Paul English


Of all the rough characters the Outlaw Country music scene can boast, only one has a glass eye and is a former gang leader and pimp. Only one when asked once by a 20/20 reporter if he carried a gun, and if so could he see it answered, “Which one?” because he notoriously carried two at all times. Oh, and for years wore a cape. YES, A CAPE! Because he wanted to look just like the Devil.

He is none other than Paul English, Willie Nelson’s long time drummer, money man, and friend. And despite his significance in the Outlaw movement, there is little information and appreciation for Paul out there.

Paul’s parents were devout Christians, but despite all his Sunday learnin’, he ended up becoming the leader of the “Peroxide Gang” in Ft. Worth, TX, and later an outright pimp. Ft. Worth was the first place Willie Nelson really started playing music professionally, and in the late 50’s, it was a rough scene. Downtown was full of brothels and night clubs, and stabbings and shootings were very common. One club Willie played at was Gray’s Bar. They had to rig up chicken wire in front of the stage to protect the band from flying beer bottles and would-be homicidal stage crashers.

Sometimes Willie would not get paid. Willie met Paul, and Paul told Willie he could help him with that. Paul became Willie’s strong man, and eventually Willie’s drummer. I’ve said many times in conversation that if it wasn’t for Paul, Willie would be living under a bridge in Houston. And Paul says, “Had it not been for Willie, I would be dead or in the penitentiary.”

“I started making the papers in 1956 when the “Fort Worth Press” started running a “10 Most Unwanted” list. I made it five years in a row. I was involved in three murder trials, but they never led to anything. I was the kind of guy they were always trying to stick charges on . . . In ‘55 I started running girls. This went on for a long time. It was a good business but you had to work hard . . . I had become really adept at picking locks. We had a contest on how many daytime burglaries we could pull and I think I pulled twelve. I don’t think I was ever legitimate until I started playing drums for Willie in 1966.”

Wilie Nelson’s band is notorious for being like one big family, and Willie gives a lot of credit to his success to the fact that he’s been able to keep the same people around him for so long. The very first part of that family was Paul English. Paul officially became Willie’s drummer when Willie asked Paul, ironically, if he knew any good drummers. The only reason Willie never considered Paul was because he thought he couldn’t pay Paul enough money.

But Paul saw something in Willie, and he might have been one of the first to see it. Paul gave up his high living lifestyle to go play for Willie for sometimes no money at all, or IOU’s, because he could see Willie’s singular talent, and knew it would eventually pay off. And pay off it did. During Willie Nelson’s heyday, Paul English was the highest paid drummer/sideman in music according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Whatever Willie made, Paul got a 20% cut of.

Paul’s strong arm tact and loyal friendship is one of the reasons Willie Nelson was able to become such a success, and was able to become the face of The Outlaw movement. Willie gave tribute to his friend and manager on the groundbreaking album Wanted! The Outlaws with the song “Me & Paul.” Here Willie is performing the song with Paul in 2000:


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6 Responses to “Paul English”

  1. Monique says:

    Love to read an article about Paul 🙂

  2. Benn--GregoryNanopoulos says:

    Not too long ago–I think it was August/Sept 06 when Willie came upstate NY to do an open field concert. I saw Paul outside the bus talking to a fan–I waited patiently and got my turn–WHAT A SWEET LOW KEY UNASSUMING MAN…..

    We talked about the 1960’s — and he asked if I met Willie yet??…and since I already met Willie (Willie took in every word –it’s true when you talk to him you get his full attention–like you and he are the only people on the planet)–I felt I already had my chance–he’s busy and maybe it’s some other lucky person’s turn! — anyways —

    .. Paul English was wonderfully gracious — he was interested in what I had to say–if not, he made me feel that way. I have the 1971 WN&Family LP -the one where Paul is standing around the campfire with the “Family” and he is wearing a red cape. I had it signed by Paul and framed it -and everytime I see that record -it takes me back.

    I see why his band is called “the Family”…. and it is just as amazing to meet the band as it is talking to the front man Willie — I got to talk to Mickey at length–and Paul’s Brother–Billy. And they had some very interesting insights into the early days. Paul may be an outlaw — but he talks to you like an inlaw….Thanks for reading my reply.

  3. Monique says:

    Thank you Benn for your nice reply … I enjoyed reading it.

  4. Rachael says:

    Benn, love the way you phrased that, from an outlaw to an inlaw. Beautifully put.

    Whatever Paul’s previous ‘shenanikins’ he is one of the loveliest guys you could ever wish to meet. Willie obviously choses his friends (and family!) wisely!! To me Paul will always be one of natures true gentleman.

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  6. After reading the article, my memories of Paul, Ft. Worth & our parting days in the 50s are decidingly different than what Paul relates but guess that goes with the illusion of show business. Hope Paul has no deficits from stroke………
    Party on old man, Bobby Reddell

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