Paul English, Willie Nelson's longtime drummer, friend and a true country outlaw, dies at 87

English had been a full-time member of Nelson's band since 1966 and was also the inspiration for Willie Nelson's album 'Me & Paul'

                            Paul English, Willie Nelson's longtime drummer, friend and a true country outlaw, dies at 87
Paul English (Rick Diamond/Getty Images)

The famed percussionist Paul English, one of Willie Nelson's longtime bandmates, collaborators and partners in crime, died at 87, according to a statement issued by the band's publicist on February 12. He was extremely close to Nelson, forging a relationship with the musician that lasted for over half a century.

English was known as the road boss of Willie’s traveling company, besides being his tour accountant, protector, collector and enforcer. Nelson has even acknowledged that English saved his skin many a time during their misadventures over the years. English himself was deeply indebted to Nelson for similar reasons. "If I hadn't gone with Willie, I would be in the penitentiary or dead," English, a former pimp and gang leader, told Rolling Stone in 2014. "I was running girls and playing music at the same time."

Willie Nelson performs at The Spotify House during SXSW on March 13, 2016, in Austin, Texas (Getty Images)

English had long been a mainstay of Nelson's recording and touring band, nicknamed the Family, since 1966, and had continued to collaborate on-and-off with him over the decades.

English also served as the inspiration for at least two songs written by Nelson, namely 'Me & Paul' and 'Devil in a Sleepin’ Bag'. Sample lyrics from the former include Nelson boasting about their escapades (of which they had plenty, from drug busts to airport fights), singing: "And 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."


English famously hailed from the old-timey school of hard knocks, and the "cowboy outlaw" had earned a reputation for his readiness to brandish a firearm and engage in skirmishes that made him the perfect wingman to the equally tough-as-nails Nelson. "Wild, street-smart Paul," Nelson observed, "who always had my back and got me out of more scrapes than I care to recall."

English was also a master of percussion, drumming on such classic albums such as 'Red Headed Stranger', 'Stardust' and, of course, 'Me & Paul', the 1985 album which featured numerous pictures of the two old musician friends on its back cover.

According to the Austin Chronicle, "Among the practitioners of the largely Texas-spawned 'outlaw country' movement, English stood as realest of them all. Born near the Texas Panhandle in Vernon as Robert Paul English, he boasted a well-known criminal past as an oft-arrested street hustler and pimp on the underbelly of Fort Worth in the Fifties."

This fitted his no-nonsense boss man persona perfectly. With his beat-up drums, time-worn drum sticks, black goatee and an equally resplendent black cape, English struck quite a menacing figure, one you would think twice about double-crossing. That famous cape is now enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's 'Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring '70s' exhibit. Nelson further mythologized the legend and image of Paul by writing another song about him, titled 'Devil in a Sleepin’ Bag'. 

As an important and integral contributor to Nelson's legendary musical output over the years and as one of the most talented, hard-nosed workers in the entertainment industry, English leaves behind major league cowboy boots that will be hard to fill. He was a true blue musical outlaw who will be sorely missed.

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