Paul English Dead: Willie Nelson’s Drummer Dies at 87

Paul English, Willie nelson's drummer

Getty English pictured in June 2011.

Paul “The Devil” English, Willie Nelson’s longtime drummer, has died at the age of 87. English was immortalized in Nelson’s song, “Me & Paul.” English first began performing with Nelson in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1955. It was not until 1966 when English would become a permanent fixture in Nelson’s band.

Nelson was a native of Vernon in northern Texas. English is survived by his three children, Evan, D.W. and Paul English Jr. English adopted the nickname, “The Devil,” while performing with Nelson because the singer felt like English resembled Satan. English leaned into the name and would sometimes wear a cape on stage.

Rolling Stone, citing Nelson’s publicist, confirmed English’s sad passing on February 12. The article described English as not just Nelson’s drummer but his “enforcer and de facto bodyguard.” In a May 1981 interview, English referred to Nelson as his “favorite subject.”

Here’s what you need to know:

1. In January 2020, Green Day’s Tre Cool Replaced English as the Drummer Was Reported to Be Sick

In January 2020, fans of Nelson’s were surprised to see Green Day drummer Tre Cool performing with the country legend during a show at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Cool told Rolling Stone at the time that he had stepped in because English was sick.

English was advertised as being part of Nelson’s 2020 tour.

2. English Credited Nelson With Helping Him to Cool His Temper Over the Years

English was the subject of a lengthy feature in the Oxford American in January 2015. The article was titled, “Watching Willie’s Back.” English is credited in the story with being a strongman for Nelson, ensuring payments were made. The article details English’s tough upbringing in northern Texas where he excelled at boxing and competed in Golden Gloves tournaments.

English credited Nelson with helping him to cool his temper over the years saying, “I was really hostile. If somebody was to say something wrong to me, they would have a fight. I finally learned from Willie to turn around and say, ‘Thank you very much.’ And they’d stand there with a guilty look on their faces and wonder, ‘What did I just say?’ Characters believe that violence breeds violence, but Willie is given to a lot of tolerance. I’m sure I’ve changed his attitude towards a lot of things and he’s changed mine.”

English has said that were it not for Nelson, he would have died young or would have been in prison.

3. The First Time English Ever Played the Drums Was Also the Day He First Performed With Willie Nelson

In March 2008, English told the Albeline Reporter-News in Texas that the first time he played the drums came on the same day that he performed with Nelson. English said that he had been asked to “keep the beat” on a radio show in Fort Worth, by his musician brother. During the same interview, Nelson said that, “I played my first job ever with Willie, and I will play my last job ever with him.”

English went on to speak about retirement saying that it was never really on his mind but that he did love playing golf. English said, “What do they want us to give up first? Music or golf?”

English told Paul Leslie in 2012 that prior to taking up the drums, he had been a trumpeter.

4. Nelson Named One of His Daughters Paula After English

In tribute to English, Nelson named one of his daughters Paula after his drummer. English spoke of the pair’s closeness in his interview with the Reporter-News saying, “We have been friends long enough to where I don’t have to say anything nice about him. We know where we are at, and I admire this guy for so much.”

Nelson’s third wife, Connie, told the Oxford American, “With Paul. Willie’s always safe on the road. We named Paula after him.”

5. English Said That Nelson Naming a Song for Him Was ‘Really, Really a Thrill’

English told Paul Leslie that having Nelson name a song for him was “really, really a thrill, you know?” English added, “I was really thrilled about that… 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.”

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