Me and Paul: Untold Tales of a Fabled Friendship due Sept 20th
Willie Nelson’s revelatory new book, Me and Paul: Untold Tales of a Fabled Friendship, invites the reader to meet Paul English, the country star’s longtime drummer, “closest friend” and combination bodyguard/guardian angel who shared and often shepherded the behind-the-scenes real-world comedy, drama, tragedy and transcendence that come with the territory of a career like Willie’s.
Nelson first immortalized Paul English with the hilariously-detailed road song “Me & Paul.” Penned for the drummer in the early 1970s, the song became the title track for Nelson’s 1985 studio album and a fan favorite in his live sets. “I’ve got this song that begs to be a book and a book that begs to read like a song–a long, romping ballad of sweetness and scandal bridging seven decades of friendship,” Nelson has said, and now, Me and Paul: Untold Tales of a Fabled Friendship fulfills the promise of that song.
For 70 years, Paul English was a towering figure in Nelson’s life and career. From serving as the steady musical heartbeat in the band to acting as the gun-toting bodyguard and tour accountant who made sure the band got paid for every show, English always had Nelson’s back. From their earliest meeting, Willie and Paul had an intuitive understanding of each other and the kind of music Willie Nelson was meant to create.
Written in Willie’s direct and inimitable narrative style, Me and Paul: Untold Tales of a Fabled Friendship is the career-spanning journey of one of the great buddy teams in American literature and show business, with Willie and Paul not unlike Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn (or maybe Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis). The pair shared an unbroken bond that lasted until Paul’s death at 87, on February 11, 2020. According to Willie, “There’s something about my friendship with Paul that reminds me of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Tom was more civilized and Huck was wilder. Although I was plenty wild at age twenty-two, I’d have to say Paul was wilder. Like Tom and Huck, though, we became a team. Nothing could or would ever separate us. If someone tries to tell my story without putting Paul by my side, don’t bother reading it.”
“In 2020, my closest friend left me. Into the infinite abyss,” Nelson writes in his introduction. “The mission of this book is to bring him back…. Why were Paul and I so devoted to each other? Good question. That’s another reason I wrote this book—to show the mystical connection between me and Paul…. It was like I knew him before we ever met. And now that he’s gone, he’s still here. He still knows me. He still lives in my heart and in the hearts of everyone whose lives he touched. Another thing about Paul: I owe him big time. The man saved my life more times than I can remember…. It’s been said that a good friend knows all your best stories, but a best friend has lived them with you. Well, that was us…. In the Willie Nelson Family, he stood in the center. I was the front man of the band, but he was the front man of my life. He was the papa bear, the big brother, the wise uncle, the money man, the bag man, the dealmaker, the sharpest shooter, and the kindest heart.”
Willie Nelson wrote Me and Paul: Untold Tales of a Fabled Friendship with Grammy-winning music journalist/biographer/author David Ritz, who collaborated with Willie on It’s a Long Story: My Life and Me (2015) and Willie and Bobbie Nelson on Sister Bobbie: True Tales of the Family Band (2020). In his preface, “A Note from a Ghost,” Ritz explains how the new book differs from Willie’s previous memoirs: “Me and Paul is not straight autobiography. This is something different, a collection of tales–some short, some tall–told by Willie Nelson and his best friend, Paul English….”
Me and Paul: Untold Tales of a Fabled Friendship tracks the rise of Willie Nelson’s career from the obscurity of Fort Worth in the 1950s through the seedy clublands of Dallas in 1963 to the challenges of Nashville, the allure of New York and Hollywood (Paul appears in Willie’s 1986 movie, Red Headed Stranger), launching the Outlaw Country revolution, founding Farm Aid (Paul served as Farm Aid’s treasurer for many years) and much more.
Paul and Willie first played together in Fort Worth in 1955; Paul became Willie’s regular drummer in 1966 and an essential member of the Family. Four of the performances on 2021’s The Willie Nelson Family — “Heaven and Hell,” “Kneel at the Feet of Jesus,” “Laying My Burdens Down” and “Family Bible” — are among the last recordings Willie made with his longtime drummer and best pal.