Paul English, Drummer for Willie Nelson, Dead at 87
Paul English, Willie Nelson's drummer of over five decades, has died at the age of 87, Rolling Stone confirms. A native Texan born in 1933, he began joining Nelson onstage in the '50s, officially joining his Family Band in 1966.
Often described as a gruff, larger-than-life figure who got into shootouts in the '70s in defense of Nelson and his family, English is the subject of no shortage of evocative country music legends. A 2015 Oxford American article paints him as not only Nelson's drummer, but also a kind of bodyguard during the honky tonkin' '60s, when the music business was a little wilder and more deadly than it is today.
His person of "The Devil" had more than a little truth to it: Per Rolling Stone, he liked to dress all in black, donning a signature satin cape that is currently on view in the Country Music's Hall of Fame's Outlaws & Armadillos: Country's Roaring '70s exhibit.
"If I hadn't gone with Willie, I would be in the penitentiary or dead," English told Rolling Stone in 2014. "I was running girls and playing music at the same time."
In fact, his participation in Nelson's Family Band was something of a family affair, literally -- his brother, Billy English, also served as percussionist. English told Modern Drummer in 2005 that playing with Nelson quickly taught him creativity and the importance of thinking on his feet, as the country legend is a notoriously improvisatorial performer.
English continued to perform until the end of his life, despite suffering a minor stroke in 2010. He had, however, sat out some shows in the weeks leading up to his death: For a couple of shows in January 2020, English handed over drumming duties to none other than rock band Green Day's Tré Cool.
English was also an integral part of Nelson's on-the-road family. He served as inspiration for such legendary songs as 1971's "Me & Paul," which Nelson included on his 1976 album Wanted! The Outlaws.
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