Willie Nelson to Tell Untold Stories in Book on Drummer Paul English

There are few friendships as legendary in country music as the one Willie Nelson shared with his drummer Paul English. Much more than a drummer, Paul English was also the long-time manager and right hand man of Willie, and a close personal friend. A member of Willie’s band from his start in shady bars in Fort Worth, Texas early in his career, all the way up to Willie Nelson shows in 2020, Paul English was the seminal member of Willie Nelson’s Family Band, and considered by many to be one of the most revered sidemen in American music. Paul English died on February 12th, 2020 at the age of 87.

“There’s something about my friendship with Paul that reminds me of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn,” Willie Nelson says. “Tom was more civilized and Huck was wilder. Although I was plenty wild at age twenty-two, I’d have to say Paul was wilder. Like Tom and Huck, though, we became a team. Nothing could or would ever separate us. If someone tries to tell my story without putting Paul by my side, don’t bother reading it.”

That is why Willie Nelson himself is recalling his legendary friendship and personal conquests with Paul English in a new book called Me and Paul: Untold Tales of a Fabled Friendship, to be released on September 20th. The title draws in part from the song “Me and Paul,” which first showed up on Willie’s 1971 album Yesterday’s Wine, then appeared again in 1976 on the landmark Wanted: The Outlaws compilation that became country music’s first Platinum selling album. Willie also released an album called Me & Paul in 1985, which included a new version of the song.

Born in 1933, Paul English’s parents were devout Christians, but despite his upbringing, English ended up becoming the leader of the “Peroxide Gang” in Fort Worth, and later a pimp running women. Fort Worth was the first place Willie Nelson really started playing music professionally, and in the late 50s and early 60s, 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 Nelson would not get paid. This is when Willie met Paul, and Paul told Willie he could help him with that. Paul became Willie’s strong man. Many believe that if it wasn’t for Paul, Willie would have not been nearly as successful. And Paul says, “Had it not been for Willie, I would be dead or in the penitentiary.”

“In 2020, my closest friend left me. Into the infinite abyss,” Nelson writes in the introduction to the new book. “The mission of this book is to bring him back….Why were Paul and I so devoted to each other? Good question. That’s another reason I wrote this book—to show the mystical connection between me and Paul…. It was like I knew him before we ever met. And now that he’s gone, he’s still here. He still knows me. He still lives in my heart and in the hearts of everyone whose lives he touched. Another thing about Paul: I owe him big time. The man saved my life more times than I can remember….”

Willie Nelson has survived through so many of the deaths of his fellow musicians, contemporaries, family and band members. But perhaps none of them was bigger than Paul English.

“It’s been said that a good friend knows all your best stories, but a best friend has lived them with you. Well, that was us…. In the Willie Nelson Family, he stood in the center. I was the front man of the band, but he was the front man of my life. He was the papa bear, the big brother, the wise uncle, the money man, the bag man, the dealmaker, the sharpest shooter, and the kindest heart.”

Written with David Ritz, the 256-page Me and Paul: Untold Stories of a Fabled Friendship is now available for pre-order.

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