Willie Nelson has always been as real and authentic as they come.
There are so many stories that capture his kind and loving spirit, and also his sense of adventure, but most of them would not be truly complete without mentioning his best friend and longtime drummer, Paul English.
Paul and Willie met in Fort Worth, Texas, when Willie was in his early 20s, just getting started as a DJ and aspiring songwriter and artist. Paul was a city boy and Fort Worth native, while Willie was certainly still a naive country boy from Abbott, Texas.
They were, quite literally, thicker than thieves (and I mean that in both a literal and figurative sense), and Paul was a huge reason why Willie ultimately became the country superstar and icon that we know and love today. He had an unwavering belief in his friend and talent, and the uncanny ability to pull off just about anything.
The History Between Willie Nelson And Paul English
One of my favorites that exemplifies who they both were as people happened in the late 60s, when Willie was still trying to make it in Nashville as a big star, though he had a strong and dedicated following back home in Texas.
Willie had first met up-and-comer Charley Pridein Dallas, who at the time, was being marketed to country radio in a very different way than every other country artist. As this was in the late 1960’s and Charley was a Black man, his label RCA wouldn’t include his photo on the records they were mailing to radio stations. Most programmers didn’t even know what he looked like until he showed up at their station to promote his music.
But Willie being Willie and Paul being Paul, they weren’t gonna put up with any bullshit, and made sure that the world knew how much they loved and adored Charley Pride.
Willie Nelson Endorses Charley Pride In A Very Unique Way
One evening at the Longhorn Ballroom, owner Dewey Groom (who Willie was friends with for many years) refused to let Charley sing because he was Black… but Willie and Paul had a plan (they always did, just so you know).
When Willie got on stage to perform, he introduced Charley to the crowd, which Dewey was unaware was going to happen.
Paul English, a former pimp and all-around badass who was not one you ever wanted to mess with, had a hand on Dewey”s shoulder and an eye on the crowd, ensuring no one could get to or hurt Charley:
“Dewey Groom wouldn’t let him sing at the Longhorn Ballroom because Charley was Black. Once again, Paul came to the rescue. He ushered Charley in through the stage door. When I got onstage, I introduced Charley.
Paul kept a vigilant watch over the crowd. No one was going to hurt Charley. And because Paul had a strong arm on Dewey’s shoulder, Dewey wasn’t going to make a move.”
And in an effort to prove just how much Willie loved Charley as an artist, and person, Willie kissed him right on the lips in front of the whole crowd as a ringing endorsement. It worked, and later that night, Dewey and Pride got “silly drunk” together at an all-night pulling session:
“Charley came to the mic, and before he sang a note, just to make a point, I kissed him on the lips. When Dewey heard Charley singing ‘The Snakes Crawl at Night,’ he became a believer.
Afterward, the two of them got silly drink at an all-night guitar jam — which we called a pulling session — and wound up passed out on the same bed.”
Just another example of Willie Nelson bringing people together.
The moment certainly stuck with Pride, too, because in the 2019 documentary about his life, Charley Pride: I’m Just Me, there’s a shot of him on Willie’s tour bus in 2018, where he greets him with a big ol’ kiss. It’s hard to put into words just how important that moment in the late 1960’s was, but it certainly wouldn’t have been possible, or at least successful, without the dynamic duo of Willie Nelson and Paul English.
Willie penned his 1971 song “Me and Paul” about their friendship, which was included on his Yesterday’s Wine album. It later became the title track to an entire album in 1985, which peaked at #3 on the U.S. Top Country Albums chart.
Paul became his full-time drummer in the early 70’s, but was there from the start of Willie’s career, and helped him launch it. Willie wouldn’t have been half the artist and icon he became without Paul, for a million different reasons… if that ain’t true friendship, I don’t know what is.