PAUL ENGLISH has been playing and traveling with Willie Nelson longer than just about anyone. He’s more than a drummer, he’s Willie Nelson’s best friend and also handles many of the duties of the tour, including security and collecting the payment. Paul English played on several of Willie Nelson’s albums including “The Redheaded Stranger” and “Stardust.” He was kind enough to give us this interview.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is our great pleasure to welcome our special guest, Mr. Paul English. Thank you so much for joining us here on The Paul Leslie Hour.
Who is Paul English?
(Laughs) I don’t know. He’s just old Paul around here. Just old Paul, that’s all.
Well, I think most stories are best from the beginning so tell us, where are you from?
Fort Worth, originally.
Fort Worth, Texas. And what was life like growing up?
It was pretty mundane, you know. It was pretty mundane. It just, just happened. I looked around and all of a sudden, I’m 78 years old.
Well, tell us. Was there a lot of music playing around the English household?
There was a lot of music around the household. You know, my older brother he was a musician. I’m not a musician but my brother was a musician so that’s, that’s where the all the music come from.
Did you parents play a lot of records or was there a radio playing around the house a lot?
The radio was playing all the time.We listened to the radio all the time. I mean, all the time…And so I had the radio going all the time and we listened to country western all the time.
Can you remember a favorite musician growing up?
Sure, I can remember a favorite musician growing up. Willie was the number one musician around our house. I didn’t know it, but I thought he was an older man, the way he came across, you know. But we listened to his show – it was three, three and a half hours I think, and we listened to his show every day. We listened to it every day so that, that was the main thing.
How did you begin to play music?
Oh that was, that was an accident, you know. I played trumpet all my life, you know, ‘cause my brother asked me to take lessons in trumpet so I took lessons in trumpet. And I played a little bit around town but not, not anything spectacular, you know. My brother called me from, I think it was KCLU but I don’t remember the name of the radio station. It was where Willie was playing at. So they wanted me to come up there and play the drums. And I never had played the drums before. He said ‘You can do it. You just count 1-2-3-4 and count off like that and start playing..’ And so I said ‘OK, I’ll try it.’ So I just – I didn’t have a full set. I just had a snare drum. So I said ‘1-2-3-4’ you know? And I could play that, I could play the bass. That’s about all I could play, you know? Then I got a bass drum – I was sitting on a Coca-Cola case – and a chair, and that’s how I got started playing the bass drum. The bass drum and the snare drum. And then somebody got me a snare. I finally got a snare drum. After about six weeks we, you know, we got a job. And everybody said ‘Well, who we gonna get to drum?’ I didn’t think they was gonna use me ‘cause, you know, ‘cause – see what I – I was too busy at the time, you know. I could take off work. It didn’t bother me to take off work ‘cause I could make it up some other time down the line. So everybody …why didn’t we wanna use Paul ‘cause we spent all this time for nothing. So my first job was with Willie. And I think my last one’s gonna be with Willie as well.
Well, let me ask you this. What was your first impression of Willie Nelson when you met him?
He was a lot younger than I thought he was. A lot younger than I thought he was – a year younger than me. I was shocked to hear that. He sounded like an old man on the radio but he sang good.
Have there been any drummers that have influenced you over the years? Any drummers that you appreciate?
Oh, yeah. Yeah, there was, there was a drummer a long time ago, you know, that I used to listen to a lot, you know. I can’t remember his name now but I remember him. I remember him very well, I just can’t remember his name.– anyway, it wasn’t Mickey. It was something else. It’s so far back I can’t remember his name. There was another drummer but I can’t remember his name either so that goes to show you.
Do you have any favorite stories from the road, from playing with Willie Nelson?
(Long laugh). You know, I’ve got a lot of them. Just a lot of them. Yeah, there’s an awful lot of them. Yeah. I started working for him in ’66. That was, that was when I started the job – in ‘66 and we’ve been going ever since. But yeah, there was some good stories about what got me going and all that. All the stuff we had to do at that time, you know? Like collecting the money – that was, that was the main thing. Collecting money was the main thing to me.
So there was a time when it was harder or – for the act to get paid.
Oh yes. It was really a lot harder then. We never were beat completely but one time. We got beat out of it completely and that was, I think that was in Florida somewhere or something. That was where a guy wasn’t gonna pay us. He wanted to pay me $600. I said ‘Well, that’s OK.’ And then Willie said ‘No, that’s not all of it. It’s all or nothing.’ So he’s like “OK. Nothing, then.’ and he kicked us out. He had a policeman kick us out. He had his own police force right there. Sam, he didn’t get a contract. That’s how we couldn’t beat that … without a contract.
Well thankfully, Willie Nelson and the Family Band are in a lot better position right now (laughs).
Oh yeah. It’s a whole different story now. It really is.
Why do you think people love Willie Nelson so much?
(Laughs) I don’t really know. You know, I really don’t know. Maybe they lose faith … as far as I know. I know he’s a great guy. I mean, I know he’s a great guy, you know, but I don’t know what keeps him popular. I don’t know about what makes him popular. I really don’t know.
When Willie came out with the album and the song Me and Paul how did you feel about that?
(Laughs) I was really thrilled about that. That was really, really a thrill, you know? That was another thing that endeared me to him, to himself. So I guess that’s why he’s endeared everybody to himself, like what he done to me. That was in 1970.
You had the chance to perform with a lot of people as a result of working with Willie. Leon Russell – a lot of people. Who has been a favorite?
Willie Nelson’s is a favorite. Always has been, you know? There was a lot of people who were a favorite. I liked Ernest Tubb. I liked him a lot. He was a great guy, Ernest Tubb was. Yeah, he told me something one time when we were working on the band. I was working in Forth Worth at the time and he called Ray Chaney – that’s who I was working for, Ray Chaney, as a ranch hand – and he said ‘He’s a drummer.’ Well, Ray Chaney could loan me out. So he loaned me out to him and he hired up another drummer there in town. And I just worked five days with Jack, his grandma and his sister got killed and he had to go down and bury her so… Anyway, I worked for, I went to work for Ernest Tubb for a week and I said ‘Well, I’m not a very good drummer.’ And he said ‘Son, I’ll tell you something. I’ve found out in my life that you can find a good person and you can make a good drummer out of him. You can’t necessarily make a good drummer out of a bad person.’ So he told me what I had to be – that I had to be a good person. And I made it pretty good for that week. I made $25 a day. He was a good guy. A great guy.
What is it like performing with your brother, Billy English, who’s also in Willie Nelson and the Family Band?
Well, it’s great. He’s been with us now about 26 years. He’s great. Great to work with. He’s the primary drummer now. You know, I had a stroke last year and he’s the primary drummer now. I just come up to play four songs and maybe that’s it. I still try to make the money and stuff like that. It pays the bills at home so, you know …
You all have played a lot of cities and towns all across America, really. Has there been a favorite place to play?
Oh yes. By far Red Rocks is the one I like the best. Great, great place.
What do you like about it?
It’s built in a mountain. It’s inside a mountain and it’s great, great, great acoustics, you know, inside of a mountain. I like that part of it.
When someone goes to see you guys – see all of you guys perform, what do you hope they get out of the experience?
Well I know, I know that most times when people come to see us, they don’t come to – it’s not the first time, you know. But when people do come for the first time they say ‘Well, I’ve never heard of him before and it’s nice to hear him sing.’ you know. And that’s, that’s what I get most when people are new people. But very rarely do we meet new people now. I mean, we’ve actually been on the road for so long, there’s not very many new ones left. You know, they’ve all been around for a while. We’ve got some people all over.
Do you have a favorite Willie Nelson record album that you played on?
It’s the, it’s the one with, it’s the one with Ray Price. Willie and Ray Price. I love that one.
Oh yeah, that one.
I love that one best. That’s where I played the best drums I ever played on an album, I think. Ray came over to me and said ‘Good playing!’ and I said ‘Well, I’ve been listening to you for a long time.’ He’s another one I like a lot – Ray Price. He’s a great guy.
What have you learned from your years on the road and recording with Willie Nelson?
(Laughs) I don’t know what I’ve learned. I know I’ve learned benevolence and how to be peaceful. That’s, that’s what I’ve really learned most of all and it took me about ten years to learn that but I did it.
Well, that’s one thing that some people never learn so I guess that’s, that’s really quite – quite amazing. I have two final questions for you.
Alright. The first one, it’s kind of lighthearted. It’s kind of silly. What is your, your absolute favorite meal?
I don’t know. I don’t really have a favorite meal right at this point in this time. I really don’t unless it’s Belgian waffles for breakfast. That’s what I like most.
We have that in common.
Yeah, I’ve eaten them for every breakfast. On this, on this tour I’ve eaten them every morning for breakfast so that’s hard to say.
Well, that sounds like that’s your favorite (laughs). My last question for our guest, the one and only Paul English. This broadcast is going out all over the place so my last question – what do you want to say to all the folks who are listening in, all the Willie Nelson fans out there?
Well, just keep coming to see us. That’s all we can ask for. Just keep coming to see us. Bear with us. We’re going to be there.
Well, Mr. English, thank you so much for this interview.
Thank you very much for having me. I mean that sincerely.
TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA.