack of experience, Nelson liked him. He invited English to play a six-week gig at a bar for $8 a night, English recalled in a 1981 interview with Modern Drummer magazine. After that, English knew he had found what he wanted to do.

“The money wasn’t that great, but I loved playing, and I got to play in front of the girls,” English told Oxford American. “The girls loved musicians.”AD

It was an era when clubs stretched chicken wire across the bandstand so the bands wouldn’t get hit with beer bottles, Modern Drummer reported. After Nelson moved to Nashville to pursue his own career — the only real hiatus in the relationship — English found work playing with Good Time Charlie Taylor & His Famous Rock and Roll Cowboys. They played Elvis Presley and Nat King Cole at rough clubs prone to brawls, like the County Dump, which was literally located next to the county dump, he told Modern Drummer.AD

Short on cash, he made his living as a pimp, prostituting women from Fort Worth to Houston, where he purchased several rental houses. He insisted to Oxford American, “I was a good pimp. I never did beat a girl.”

Finally, though, Nelson returned to Houston in 1966, and yet again, he was looking for a drummer.AD

“He knew I was making a lot of money. He asked me how to get a hold of a certain drummer we both knew in Fort Worth,” English told Modern Drummer, referring, incidentally, to the same drummer who didn’t show up to Nelson’s radio show. “I said, ‘S— Willie! I’m better’n him!’”

English was hired — for the next five decades.

They toured all over the country as Nelson and Family exploded onto the country music scene, driving in a station wagon with a trailer hitched to the back that once blew a tire on the side of the road. He told Modern Drummer that on one occasion they traveled 15,000 miles in 18 days, for nine gigs, their longest route ever. At stops from Los Angeles to New York, Nelson and English shared motel rooms, and when Nelson got too drunk, English made sure he got home safe, sometimes sitting on the end of his bed to make sure he was okay.AD

But English wasn’t just a road manager and a drummer and an accountant. He was an enforcer, too, pulling guns and swinging fists at anyone who dared cross the Family.

“Willie feels safe with me behind him,” English, who also served as a board member for Farm Aid, the benefit concert for farmers co-founded by Nelson in 1985, said in the autobiography. “I carry two guns, for one thing.”

He once shot at Nelson’s son-in-law’s car for laying a hand on the artist’s daughter, Lana, and once shot at steel pedal player Jimmy Day for insulting English’s dead wife, Oxford American reported. Once he “commandeered a forklift” and used it on a club owner’s Ford Thunderbird, attempting to force the guy into coughing up the band’s performance fee, the magazine reported.AD

“Without Paul, Willie’s story is half as interesting,” Paul’s son, Robert Paul Jr., told Oxford American. “The music’s still gorgeous, but there’s no shootout at Lana’s house. All these stories are part of the legend and serve to define outlaw as outlaw, legitimately outside the law. He was the real deal.”AD

Reflecting on their friendship in the interview with Modern Drummer in 1981, English recalled the first time he ever saw Nelson cry onstage. They were playing “On The Road Again” to a sold-out crowd of 18,000 people in Kansas City, Mo. Thousands took out lighters or lit matches, waving them in the air, and English looked over to see Nelson wiping tears.

Celebrating Paul English

Thursday, March 5th, 2020

Thank you, Ashley Morales, for sharing picture of pamphlet at Paul English’s memorial service on Tuesday.

Paul English

Wednesday, March 4th, 2020

Janis Tillerson sent this photo from the memorial for Paul English yesterday at Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth. Paul passed away February 11th.

  “Displayed on stage were Paul’s cape, red patent leather boots,
a leather purse hand tooled that Paul made for his precious sister.”

From: www.oxfordamerican.org
by:  Joe Nicki Patoski

At Willie’s urging, Paul purchased a black satin cape with red satin lining at Sy Devore’s in Hollywood and started wearing it onstage, cultivating his image as the Devil, “the prettiest angel in heaven,” as Paul liked to say. Shortly after he bought it, he was wearing the full-length cape on the elevator of the Holiday Inn in Hollywood where the band was staying, along with a black shirt, black pants, red patent leather boots, and his sculpted goatee, when the elevator door opened up.

Paul stepped off the elevator just as Little Richard was entering, wearing his own cape. “But Little Richard’s cape only came to his waist,” said harmonica man Mickey Raphael. “Paul walked out, head held high. Little Richard walked in, and did a double take.”

When Paul added some dry ice to create a smoke effect around his drum kit for a gig at Panther Hall in Fort Worth, he discovered the cape getup was a chick magnet. “When I got offstage, there were fifteen girls waitin’ for me, wanting my autograph,” he smiled.

Me and Paul

Monday, February 24th, 2020

Paul English was the most gracious person. He would walk around before concerts, always so kind to fans and never said no to any request for a Me and Paul photo. Here he is with Cherie and I.

Shelly and Paul

Miss Tex and Paul

Andy and Paul

john rosenfeld

John and Paul

Paul English: On The Road with Willie Nelson (Modern Drummer)

Sunday, February 23rd, 2020

www.ModernDrummer.com
by: Scott K. Fish
May 1981

It’s difficult to write about Paul English without mentioning Willie Nelson. Paul says that Willie is his “favorite subject.” But, there’s something admirable about long relationships. For three decades the team of Nelson and English has been on the high and low sides of country and pop music. No drummer can play Willie Nelson’s music better than Paul English because Paul’s drumming is a great part of Willie’s music. You can hear the empathy, the craziness and the love.

SF: You’ve been playing with Willie Nelson for a long time. Maybe you could go back and talk a bit about how you got started playing drums.

PE: Playing the drums was really an accident. My family were musicians. My older brother had me going to music school before I was out of grammar school. I was taking trumpet lessons. I played trumpet in church, junior high school and in the high school bands. Then, after I got out of school I set up a leather shop. Willie was a disc jockey at the time. 1954. My brother called me on the phone and wanted me to come up to the radio station. They were doing a live 30 minute thing to help promote jobs for their band. Back then, musicians were really having a hard time. So, they called and wanted me to play a little snare drum with the brushes. That was my debut on drums! They couldn’t pay me anything, but since I had my own shop I could take off. Most other drummers who had to have a separate job could not take off. My job was ideal. I could take off anytime I wanted.

Up until that time, I’d never played drums before in my life! I just came in and all I did was play the snare drum. Then, after about a week somebody dug up a bass drum, and pretty soon they had almost a little set. I had a hi-hat, snare, bass drum, and one cymbal. I didn’t know what to do with a pair of sticks at that time! But, after about six weeks, the band got a job and they all asked Willie, “Well, who do you want to get as a drummer?” And good ol’ Willie said, “Well, I think we ought to use Paul. He’s been working six weeks for nothing!” By then, I was starting to enjoy it.

SF: Could you read music?

PE: Well, I did know about music. I took music and theory. I can’t sight read drum music, but I know how to read it. I can sight read trumpet music because I had to transpose that during church. The trumpet’s a B flat instrument and church music is all written in C major. So, I had to learn how to transpose in church and play the other keys in school. At any rate, I went to work, and Willie would start the count off and that’s how it would go! Everywhere we went we started out making $8.00 a night. Three nights a week. That was pretty good pay, really. That was about the highest they paid.

SF: Were you doing any road tours at that time?

PE: Oh no. Nobody could think about that at the time. Even Roger Miller at that time was living in the back of his car playing about five miles outside of Fort Worth. No one was making any great money at that particular time.

SF: Was this around the time you were playing those clubs where they used to stretch chickenwire across the bandstand so you wouldn’t get hit with beer bottles?

PE: Yeah. There were actually two of those places. I’ve worked in some pretty hardcore clubs. One place was called The County Dump. It was next door to the county dump! And somewhere else over on the Northside, called The Bloody Bucket or The Basement. Whichever! We worked there for awhile.

SF: I wanted to ask about a stigma that seems to get attached to country drummers. That because they’re not “busy” players you often hear that it requires little or no skill to play country western drums.

PE: That depends on what they’re playing! Music is music. Working with Willie is a lot different than working with somebody else. Without people knowing it, maybe, we play jazz, pop, and we play some hardcore country. Musicians know it! I like to go from a funky 4 beat into a good country 2/4 in the same song. It gives it a good release, a good feel.

Also, I like to interpret the song. What does the song say? The only thing I dislike about acid rock is that it only has one level and that’s “high.” I think music should have lows and valleys and sometimes no drums at all!

Louie Bellson was the only drummer I ever talked to when I was younger. And he said, “It’s not what you play—it’s what you don’t play.” I’ve found that to be my inspiration, really. I like to build up to something loud, and just leave out that one beat. Then, maybe come back to a soft shuffle. See, I play with mallets, brushes, sticks, and I play with wooden brushes that nobody has ever heard of because I made ’em!

SF: What are wooden brushes?

PE: You take some little bitty dowels. Wooden dowels. Take about 15 or 20 and cut them off the length of the stick and glue them all together in a circle. Wrap some tape around them and file the ends off. They’re only about a quarter inch in diameter. Then you have your set of wooden brushes! I used them on “On the Road Again,” ’cause I’m playing 16th notes with a syncopated accent. I also like to play bells. I like to play bells in between the notes. I like to accent with the sock cymbal rather than the bass. Just an open sock. I haven’t seen anybody else do it, really. I got to doing that because when I first started playing with Willie we played with brushes and one stick most of the time. I didn’t have a stick in my right hand to accent, so I would just crash the sock cymbal and catch it loose, not quite tight at the top.

And I crash it with my left foot. Now, after 15 years of working with this style, I can crash it on a 16th, just before the beat. Ka-choom! And then just bring it down to a nothing. Ba-doomp.

I like things like that. I use two rhythm patterns on “On the Road Again.” I’m playing ah 1, ah 2, ah 3, ah 4, still with a four beat with the wooden brushes. Then it will go into the instrumental part. I’m trying to imagine the bus swaying back and forth while I’m playing and 1, and 2, and 3, and 4. Accenting the and on 1 and then 3 and 4. When I play ah I , ah 2, ah 3, ah 4, the accent is on 2 and 4.

The wooden brushes give a tremendous effect. A lot of times on outdoor gigs where you should use brushes, like on “Stardust,” if it’s pretty noisy I’ll use the wooden brushes. Sometimes, I’ll start out with the wire brushes, switch to wooden brushes and then go to the sticks in the middle for the instrumental part. And then go back to the wire brushes again.

SF: Were you playing the old standards like “Stardust” back in 1954?

PE: We were doing some of that. We were also doing “Perdido.” But, back
then songs like “Sixteen Tons” were the style. That was really hot. Lefty Frizzel was about the hottest thing going then. A musician had to be really diversified to play an old joint, but you didn’t have to be good! So, in one respect I came up lucky because now you have to be good and diversified also! At that time, you didn’t really have to be good because it didn’t pay any money and you were liable to show up for work and the place would be locked up. And that was no big deal either.

SF: Back then, on an average night, what songs would you most likely have to play?

PE: You had to do whatever was popular at that time. We did everything. Elvis, Dean Martin, Lefty Frizzel. My cousin, brother and myself organized a band and we did go on the road with that band. This was 1956. Willie at this time had moved to Waco, just before he moved to Nashville. So, we organized a band and we did what was sort of like Elvis rock.

SF: Rockabilly material?

PE: Well, that’s what they call it now. Back then, everybody called it rock. We called ourselves Rock & Roll Cowboys. And then we had a show called The Grand Old Uproar and that lasted about 45 minutes. Before that we’d do songs by Willie, Elvis, Nat King Cole. The good dance stuff. That’s what they wanted. The Grand Old Uproar was a type of a show. My cousin would do imitations— change hats, you know. And he had different names for everybody: Ernest Bucket, Lefty Frizzle, and he’d do their songs. He’d imitate them. I’ll tell you, if we worked as hard now with as much talent as we have now as we did back then, we’d be dynamic!

In Kansas City the other night, we were doing “On the Road Again” and 18,000 people all lit matches at the same time. It was like they turned all the lights on! Willie was really emotional. This is tears to my eyes. I looked over and Willie was wipin’ a tear out of one eye, trying to hide it, and then he got the other eye. I saw him and I remembered back when he and I were driving along in this old station wagon, pulling a trailer. We were driving and one tire had a blow out. And I just remembered that and thought, ‘Boy, this is sure a long way from that blow out.’ But, it was really living back then. For me it was.

SF: You’ve been with Willie about 26 years now, right?

PE: Yes. I haven’t been with him constantly, but we’ve been in constant contact.

SF: When did Willie decide to make it with his own material?

PE: He put the band together in ’66. We never tried to buck the establishment or anything like that. This is when Willie was recording for RCA. What happened was, we would go in to record and cut a voice track, and it would be released with 37 pieces! It would be a fantastic arrangement but it wasn’t what we were selling. We couldn’t match that on stage. We were drawing a pretty good crowd, but our record was only selling about 20,000 a year. Will does that a day on each album now. All we wanted to know was, “Can we go in and produce? Can we go in and cut our stuff?” Because at our shows people would come out and tell us, “We like to hear you, but we don’t like your records.” So, we just wanted to go in and see if we could make records. It wasn’t like we were trying to make it big or anything. We never even dreamed of anything like that. We always thought we were a success as long as we could make a living!

So, Willie said, “The hell with it.” One time they wouldn’t even release a record so Willie said, “Well, we’ll just move to Texas.”

Several record companies got in touch with Willie. Columbia was one of them. I thought they were offering too much money! At that time I think they were trying to take him off the market. That’s when we made a deal with Atlantic. We got to use our band and I got signed approval. We did two records for them, Shotgun Willie and Phases and Stages. In Phases and Stages they talked Willie into using another band after we did it.

SF: Why do you think the record companies wouldn’t let Willie use his own band for recording?

PE: RCA just didn’t do that! They didn’t have to promise him any money upfront, and Willie was about breaking even. They figured if he ever hit something, he’d be good. Merchandising is all it is. At any rate, when Atlantic dropped their country office in Nashville and Jerry Wexler (producer) quit, that gave us an excuse. So, we went to Columbia and Willie now has complete artistic control. I mean, we go out and do the records; we did Stardust in three days. We’ve never taken over three days to do an album.

We don’t know what we are gonna do when we go in the studio! Alright? When we did Stardust, Willie had 80 songs. We got the lead sheets because he didn’t want to do them wrong. This is the type of a song you’re supposed to revere. That’s what we thought. That’s our thinking still! We weren’t trying to jazz them up or anything like that. No, they were good when they came out. So, Willie just wanted to make sure he got the melody straight-on. We got a hold of Booker T. and he played with us and that was a real inspiration.

Willie never tells us how to play. If I’m playing fancy he might say it’s too busy. But, like he told me one time, if I wasn’t a better drummer than he was, he wouldn’t have hired me!

SF: Let’s backtrack a moment, Paul. What was it like when you were traveling in a station wagon pulling that trailer?

PE: Well, it varied. Of course we weren’t out nearly as much as we are now. I still remember our longest route very well. We went 15,000 miles in 18 days and played 9 jobs. We started in San Antonio, to New Jersey, to Los Angeles, to San Francisco, to San Diego, back to Los Angeles, to Phoenix, and back again to Los Angeles for the American Association of Country Music (AACM) awards. The last day was from Los Angeles to Stamford, Connecticut. We had 69 hours to make it!

SF: How many of you were there in the car?

PE: There were 5 people. Pulling a trailer with our P.A. system and everything. We set it up ourselves. Amps, and brain that I worked. One microphone. One microphone stand.

SF: Were you playing Rogers drums back then?

PE: I was playing Gretsch.

SF: I imagine that life on the road is a little different now?

PE: Yeah, it’s quite a bit different, but we were having fun then. A lot of people talk about them being hard times. They weren’t really hard times. We might not have had any money, but we had enough where we didn’t go hungry. We weren’t wet. Back home, if we ain’t cold, we ain’t wet and we ain’t hungry, we classified it as a “good time.” We got a kick out of being 69 hours from that 3,280 miles. It was a challenge and we said, “Well, we’ll show ’em that we can do it!” And we had to dress in the car on the way to the gig. I don’t remember them as bad times. There are just as many bad times now as there were then. You know, I worry about Willie now security- wise. Of course most times, like Willie says, “Who hurts you worse than security?”

SF: Do you rehearse before you go on the road?

PE: We’ve never rehearsed in our lives. Even to this day. Willie doesn’t want to rehearse. That’s the reason we don’t know what we’re gonna record. When we recorded Redheaded Stranger we did not know it was a concept album until the second day. So, Willie didn’t do the songs in sequence. But, we did hold that mood for 3 days. That’s how our group cut that one, too. Willie doesn’t want you to pre-plan anything. That’s where we’re different from a lot of people because we don’t want anything planned. We want it to be spontaneous. Willie won’t have a soundtrack or anything play behind him when he appears on TV. We do it ourselves because we think that after we’ve done the songs awhile, they can improve. The only arrangement we have is what we follow from Willie. That’s how we improve it. But, if I hear him hit it one time, then the next time he does it again, I may do something with it. And if he hits it again, I may do something and then Willie may hear me do something with it. The bassman will probably hear me and then it sort of gets left in the arrangement. It builds as we play. Willie doesn’t want anything rehearsed to sterility and everybody in our band believes in that.

SF: When Willie writes new material, he just goes out onstage and surprises everybody?

PE: Oh, he does that. We did one song at a recording session just the other day. Took us two and a half days. I asked, “How do you want the ending?” Willie said, “I don’t know. Something like that.”

SF: Are you still taking care of the business end of the band as much as you used to?

PE: Yes. Well, I started out that way, I guess, because it got down to where it was just me and Willie. Just by seniority alone, I probably have been the bandleader. I make sure everything’s coming off right. We don’t believe in many titles, but if you had to put a title it would be bandleader. Bandleader and Road Manager. Whatever. But, now I have a lot of help.

I’ll say one thing for our band. Everybody in our band, except Chris who we just hired, worked in 1973 for $100 a week for a year. What’s so funny is that we owe more money now than we did then!

SF: When were you first aware that your music was catching on to a much larger audience than it had been?

PE: Well, the music was catching on almost everywhere we played. We played a place in Texas, the type of place where they have hay in the rafters. That’s their acoustics. At that time, I was wearing black suits with a long red felt-lined cape. And they called me “The Devil.” We played there on Friday night; Saturday during the day we played at the State Capitol; Saturday night we played in Austin; Sunday we played at a Country Club in Brownsville, Texas. We played the same show at every place! And we were going over! Our records didn’t represent us at all.

SF: With such a large following now. Do you feel any kind of responsibility towards your listeners?

PE: Oh, for sure. That is why I told you about the first time I’d seen Willie cry before an audience. I did, too! I was really emotional. I felt that was a moving thing. Of course, all the time the audience controls us. They always determine what we play. Many times, before we were very popular, we’d start off playing one thing, and if it was a country crowd, Willie started throwing in “Fraulein” and things like that. He makes sure he pleases. We try to please the crowd. We’ve always tried to do that. One time Willie was signing an autograph not too long ago. A policeman told him to move on. He said, “You’re gonna find yourself in jail!” Willie said “Okay.” Kept signing autographs. I ran and got the sergeant and that sergeant took that policeman and got him away from there! In Kansas City they wanted us to set up a table and sign autographs! You can’t do that, really. If it comes spontaneously, it comes. But, if you set up a table, they’ll take the table and everything! There’d be such a crowd. One time we played a place and a girl passed out and she didn’t have anywhere to fall. She stayed passed out upright.

SF: Was it a tough adjustment not playing small clubs anymore and playing the big halls?

PE: We still play the small clubs. Just before we played at the last Fourth of July picnic, we played all the old Texas joints that we used to work in. We just didn’t advertise. I mean, we didn’t tell anybody anything. We just went back and played for them and did a grand opening that seated 300 people.

SF: So, being famous wasn’t a hard adjustment?

PE: No. I don’t think I am famous. Maybe infamous! I guess I’m recognized a lot now. And I like it. There’s a price you pay for it, naturally. Like Willie said one time to this lady that was right on top of his head. It was in San Antonio and she said, “Oh, you’re Willie Nelson! You don’t remember me do ya?” And he said, “No M’am. I don’t. But, I appreciate you rememberin’ me.” I thought that was the greatest comeback I’d ever heard in my life!

SF: Newsweek had quoted you as saying that one of the things you learned from Willie was tolerance.

PE: Oh yeah. I have learned that. I used to get in fights. I still do, but now maybe it’s just twice a year instead of every week. Now, everything I do is a reflection on Willie. These people don’t really know me, and so whatever they say doesn’t really matter. If they say something smart, I just turn around, say ‘Thank you very much,’ and go on. Whereas before, I would just turn around and say “Okay mother! Let’s get it on!” I fought Golden Gloves for 9 years. I really can take care of myself. But, also I always carried a pistol. But, I’ve seen Willie ride in the back of cars when I know he’s had 2 hours sleep. And I’d wake him up and he woke up with a smile! And I know that has been a forced smile a lot, but, it did things for me. You know, I thought, “Well by God, if he can do it, I can do it!” The tolerance is for the people. A lot of people can be abusive sometimes and overbearing. And Willie will just be so kind and so gentle. In that respect I learned an awful lot.

I never took any of his heed in business, now! I think Willie’s a lousy businessman. Because he believes in people. All the people. He doesn’t believe in contracts or anything like that. Y’know, everybody isn’t that nice.

SF: As far as your commitment to the music, back in 1954, did you always feel that music was what you wanted to do with your life?

PE: Oh yeah. For sure. I had to play. It’s in your blood. Or if it’s not in your blood—it’s addictive. I had to spend less than $50 traveling or flying somewhere and back for a gig, and unloading my drums cost $40. I was working 3 nights a week and making $15 a night. So yeah! I’d say I was working for the love of it.

SF: Did you ever reach a point where you wanted to get out of music?

PE: No, I never did. That’s the reason I went to work with Willie this last time. I owned about 5 houses and a couple of duplexes. I sold them all one at a time because I needed the money to play and stay with what I wanted to do. At that time, I didn’t think it was dedication to the music, so to speak. It was just really what I wanted to do. So, it was purely selfish.

SF: And you never had dreams of becoming famous?

PE: No, I never did. ‘Course after you see people around you that do make it, you might think, “Boy, that would be nice.” But, we never did think we could really do it. We weren’t really thinking in that direction, back then. I can recall the first 500 dollar day that I booked. Took me 6 months to get another one!

SF: How do you feel about Rogers drums?

PE: Well, I love ’em, really. I already had a brand new set of Rogers, and the company gave me another set. Instead of taking them I just augmented the drums I already had. Now I’ve got 7 tom-toms, one bass drum and a few little toys that I play with. A vibraslap, a cabasa, a tambourine, and a Chinese bell tree which I’ve got mounted on a stand. I play it note for note. They’re not ‘true’ in pitch so you have to memorize which note corresponds with the other. Like, I have one of the bells that naturally has a mark on it. And I can count, like, one time I’ll start on that one, on some other songs I’ll start with the one below it, or two above it. I just have to memorize which bell corresponds down.

SF: How about your cymbals?

PE: Well, I’ve always used A. Zildjians. Rogers drums, Speedking pedal, and a Ludwig snare.

SF: Does it matter to you, really? Are you fussy about what you’re going to play on?

PE: Not as long as they’ve got good hardware and handle like these handle. It really doesn’t matter. These particular drums I’ve got, I don’t know whether they’ve aged or what, but the reason I didn’t want to take a new set is because I like the wood in them. I like the way they sound.

SF: Is your snare wood?

PE: No, it’s metal. I like the snare really crisp. I’m using a brush head, y’know, a symphony type brush head and it’s got a rough surface.

SF: You play a lot of brushes!

PE: Yeah, I do play a lot of brushes. Fastest brush in the West.

SF: Why did the band decide to use two drummers for awhile?

PE: Well, when Jody Payne had a song out called “Three Dollar Bill” we were trying to let Jody have about 15 minutes to push his song. I would come out and play behind him and the crowd was used to seeing Willie behind or in front of me. They’d always start clapping for Willie and when Jody would start to sing you could forget it! So, we hired Rex Ludwick just to sit in for Jody. And it worked fine. We were coming back from New Jersey for the CMA (Country Music Awards) awards and CBS had two sets of drums already miked on the set. I said, “Let’s try ’em together.” And that’s how we started with two drummers. But, Rex hasn’t played with us since last year.

SF: How did you personally like working with another drummer?

PE: I liked it for awhile. I think at the end we got a little too overpowering. Rex is more or less like a rock star. My theory is if I can’t hear every word that Willie’s saying, I’m playing too loud. Rex’s theory was supposed to be if he couldn’t hear everything I was playing, he was playing too loud. That came from Willie. I learned that from Willie. Sometimes I would ask him, “Am I too loud? Am I too soft?” He’d ask, “Well, can you hear me?” With the microphones, I can play brushes and they can turn the volume up. We always have the same sound man, light man, monitors, sound system, same monitor guy working on it. That helps a lot. They’ve got, I think, 13 mikes on my drums. All my drums are double-miked. They mike the snares on the top and bottom.

SF: Why double-miked? One set for recording?

PE: No. There’s just two mike’s on each drum. I’ve got two overheads and also a swinging mike for the bell tree and the toys that I play with. I like that.

SF: Do you use the same drums in the studio?

PE: Oh, yes.

SF: All seven toms and everything?

PE: Yeah. In the studio, I don’t play like I do live, because it doesn’t sound the same. It would sound terrible! Now, if you had the same crowd noise like we had in Tahoe when we did the Live album that would be different! The audience was about 90 decibels. But, in a studio, I just couldn’t play that loud.

SF: Do you use different tuning or heads in the studio?

PE: I mute them a lot. Just put tape on them and mute them. We did that Ray Price album, and that was one I really loved! I played good on that, I’ve got to admit. It was mostly brushwork. That’s one thing about playing country music or the old songs. We’re not playin’ what we heard. We’re playin’ what we lived a long time ago.

SF: Is there a history of “country drummers” that could be traced, say similar to the history of “jazz drummers?”

PE: Well, when I started out there was only one drummer of any prominence. Gene Krupa. I still have some old records that he used to do. Then it was Joe Morello, naturally. I’d like to sit down and figure out all his rhythm patterns. And now, I don’t know. There’s so many great ones now. Probably the greatest one was Ginger Baker. But, there’s so many great ones now, it’s hard to pick a drummer.

SF: What kind of music do you listen to for your own enjoyment?

PE: Usually, I don’t listen to music at home unless it’s something that we’ve done. We make a tape of every show, and that is more or less our rehearsal. We listen to it. After I’ve listened to what I’ve done I’ll say, “Well, I shouldn’t have done that there.” Or, “That’s in the way there.” When people come over, that’s when I play my records. And, I don’t like hardcore country! Or acid rock.

SF: You don’t like hardcore country?

PE: No. Because there’s nothing there. You know what I mean? I like to take out our records and listen to lyrics and sometimes the rhythm patterns.

SF: What are you listening to when you’re onstage?

PE: I listen to who’s playing the lead, and the bassman. That’s Bea Spears. The band has two bassmen now, but Bea Spears is who I listen to. We play very good together. Jody and I hit some new licks while we were playing “Kansas City” behind Hank Cochran the other night. I don’t know how it came about because I was just listening to him and it came out that way. We can never duplicate it because we don’t know what we did! You had to be there.

SF: Have you ever thought about doing clinics?

PE: No, I couldn’t. I’m not capable. If somebody asked me something, I’d answer them. I’ve always done that. Especially younger kids. But I don’t know if I’m capable enough to teach. No, not at all. I’m not a rudimental drummer. I don’t play rudiments. I did talks at a Career Day in a high school recently, if that’s what you’re talking about. About traveling in bands. I’ve done that. I did it to show what they could expect. That is what you can expect if you go out, you know. If you’re expecting to make big money, well, be a plumber, because you’re going to make a lot more money. Twenty years is not very long to be a musician. I’ve been playing music per se since I was seven years old. I’m 47 now. I usually tell them, if you think you ought to quit, and you can, then you should. I never was able to.

SF: How’s Willie as a bandleader?

PE: He’s what you see. Willie’s not the luxury type. He’s the blue-jean type. Sometimes we forget how famous he is. To us he’s just ol’ Will. He’s not the boss or anything like that. And if anybody ever messes up, all you have to say is, “Man, I’m sorry I messed up. I’ll try to do better next time.” And he always says, “Well, I can relate to that.” He doesn’t want to hear any excuses. Just say, “I messed up, man. I’ll try not to let it happen again.” I usually say, “I messed up and if I live long enough it’ll happen again.” Because it will. I want to say I like what I do, but I like what other people do, too. But I hear something different. It’s not rudiments. It’s . . . .

SF: Experience?

PE: Yeah, true. I guess it’s something like that.

SF: Could you single out any one thing that you could attribute your success to?

PE: Willie Nelson, really. The main thing. Because, of the kind of person he is. I never would’ve worked that hard for money. And then the type of music he’s playing. With Willie the first thing you’ve got to do is forget to count and start feeling it instead. Willie says the difference between reading music and playing by ear is the difference between writing a book and reading a book. At one time, Willie was classified as a musician’s entertainer. When he came out with his first record, I went down to the radio station and had them put it on an 8-track so I could play it in my car. Then I Wrote . . .had all the heavy songs on it. When I started playing with him, it was so hard! We would do things like “Blackjack Country Chain” and the sock cymbal comes down on one. And that’s all! One on the sock cymbal. And the bass drum was 2, 3 and 4. With your right hand you played a shuffle with a brush. With your left hand you hit in between the beat with a stick. I played with groups where once we started playing good, they fired us! Because it wasn’t country. The other guy I used to work for was Ray Channing. I loved him, but he’s dead now. We worked a hall one night with him and he came over and said, “What kinda shit ya call that?” But, I said, “This is where I want to be, man.” It wasn’t the money. It was where I wanted to be. Willie didn’t ask to hire me. I asked to be hired.

Willie used to come through Houston with just a bassman and he didn’t have a drummer. He came through there and was just putting together a band and I’d always go out to see him. He knew I was making a lot of money. He asked me how to get a hold of a certain drummer we both knew in Fort Worth. I said, “Shit, Willie! I’m better’n him!” And he said, “Well, would you work for $30 a night?” I said, “Damn right I would!” And that struck it off and I went to work for him. We did 29 one-nighters in a row. And that was pretty good money then. It wasn’t what I was used to making though.

I worked on a little kids T.V. show. Captain . . .something! We used to work all day. Real early in the morning and then in the evening. And it paid great money, about $500 or $600 a week. The host hated us because the union made him hire a live band. All we did was play some song while he made up words to it.

SF: So, what’s ahead for the group?

PE: Well, all that’s good, as far as I’m concerned. We’ve been working hard this year. This is the first time we’ve really had off. The last tour lasted over 6 weeks. Before that, we’ve only had as much as 6 days off between tours. And now we’ve got quite a bit of time off and I’m enjoying myself, personally.

SF: Were you working much with the movies?

PE: We worked on this last one, Honeysuckle Rose. It lasted 6 weeks. But, it wasn’t that time consuming. It was just waiting for them to get everything together. All we did in the movie was play to a live audience. A real audience. See, we promoted the gigs and everything and we charged the people to get in. That was a real audience. We promoted that outside show just like we’d ordinarily do. Like the Fourth of July picnic we promoted in Austin. They were real shows for the audience. That was the only time I really got off. But, it’s a lot of waiting before you get ready to go. That’s not good for us because we like to pick.

Saturday, February 22nd, 2020

Paul English to be celebrated at Billy Bob’s Texas (March 3, 2020)

Saturday, February 22nd, 2020
photo: Alexandria Olivia

www.DallasNews.com
by: Michael Granberry

For as long as we can remember, Willie Nelson has opened his shows by singing “Whiskey River,” as in, “Whiskey river, take my mind / Don’t let her memory torture me.” And many of those “Whiskey River” moments happened in Fort Worth, where the songs of a country music icon gyrated off the walls of honky-tonks all over Cowtown. The man behind Willie, providing the percussion, was Paul English.

So, it’s fitting that on Tuesday, March 3, at 2 p.m., Fort Worth’s reigning honky-tonk, Billy Bob’s Texas, will host a “Celebration of Life” for English, who died on Feb. 12 at 87.

It was no secret to anyone that English’s job description went well beyond drumming. He reveled in being Nelson’s gun-toting, de facto bodyguard. He once used a forklift as a weapon, damaging the car of a club owner who’d refused to pay Nelson what he owed him. English became a full-time member of the Nelson Family Band in 1966, but the two shared a stage together — in Fort Worth — as far back as the 1950s.

Billy Bob’s made the announcement of English’s upcoming memorial on Thursday, when, in its press release, it noted the following:

“Paul was proud of his Fort Worth heritage. He grew up on the North Side and as a youngster boxed in the Golden Gloves and played trumpet in the Fort Worth Salvation Army band. After graduating from Fort Worth Polytechnic High School, he became a regular at some of our city’s more infamous establishments in Hell’s Half Acre, along Jacksboro Highway and, of course, the Fort Worth Stockyards, where he organized some of the area’s more notorious activities.

he release notes that English met Willie Nelson in the mid-1950s “and has been his drummer, protector, bookkeeper and most trusted friend for the last 60-plus years. It’s only fitting that his memorial be held right here in the heart of his beloved Cowtown at the honky-tonk he loved so much.”

The memorial is open to the public, with Billy Bob’s saying that it’s “important to the family that all of Paul’s local friends, musicians and supporters are welcome as we celebrate his life.”

Kevin Smith, Paul English

Thursday, February 20th, 2020

Me and Paul

Tuesday, February 18th, 2020

Paul English

Sunday, February 16th, 2020

Thank you, Phil Weisman, for sharing these black and whites of Paul English.

Paul English, outlaw

Friday, February 14th, 2020

www.rollingstone.com
by: Patrick Doyle

On a quiet afternoon outside Texas’ oldest dance hall in 2013, Paul English sat in the back of his tour bus, counting money. Though he would be playing drums that night with his boss, Willie Nelson, the 81-year-old English also had other responsibilities: collecting payments from promoters, and handling sound, lighting, hotel bills, and payroll for Nelson and his 19-person traveling crew. This had been English’s job since the Sixties, back when they played dive bars. English, an intimidating character with a criminal past, made sometimes dodgy promoters pay up — occasionally using a pistol.

That day, at New Braunfels’ Gruene Hall, English showed me a sheet documenting the finances of their tour, a two-week stretch of Texas clubs. “Sometimes we do real good, sometimes we don’t do well at all,” he said. The smaller venues on this tour meant “we have several of ‘em that won’t be very good,” he said. English’s shelves were full of binders documenting the itineraries of past tours; he pulled out one from an Australian run in the late Seventies and flipped open to a page detailing the country’s drug laws. English’s iPad pinged; his online chess partner, “BioWillie,” a.k.a. his employer of a half-century, had made a move from a nearby bus.

English, who died Wednesday at 87 after battling pneumonia, was Nelson’s drummer, bookkeeper, and protector — and best friend. Nelson normally doesn’t like to pick favorites, but he didn’t hesitate to call English that when I was reporting the first of two features about the country music legend. Nelson wrote 1971’s “Me and Paul,” about their times together — the run-ins with the law, wild nights, and skepticism they faced going through the world as country outlaws. Up until this year, English could always be seen playing the snare drum directly behind Nelson during “Me and Paul,” grinning especially at the line: “At the airport in Milwaukee, they refused to let us board the plane at all/They said we looked suspicious/But I believe they like to pick on me and Paul.”

“It’s all true,” English said of that song. That line about being “busted in Laredo for reasons that I’d rather not disclose/But if you’re staying in a motel there and leave/Just don’t leave nothing in your clothes”? English said that happened in 1969, when Nelson headlined a benefit concert. Someone working on the show saw Nelson and English smoking in their hotel room, and their room was later searched. “The road is never dangerous to me,” English said of their travels. “Willie was just such a nice guy, you know? And he’s really that way. That’s what I like about him.”

“Had it not been for Willie, I would be dead or in the penitentiary,” English once said. They first met in 1956, in Fort Worth, Texas. Nelson had a noontime show on the local station KCNC called Western Express, where he sang and spun records, introducing himself as a “snuff-dippin’, coffee-pot-dodgin’ hillbilly from Hill Country.” Paul’s brother Oliver was a guitarist and a musical mentor to Nelson, well versed in the styles of Django Reinhardt and Andrés Segovia. In his book It’s a Long Story: My Life, Nelson said he liked Paul from the moment they met: “[He’d] been busted for some petty crimes and gone to jail in Waxahachie,” Nelson said. “He was a gun-toting, fun-loving outlaw with plenty of charm with no fears.… He talked about how he’d been on the Fort Worth Press‘ ’10 Most Unwanted List’ five years in a row.”

English was a leatherworker, not a drummer, but that didn’t stop Willie from asking him to drum on a cardboard box behind him on live radio. Nelson liked his tempo, and English started sitting in with Nelson at a local dive. “We just played one place: 4010 Hemphill,” English said, remembering the address 60-something years later. They played three nights a week for six weeks, $8 a night per musician. After Nelson moved to California and elsewhere, they kept in touch. “When he would play Houston, he’d stay out with me,” English said. “We’d stay up all night, you know, playing music, stuff like that.”

English wasn’t always proud of what he’d done before joining up with Nelson. “I was pretty bad, pretty bad,” he said, describing his behavior as a young man. According to Joe Nick Patoski’s Willie Nelson: An Epic Life, English was working as a pimp in the Sixties when Nelson asked him to join his band permanently. He agreed, even though it meant going from making thousands of dollars a week to $30 a night.

Soon, Nelson’s career picked up. He moved from Nashville to Austin and formed the Family Band, a wildly eclectic crew that included his sister Bobbie on piano, the young harmonica player Mickey Raphael, and the long-haired hippie bass player Bee Spears, and they started drawing huge crowds at the hippie club the Armadillo World Headquarters. The starkest figure onstage was English, who wore all black, including a hat and a cape. Nelson encouraged English to wear the cape after they spotted it while window-shopping in Hollywood. English worried it would make him look like the devil. “With that face hair, you already look like the devil,” Nelson recalled saying in his book. “Why else are those gals chasing after you?’ I went in and bought if for Paul. He wore it onstage for the next 50 years.”

On his bus, English told me that he and Nelson had gone through a lot of pain together. His hardest moment came in the early Seventies, when he lost his first wife, Carlene. “My first wife killed herself,” English said. “Willie helped me through that.”

The loss set English on a destructive path — he went from 180 pounds down to 135. Around that time, Nelson persuaded him to go to Mexico, where they hung out with Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan, who were filming Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. “The guys told me: ‘Every once in a while, you’re going to have a good day … and that helped me,” English said. Nelson wrote the gorgeous ballad “I Still Can’t Believe That You’re Gone” about English’s loss. He waited a year to play it for English. “It brought me to tears,” English later wrote. The song wound up on 1974’s Phases and Stages, one of Nelson’s best albums.

English would later watch how Nelson dealt with tragedy, including the time when he lost nearly everything to the IRS in the early Nineties. “He was always positive-thinking,” English said. “When he had trouble with the IRS, he didn’t worry about it.”

In conversation, English played down the legendary stories about his checkered past. He laughed at their “outlaw” label: “I don’t know about that,” he said. Asked about his forceful tactics collecting money from club owners, English allowed, “There were times like that. Not very many, but there were times.”

English suffered a stroke in 2010. But he was back on the road almost immediately, even if he spent less time onstage and handed most of the percussion duties over to his brother, Billy English. Nelson said that Paul didn’t mind being out of the spotlight. “Oh, he loves it,” Nelson said of his longtime friend. “In fact, one time we did the Spirit album tour where it was just stripped-down acoustic set with no drums, but Paul went along anyway and kept the books, collected the money.”

English said he wasn’t sure why he liked the road so much. “I just like it. It’s a way of life, I guess. I like hearing Willie sing. We don’t ever know [what he’ll play] until we get up there. He don’t have a set [list]. He starts off with about four or five songs, and that’s about it, it’s up to him where he goes.” The hardest part of touring, English said, was keeping his house in order when he was gone most of the year; getting a basic home repair done could take 15 years. “Just coming and going,” he says with a snap, “a whole year goes by like that.”

photo: Patrick Doyle

This week, Willie’s son Micah Nelson, who played percussion alongside English for years, paid tribute to his late family friend’s artistry: “Paul English was one of the most underrated drummers in country-jazz music,” he wrote on Instagram. “He had a style unlike anyone. He would play just a snare drum with a brush and a stick, straight four-on-the-floor and shuffle on the snare drum at the same time … it should not have worked, but somehow it worked perfectly. I would stare at his hands all night in a trance. It was deep. Like my dad’s guitar playing, nothing about it makes sense, but it makes perfect sense.”

“He was a freak pimp like for real,” Micah continued. “An OG freak who didn’t take any shit. He carried a pistol and had to use it more than once dealing with shady promoters. He looked after my dad for many years on the road, especially in those early days. He was never anything but kind to me.” Nelson’s daughter Paula echoed that sentiment: “He was my namesake. He was my godfather. He was my family. He and my dad walked me down the aisle. He was one of the coolest outlaws there ever was.”

A few hours after our interview at Gruene Hall, English made his usual journey over to Nelson’s tour bus to hang out 30 minutes before showtime. Soon he’d be onstage at the rickety but historic club, grinning as he played the shuffle to “Me and Paul” and breaking out shakers for Bobbie Nelson’s gospel instrumental “Down Yonder.” English had stuffed a portion of that night’s payment into a pocket of his black shirt, and several $100 bills could be seen spilling out. “It’s hard to give up,” English said of his job. “It really is.”

Paul English, on drums

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

PAUL ENGLISH on playing drums with Willie Nelson from Brent Car on Vimeo.