Paul English, Willie Nelson’s longtime drummer and bodyguard, dead at 87

Paul English, longtime drummer for Willie Nelson, dead at 87

Paul English, who played drums for more than half a century for Willie Nelson and also served as the country singer’s unofficial bodyguard, died Wednesday of pneumonia, The Dallas Morning News reported. He was 87.

English, who joined Nelson’s band as a full-time member in 1966, inspired the ballad “Me & Paul,” the newspaper reported. He had played onstage with Nelson as early as 1955 at Fort Worth honky-tonks, the newspaper reported.

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Born in Vernon, Texas, in 1932, English was known for his tough, flamboyant drumming style, Rolling Stone reported.

In a 2015 feature for Oxford American written by Nelson biographer Joe Nick Patoski, English recalled the times he would have fistfights on the road, escalating the threats by pulling a .22-caliber he carried in his boot.

“If you’re writing songs about shooting people,” English’s son, Paul English Jr. told Patoski, “it’s nice to have a guy who’s shot people up there onstage with you.”

On- and offstage, English adopted the nickname of “The Devil,” sporting a menacing look with a goatee, dressing in black and wearing a satin cape, Rolling Stone reported. The cape is enshrined in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s “Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring ’70s” exhibit.

In addition to “Me & Paul,” Nelson burnished English’s image with his 1973 song, “Devil in a Sleepin’ Bag,” the magazine reported.

English’s rough-edge image was enhanced through his roles as a pimp and gang leader, but Nelson was grateful to have him onstage. English felt the same way.

"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.”