Willie Nelson made his longtime drummer Paul English famous with song "Me and Paul" and now posthumously furthers the legend with the book of the same name written with David Ritz.
English was Nelson's running partner dating back to the '50s when they met in Texas. English, who's described then as a pimp, floats in and out of Nelson's life until he joins the band as drummer, a position he'd hold for more than 50 years.
England's flamboyant style - he wore a cape and carried a gun - led to many incidents. But mostly he played the role of Nelson's bodyguard and watcher off and on stage.
Alcohol and women were Nelson's vices. He went through several marriages and led a drunken, adulterous lifestyle. "One thing I could do was drink," he writes. "But I was hardly what you would call a good drinker."
Nelson recalls "getting silly drunk" and "wasted on whiskey," writing "Bloody Mary Morning" and performing Johnny Bush's "Whiskey River." "I never considered myself a drunk," he adds. "Liquor changed my disposition."
Then came a life-changing moment for Nelson "after a show in Texarkana when a fan slipped me a joint." Nelson notes that he'd "tried pot before" in Fort Worth twice but never got high until that joint in Texarkana. "Something changed. Probably the quality of the pot. After I took a few tokes, I glanced towards the back of the bus where Paul was doing some bookkeeping. 'How's that pot?' he asked. 'Mellow,' I said.
Willie Nelson: "I was for marijuana because I saw the plant as beneficial. I became an advocate and remain so to this day."
"Mellow wasn't a word I usually used but it seemed exactly the right word to describe my state of mind. I felt my mind slightly altered. The alteration was subtle but satisfying. I had a feeling of reassurance. It wasn't that everything was going to be all right. Everything was all right. Right now."
Nelson would become part of the Outlaw Country movement with Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Doug Sahm. He grew his hair long, wore jeans and got rid of his previously square look. In essense, Nelson became a hippie.
"I was for marijuana because I saw the plant as beneficial," he further explains. "As the years went by, I studied the plant - in addition to smoking it - and learned that those benefits were far greater than I'd ever anticipated. I became an advocate and remain so to this day."
Nelson also experimented one time with LSD, but it wasn't for him. "That hellacious trip convinced me that pot and pot alone was the only high I could trust. Pot never jacked me up too high or dropped me down too low. It kept me in the mellow middle." He says about coke: "I couldn't abide cocaine. I saw it as a drug that separates you from your soul. Fills you with false grandiosity. Turns pleasant folks into flaming assholes."
It takes until nearly the end of Me and Paul for Nelson to explain the song's most infamous lyric, "Almost busted in Laredo for reasons I'd rather not disclose." Finally, all these years later he discloses about the 1985 song that English "kept him out of jail" in Laredo, a town on the Rio Grande. "After a gig. Paul and I crossed the border to Nuevo Laredo to check out the red-light district. When we returned to the hotel, we didn't get past the manger's office. A cop stopped me and showed me a half-smoked joint a maid had found in my room."
English stepped in and told the officer "it must've been the joint the mayor's son was smoking and forgot to take with him. The mayor's son is a big Willie Nelson fan. They were both at the show last night. Next time we come through, we'd like you to come to the show as our honored guest." Nelson concludes: "Case closed."
Also of note are the duo's encounters with Jack Ruby, who owned clubs in Dallas, and Ray Charles, who Nelson admired.
English suffered a stroke in 2010 and was injured in a tour bus accident in 2013. He passed in 2020 at 87. His younger brother Billy replaced him in the band.
Paul English was Neal Cassady to Willie Nelson's Jack Kerouac, a larger-than-life character and muse for Nelson, who writes about their adventures in Me and Paul like Kerouac did with Cassady in On the Road.