“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.”
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Nelson’s most famous ode to English, however, is “Me and Paul,” the autobiographical 1971 road song on Yesterday’s Wine that documents the friends’ many misadventures, from drug busts in Laredo, Texas, to dust-ups at the airport in Milwaukee. “They said we looked suspicious/But I believe they like to pick on me and Paul,” Nelson sang. The shuffling track was also included on 1976’s seminal country album Wanted! The Outlaws, and Nelson would rerecord the song as the title track of his 32nd studio effort in 1984.
After trading the monstrous chrome drum set he bashed away on in the Seventies for a cocktail kit, English’s subtle brushed drumming defined Nelson’s later concerts, those loose, freewheeling affairs where medleys and instrumental explorations became the Family Band’s signature. English suffered a minor stroke in 2010 but continued to tour, resuming his role as his boss’ “money man” until he was able to get back behind the snare or play a shaker.
In his 2015 autobiography, It’s a Long Story: My Life, Nelson recalled English as his ever-present guardian and partner-in-crime. “Wild, street-smart Paul,” he wrote, “who always had my back and got me out of more scraps than I care to recall.”