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Paul English, Willie Nelson’s longtime drummer and best friend, dead at 87

Willie Nelson‘s longtime drummer and close friend, Paul English, has passed away aged 87.

English was immortalised in Nelson’s 1971 track, Me and Paul.

willie nelson, paul english

Willie Nelson’s longtime friend, drummer, and personal bodyguard, Paul English, has passed away, aged 87.

The pair had a long friendship, and English was Nelson’s collaborator in more ways than one, including being his personal bodyguard. English was described as “the road boss of Willie’s traveling company, tour accountant, protector, collector, and enforcer.”

In his 2016 memoir,  It’s a Long Story: My Life, Nelson describes English as “wild street-smart Paul, who always had my back and got me out of more scraps than I care to recall.”

Elsewhere, Nelson has described that “[English] saved my life.”

In a 2020 interview, English was asked about what he had learnt from Nelson over the years. “I’ve learned benevolence and how to be peaceful,” he responded.

English joined Nelson’s band in 1966 and continued to perform with Nelson until his death, sharing percussion duties with his younger brother, Billy. English was known for his tough but flamboyant style, modelling himself visually off the devil, grooming his facial hair, dressing in all black, and often wearing a satin cape. His cape is currently enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s exhibit.

Music biographer, Joe Nick Patoski has described the many times that English got in fights on the road, often pulling out a .22-caliber pistol he kept in his boots. Speaking to Patoski, English’s son, Paul Jr. had said: “If you’re writing songs about shooting people, it’s nice to have a guy who’s shot people up there onstage with you.”

English’s drumming can be heard on numerous Willie Nelson records, including Red Headed Stranger and Stardust, as well as Me & Paul, which features a collection of images of the pair on its back cover.

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