Willie Nelson Shares How Longtime Drummer Paul English Supported Him During Depression, Suicide Attempt

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Willie Nelson documents his six-decade friendship with longtime bandmate Paul English in his new memoir Me and Paul: Untold Stories of a Fabled Friendship, out Sept. 20, and how the drummer helped him through some darker times, including a suicide attempt. 

Nelson, 89, details his close friendship with English that began after a chance meeting between the two at a Texas radio station in 1955. English played his first show with Nelson in Fort Worth, Texas in 1955 and officially joined Nelson’s band in 1966. 

In the book, Nelson admits that he fell into a deep depression after seeing how so many artists were able to make a living making music while he wasn’t and was heavy into drinking and fighting.

“My early days in Nashville were a definite low point,” shared Nelson. “I’m not one to easily fall prey to depression, but depression had me in its grips. Throwing back bourbon on a freezing cold night at Tootsie’s, I thought about an old song I’d heard Lightin’ Hopkins cut back at Gold Studios in Houston. He sang about feeling so bad until he lay his head on some lonesome railroad line and let it ease his troubled mind. So why not?”

Throughout their friendship, Nelson admitted that English was always there for him, including in some of his darkest moments. At the time, Nelson was living in a trailer park in Nashville and having serious doubts about his career, and thought about ending his life.

At one point, Nelson laid down on a busy street in Nashville and when no cars drove by, he returned to the bar to drink. The following day, Nelson said English took him out for lunch and just celebrated being in Nashville.

“It was good being with someone who seemed to believe in me more than I believed in myself,” wrote Nelson. “He really believed in a rosy future at a time when I couldn’t afford to buy my wife a dozen roses.”

Photo: Courtesy of Harper Horizon

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