AUSTIN, TX (CelebrityAccess) — Willie Nelson’s longtime drummer and business associate Paul England has died. He was 87.
English’s death was confirmed by Nelson’s publicist, as well as Nelson’s daughter Amy Nelson who told the Austin-American Statesman that English died at a hospital from complications of pneumonia.
A Texas native, English first began his collaboration with Nelson on a Fort Worth radio show in 1955 and later joined Nelson’s band in 1966.
Prior to joining Nelson, English reputedly worked as a gang leader and pimp before putting his skills to work for Nelson in the tough Texas club circuit of the 1960s.
“The club business was rough, so you went in with a you-motherfucker-you-better-pay-me attitude from the start,” Nelson told his biographer Joe Nick Patoski, author of Willie Nelson: An Epic Life.
According to Patoski, English played a key role on tour, helping to ensure that club owners honored the terms of their contracts with Nelson and collecting on unpaid performance fees.
“I wasn’t a really nice person when it came to collecting,” England told Patoski. “You see, I have a good reputation. A character means exactly what he says. A character has got to have a lot of character. I never drank, didn’t smoke until I was thirty-four, have never had a needle stuck in my arm outside a hospital. All that wasn’t done where I came from. A character has to treat everybody right. When you call a friend a friend, you have to treat him as a friend. It’s respect. Being a character means respect.”
English also helped Nelson with unruly beer joint customers as well. Patoski recounts a story of Nelson’s stepbrother, Doyle Nelson, who was driving the band bus, coming to English for help in collecting a .25 cent unpaid bet from a game of pool.
According to Patoski, English described confronting the two bettors in a pool room on behalf of Doyle with negotiations over the bet devolving into a fistfight that was only brought to a conclusion when English pulled a .22. pistol and held it to one of the men’s heads.
English’s reputed handiness with guns also came in handy in 1970 during a storied shootout outside of Nashville. According to Patoski, Nelson and his son-in-law Steve got into an altercation after Steve allegedly struck Nelson’s daughter Lana that led to Nelson confronting and slapping Steve.
Reportedly enraged by the attack, Steve, accompanied by his armed brothers, then laid siege to Nelson’s home, firing shots into the residence. The altercation was eventually settled when English shot an M-1 rifle into Steve’s bumper.
English also helped to protect Nelson from his worst excesses.
“Willie was a bad drunk. When he got really liquored up, he’d want to drive,” English told Patoski. “I’d have to take the keys from him. He didn’t know what he was doing, he was so drunk on whiskey and pills.”
In recent years, English’s brother Billy English has increasingly filled in on the drums while Paul has dealt with health issues. English suffered a minor stroke in 2010 and broke his hip in a tour bus crash in 2013 but has continued to perform, including Nelson’s 2018 appearance on ACL Live.
According to Saving Country Music, English is survived by his wife, Janie English, and others.