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

photo: Alexandria Olivia
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.”

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